The posts on this blog were mostly considered emails written to people interested in a particular approach to addressing the problems facing humanity and our relationship to the planet. If you are interested in what you read - please leave a comment...

December 12, 2011

Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle

There - that's a catchy title for a blog post, innit? This one'll go viral for sure.....
Actually, I'm being wilfully obscure (me?) - Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle were (are, it seems) a German post-punk band, whereas this post is actually about the implications of suggestions by scientists that free will is an illusion, written in response to this interesting post: The survival value of 'free' will.
In summary, the post rehearses recent suggestions from a number of scientific angles that free will does not exist, and looks at why we might have stuck with (developed?) such an illusion for evolutionary reasons.
I have read quite a bit around this topic - it comes up in New Scientist fairly frequently - and I've frequently come across this sort of statement;

"So why then do we believe in free will?
It’s simple: if we didn’t, we’d all die a lot sooner.

Which has always seemed paradoxical; if we have no free will, then how could we 'choose' to have free will?
This time, for some reason (displacement activity), I actually thought about it, and realised that what is actually being said is that we 'naturally' believe in free will as a successful survival strategy (borne out by evidence that individuals who become convinced that free will is an illusion become fatalistic and don't live as long as they might, while 'believers' tend to live longer, healthier lives). In other words, we don't choose' to have free will - we are genetically programmed to have the illusion of free will.

When I'd figured that out, I wrote a comment. In the spirit of this blog, here it is;

So the suggestion is, that as structures with some (local) persistence in space-time, we  believe in free will as a structural pre-condition of our existence/persistence.
In other words, similar structures to ourselves, that did not believe in free will, were less persistent (and thus less likely to give rise to other persistent structures - reproduce), while the ones that did were more persistent.
What is interesting about this is the implication that the fabric of space-time is woven somehow so that the pattern that includes an incorrect belief in free-will is a pattern that sustains itself (think radical multi-dimensional crystallography) - at least locally (200K years on a speck of a planet could be a local perturbation - an anomaly, a flaw in the crystal). 
Why would this be? Why would a pattern that works in denial of the real weave of space-time be more persistent than one that does not?
That's it. There is something intuitively strange about a pattern that is at odds with the reality of its substrate being more successful than one which is not.

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