Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Free to Choose?

As knowledge increases, spirits, mystery and magic tend to decrease. I can't help but wonder how many people people throughout human history with schizophrenia or Tourette's Syndrome were burned at the stake for being possessed by demons, because it was the only possible explanation to be found at the time.

As much as I like to believe knowledge is good and ignorance is evil, I do worry about the effects of modern neuroscience on our conception of free will. As we continue to investigate, learn and explain human brain chemistry, will we edge closer to what philosopher Karl Popper's nightmare of physical determinism?

Free to Choose?, an article in the 12/19 Economist, discusses free will and modern neuroscience:

"Free will is one of the trickiest concepts in philosophy, but also one of the most important. Without it, the idea of responsibility for one's actions flies out of the window, along with much of the glue that holds a free society (and even an unfree one) together. If businessmen were no longer responsible for their contracts, criminals no longer responsible for their crimes and parents no longer responsible for their children, even though contract, crime and conception were 'freely' entered into, then social relations would be very different."



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