Free Will vs. Meat Machines
A recent science article in The New york Times Free Will: Now you have it now you don't looks at recent work on the concept of free will. The article says,
A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.The article quotes Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania as saying,
If people freak at evolution, etc. how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?The article goes on to say,
How comforted or depressed this makes you might depend on what you mean by free will. The traditional definition is called “libertarian” or “deep” free will. It holds that humans are free moral agents whose actions are not predetermined. This school of thought says in effect that the whole chain of cause and effect in the history of the universe stops dead in its tracks as you ponder the dessert menu.The problem started in the 1970s when Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock. The article says,
At that point, anything is possible. Whatever choice you make is unforced and could have been otherwise, but it is not random. You are responsible for any damage to your pocketbook and your arteries.
Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them. The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.The article looks at Free Will from other angles and largely sees it as a "convenient illusion" and takes the perspective that "According to deep mathematical principles, they say, even machines can become too complicated to predict their own behavior and would labor under the delusion of free will."
In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done.
The dillusion works something like this according to Seth Lloyd, an expert on quantum computing and professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
There are no shortcuts in computation. That means that the more reasonably you try to act, the more unpredictable you are, at least to yourself. Even if your wife knows you will order the chile rellenos, you have to live your life to find out.If you are intrigued, you'll want to look at the full text of the article: Free Will: Now you have it now you don't which does a better job explaining itself than my digest above.
Tomorrow, I'll touch on Calvin and Armenius who give us the two dominant Christian views about Free Will. But the short version is that you have to be predestined to be a Calvinist, but you can choose to follow Armenius.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor