Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Raising Children Without Free Will

Yesterday, showing determination rivaling that of Jerry Rice and his insane workout regimen, I powered through Sam Harris' ghastly pamphlet, Free Will. The thing is 66 pages long on paper and an interminable 70 or so minutes when read by the Samster himself. As I posted last night, the synopsis is: You don't have free will, but that's OK.

Old Samuel seems to think that if we all just knew that we don't have free will, things would be so much better. We'd all live in a state of reasoned and logical harmony, sharing kindness, charity and forgiveness as we realize that our enemies and irritants cannot help themselves.

Why Sammy thinks we'd end up with Christian ethics rather than Caligulan ethics is never fully explored. That's probably because Sam doesn't want to to be thrown to the lions in the arena and so he pretends that Christian ethics would somehow win out in a Darwinian sense. LOL! That's not the only area in which Sam has a rich fantasy life. When you start thinking about the world he proposes, it gets even better.

Imagine raising your children to believe that they do not have free will. Imagine the parents of your kids' classmates doing the same. Discipline would last, oh, I don't know, about 15 minutes or so. A pack of 8-year-old boys who have been convinced that they do not have free will would become completely unmanageable by anything short of fire hoses and dogs.

And dogs they would be, too. Without any sense of free will, you'd have to fall back on pure stimulus-response training to keep them in line while they constantly tried to push things to the limits. After all, why not?

And what happens when they realize that you don't really love them? You don't, you know. Love is meaningless when there is no free will behind it. "I love you" would engender the reply, "So what? You had to. You have no free will!"

Finally, imagine how awesome classrooms would be. Kind of like an ongoing MMA brawl.

Hmm. Some classrooms are may already be there.
Party on, dudes.


tim eisele said...

OK, so your position appears to be that we need an extraphysical soul in order to have free will. Since you first brought this up some months ago, I’ve been thinking: assuming that this is true, what are the implications?

Say I’m looking at the last piece of cake on the table, about to make the decision whether to eat it or not. By this argument, the actual decision is made through some extra-physical aspect of the soul that is not bound by deterministic physics. But now, this decision has to be passed on to my body, and translating to nerve impulses that either lead me to push back from the table and walk off, or reach out and take that cake.

At some point, then, the decision stops being extra-physical. At some point, we have actual electrons and atoms being nudged around, promoting synapses to fire. And this, pretty much by definition, has to be detectable. That is, after all, how we detect forces: by measuring their effects on physical objects.

Electromagnetic fields are defined by their effect on test particles, as are gravitational fields. If the extra-physical aspects of the soul are moving electrons around, then this will appear to us as clearly obvious forces due to the motion of those electrons. In the case of the extra-physical soul, this force may seem to not have a source, but we will certainly be able to see the effects.

I don’t see that there’s any way around it. If the soul is of any use in addressing our free will problems, then it has to have this detectable effect on the material world. If it does not have any detectable effects, then it can’t help with free will. It just becomes a disconnected entity, watching (possibly in horror) as its body goes ahead and does its deterministic things, without the soul having any ability to influence things in any way.

OK, so if a philosophically useful soul has to be detectable, how could we go about detecting it? Its effects on the brain would have to be at least moderately reliable and reproducible (we make decisions all the time, after all), so the effect can’t be too impossibly subtle. It is involved in firing synapses, and so it has to have effects on the motion of electrons and ions, and would therefore be detectable by sufficiently sensitive electromagnetic field sensors. Ideally, the sensor would be something sufficiently sensitive to be directly influenced by the soul. SQUIDS are certainly sensitive enough to measure fields that are barely strong enough to influence cell activity, and EEG electrodes probably are, so they should be influenceable by the soul as well. And even if there is something about neurons that makes the soul able to interface only with them, then we could probably rig up some sort of sensor based on cell-cultured neurons that could be brought close enough to a person’s head for it to be influenced by the person’s soul. So as long as the subject is cooperative, and is concentrating on using his extra-physical soul to connect with the sensor and send signals, then we should be able to confirm the existence and function of the soul.

For that matter, if we can establish a way for non-brain materials to receive data from the soul, this could lead to some very interesting approaches to mind/computer interfacing. And actually being able to detect the soul would make it possible to answer all manner of metaphysical questions that, up until now, we have only been able to make wild guesses about.

So, what do you think? Would you welcome a project to try to detect the soul, or even be willing to participate in it? Is this something that the Church should sponsor? If not, why not?

Jeff Burton said...

Materialists always seem to be sawing off the branches they are standing on.

Catholic Mutt said...

My own lack of free will is very interesting to me; but I have to say not interesting enough that I want to read 66 pages on it. I'm glad that the universe does not seem to be decreeing that I must read it, because I'm pretty sure I won't.

Ted Sbardella said...

this is interesting. I was having just this discussion with my thirteen year old. he brings up a lot of the intuitive arguments. it is a good thing to reason through this with our children so they can live understanding they and others have no real free will and punishment should be reframed as deterrent. we are feeling our way as parents. I am grateful for Sam Harris because he helps me become a better parent and husband.