Science: Free Will is Illusion

Richard Dawkings

But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment. Don’t judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.”

Stephen Hawking in his The Grand Design

It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”

John-Dylan Haynes (search in Google him and free will)

Soon, CS, Brass, M, Heinze, HJ, and Haynes, JD (2008).
Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain.
Nat Neurosci.

In a popular form

Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will
Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again.

Derk Pereboom, Living without Free Will (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)


2 responses to “Science: Free Will is Illusion”

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  1. Stephen says:

    The difficulty that the elimination from causal considerations that seems to be implied by these passages are in direct conflict with the very experience of reading them and having at least the illusion that we can communicate about them with each other. Material monism renders the very idea of having free will a meaningless concept but in so doing it removes the meaning from the attempt to communicate the idea in a non-contradictory fashion. The fact that we can communicate meaningfully with each other in a way that is independent of particular physical configurations demands the contradiction.

  2. I agree. I have colleced these quotes to show that provided we take scientific theories literally, there is no place for free will.

    An open question would be how not to take scientific theories literally.

    For you it might be interesting a small book Free Will and Mathematics. Unfortunately it is in Russian:[pdf].zip

    The author claims that existing of mathematics implies free will, although I am not sure if all mathematicians will agree with him.