03 April 2012

Consciousness and Cucumbers

Why do philosophers get their knickers in a twist about the so-called ‘hard’ problem of consciousness? What makes it so difficult to believe that a brain is capable of generating what we call ‘feelings’ in our interactions and responses to the world, without some extra factor being involved? Even to take that position is to assert something ludicrous. It is to state that it is known that the brain is not capable of doing this, even though our knowledge of the brain is still fairly primitive in terms of what there is to know about it.

Another problem that’s keeping philosophers all antsy is whether recent neuroscience is showing that we don’t, in fact, have any free will: that it is an illusion. That when we think we’ve made an autonomous ‘free’ decision about something, that that is an illusion and that the decision was already made a surprisingly long time before we become aware of what that decision is. But is the fact that a large part of the unconscious brain activity that leads up to a conscious decision important in determining how we should treat and be treated as autonomous moral agents? Does it let you ‘off the hook’ if decisions are being taken in your brain before the ‘you’ part of ‘you’ that thinks it is the conscious, the ‘in control’ part of ‘you’ becomes aware of them? I don’t think it does because I think you can side-step that argument by saying that it doesn’t make any difference because, in most cases, in most of us, action follows deliberation, reflection, consideration and often planning and virtual rehersal in the brain before anything is acted out in the real world. So, you could only get ‘off the hook’ of being responsible for your actions if it could be shown that that conscious deliberation had no effect on your actions and I doubt it could be. I doubt it could be shown that my conscious deliberation and thinking about planting leeks and pumpkin seeds and cucumbers didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I did plant leek and pumpkin seeds and cucumbers today.

Anyway…here’s a video by Dr Haggard demonstrating what Libet found when he wired up a brain to investigate decision making.

Or....you could take the survey. I'm not telling wot I got coz I'm a cabbage :-(


looby said...

Warning: ill-informed nonsense alert.

I wonder whether it's important to distinguish between the scale of events and the proportion to which they are a product of free will. As the event becomes smaller the loss of free will becomes larger, since small-scale neurological procresses take over. But trying to change a bad law, or learning a new piece of music, definitely is an expression of a freedom of will.

There's a parallel between this an quantum mechanics. Although I know that in a technical sense I am not truly sitting on this chair, since there exists a nanoscale gap between the atoms of my trousers and the chair, for all practical purposes, as a large scale (well, 9st 12lbs) body, I am.

clodhopper said...

I don't think we have a choice other than to operate 'as though' free will exists, even if it doesn't.

If reality is just one damn thing after another or has some sort of quantum based indeterminacy to it doesn't make any difference to how we act as 'free' moral agents. It may effect what we mean by 'justice' I suppose.

Some people want to use the existence of free will to show that materialism is false. Bleeee.

looby said...

On a tangential pasta-related note, you might like this.