Free will – free of what?

There’s an old interview of an author I like, here, that I read again the other day.

On the other hand, I was dismayed to learn that at least one of the ‘future facts’ I pose in Neuropath has come true. Apparently, Professor John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck Institute devised an experiment where he and his colleagues were able to determine, via fMRI scans, what their subject’s choices would be seconds before they were conscious of them. Freaks me out just writing about it.

There’s going to be people who deny this stuff come hell or high water, just as there’s people who can’t abide evolution or the heliocentric solar system. Truth be told, I’m one of them. I believe there has to be something to my experience of free will, but all the credible evidence is piling up on the other side, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. All I can do is stomp my foot and say, “No! It just can’t be.”

Because if it is, then nothing fucking matters.

This is just a sample and what’s been going through my head about his concern includes a bit more of that interview.

But basically, in terms of free will, what do you expect it to be free of? Free of connection? Free of links to anything else?

There probably is a part of the brain that’s like a random number generator and can generate impulses that come from a highly random source. That would largely be free of any link to anything else.

But apart from that, what did you expect free will to be free of? Everyone talks about the idea of free will being free, but no one ever says what they want it to be free of/thinks it is free of.

I mean, to put in a crude example, don’t you hug your loved ones? Or do you want to really be free of any real and genuine link to them? “Oh, but it’s a neurological path, an actual mechanical firing of impulses, that then fires more impulses in my mind and so on – it’s just machinery!”. Yes, it’s an entirely money where your mouth is set up (one might say no mouth at all) – it’s all deeds instead of words! It’s all machine doing that connection, instead of just thinking of it but being free of actually doing it. What’s important? How that connection is made or that the connection is indeed made?

Goals met. Goals that originate in impulses from parts of the brain that are said to do with emotion, yes, but goals met all the same. What’s more important, that the goal is met, or that it’s met via some whimsical, fantasy free will thingie? In terms of hugging loved ones as an end, does the means matter more than the end? If you can’t do it via a particular means, does that mean that particular end does not matter!? What sort of screwed up priority is that!?

Or does that make me speak from a place that’s like a character from his books, called Kellhus? (and PS: My god, how obviously close to callous…)

There’s a ‘good’ for Kellhus, which is simply what most effectively allows him to achieve his goals. He is the perfect practitioner of ‘the end justifies the means’ rationality, or what philosophers call instrumental rationality. For Kellhus, the only thing that makes acts good or bad are their consequences. Since we seem to be hardwired, and are definitely socialized, to think that certain acts are good or bad regardless of their consequences, this makes him seem ruthless and unscrupulous in the extreme – nihilistic.

Hmm, no, I don’t say the end justifies the means. But taking it that justifying is the process of not failing certain goals, I don’t think there being a mechanical process that delivers those hugs to loved ones fails at any particular goals I have, atleast.

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