Can Neuroscience Understand Free Will? – Facts So Romantic
Clinical neuroscientists and neurologists have identified the brain networks responsible for this sense of free will. There seems to be two: the network governing the desire to act, and the network governing the feeling of responsibility for acting. Brain-damaged patients show that these can come apart—you can have one without the other. […]
The results may not map onto “free will” as we understand it ethically—the ability to choose between right and wrong. “It remains unknown whether the network of brain regions we identify as related to free will for movements is the same as those important for moral decision-making, as prior studies have suggested important differences,” the researchers wrote. For instance, in a 2017 study, he and Darby analyzed many cases of brain lesions in various regions predisposing people to criminal behavior, and found that “these lesions all fall within a unique functionally connected brain network involved in moral decision making.”
Nevertheless, the fact that brain damage affects moral behavior only underscores the reality that, whatever the “will” is, it isn’t “free.” The sense of freedom we have to act on our moral understanding is regulated and vulnerable, and can break. In a 2016 paper, Darby noted that people who have behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia “develop immoral behaviors as a result of their disease despite the ability to explicitly state that their behavior is wrong.” This complicates how moral responsibility should be understood, he explains. People can be capable of acknowledging wrongdoing and yet be incapable of acting accordingly. Responsibility can’t hinge on any simple notion of “reason responsiveness,” Darby says, which is a view of how free will can be compatible with determinism—the idea, in the case of behavior, that brain activity causes feelings, intentions, and actions, moral or not. […]
The concept of free will doesn’t make any sense to me. As Kavka’s thought experiment shows, we don’t have much control over our thoughts. Take this article I’m writing: The words I’m committing to print pop into my mind unbeckoned. It’s less me choosing them and more them presenting themselves to me. The act of writing feels more like a process of passive filtration than active conjuration. I’m also convinced that humans can sensibly hold one another morally responsible even if we jettison the idea of free will. The reason is that, as a social mechanism, it has salutary effects. Generally, if people know that they will be held to account for moral violations, they will be less likely to commit them; and if they don’t know what the moral rules are, they will be motivated to learn them. Indeed, in the study on compatibilism, the researchers found that “participants reduced their compatibilist beliefs after reading a passage that argued that moral responsibility could be preserved even in the absence of free will.”
(Via Nautilus; Screengrab via The Good Place / YouTube; emphasis above is mine)
This article hit me at an interesting time. I strongly recommending reading the piece. There are many, many links for doing some more research if you’re so inclined.
I’ve long had the feeling that I’m of two minds when it comes to practices, routine, and such. Rationally I know I need to stay on my daily habits like exercise, journaling, and general moderation. Doing those things generally requires what we call will or discipline. One does not automatically lead to the other.
The opening quoted paragraph confirms my internal disconnected feeling is more than rationalization of what one could call laziness. Luckily, morality isn’t my shortfall in so far as mine’s been tested. Things like exercise I should do (similar to moral decisions though less weighty). The draw of Stoicism and similar philosophies might be the brain drying to bridge the gap.
At least Stoicism may be my brain trying to bridge the gap. I feel a bout of rumination on free will coming on.