Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Does free will exist, or is it an illusion -- and does it really make any difference?


New York Times / Jonathan Rosen

Just when we all have our New Year's resolutions in place and are charging into the future with firm resolve, or at least good intentions, the New York Times knocks down the whole flimsy house of cards with today's report on the likely non-existence of free will. The scientific consensus seems to be that it's an illusion, or at best some sort of fuzzy-muzzy "emergent" phenomenon, whereby something arises from nothing. Just when we thought we had broken free of the clutches of Calvinism, they pull us back in again.
“It’s an illusion, but it’s a very persistent illusion; it keeps coming back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s trick that has been seen again and again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you get fooled every time. The feelings just don’t go away.”
Free will is always going to be an insoluble mystery hard-wired into the very nature of human consciousness, which of course won't keep scientists and philosophers from continuing to poke at it, or the NYT from continuing to report on their progress. For the rest of us, I suspect it's a bit less complicated.

Free will -- can't live with it, can't live without it.

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