Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Contrary to Dennett’s brilliant ratiocination about choice and free will, I still come down on the side that I am pretty much a robot. Dennett opens Chapter 8 with some serious considerations by scholars who also doubt that we human animals have free will. He even quotes himself:

“... those same decisions can also be seen to be strangely out of our control. We have to wait to see how we are going to decide something, and when we decide, our decision bubbles up to consciousness from we know not where. We do not witness it being made; we witness its arrival.”

Now isn’t that true, if we are honest with ourselves? Do we recall the moments of decision or the moments we are aware we've made the decisions?

Dennett quote’s Derk Pereboom’s book, “Living Without Free Will” (2001) in which Pereboom defends the view that “given our best scientific theories, factors beyond our control ultimately produce all of our actions, and we are, therefore, not morally responsible for them.”

Libet, the man who discovered and measured RP writes, “The initiation of the freely voluntary act appears to begin in the brain unconsciously, well before the person consciously knows he wants to act.” (Libet 1999, p. 49) The argument for determinism traces back to Libet’s discovering and measuring “preconscious cognition” or the readiness potential, a measurable gap which exists between a decision and our conscious awareness of the decision which very strongly suggests a “moral void”. “When you think you’re deciding, you’re actually just passively watching a sort of delayed internal videotape, (the ominous 300-millisecond delay) of the real deciding that happened unconsciously in your brain quite a while before ‘it occurred to you’ to [act],” Libet writes.


Choice seems really important in the following matter. Conservatives love to blame America’s ills on the fact we don’t go to the Bible for our 3rd and nine plays, but couldn’t the wildness of some of our children also result from the increase in the numbers of those living below the poverty line in modern America?

In a report from Bush’s home state, “Counselors in Fort Worth and Arlington schools say today's kindergartners are experiencing more emotional and behavioral problems than their counterparts five years ago, according to a survey released in February. Several area educators contacted for this report expressed the same sentiment.

“More students are violent, lack discipline and show no respect for authority, according to the survey by the Partnership for Children and the Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County, Texas.

“The survey blamed the problems on issues including fractured families, a lack of structure for children and a growing incivility in public discourse.”

All well and good, but if we read further, we find a troubling fact: “The problem is widespread. National studies show that about 10 percent of preschool and young school-age children behave aggressively and that 25 percent of young, economically disadvantaged children do so.”

There it is—“economically disadvantaged children”! Can we use the word “poverty” to describe the situation at the bottom of our culture caused by Republican economic policies that favor the rich and harm the poor so that work is losing it’s meaning and it’s worth? Further, what if it’s true that some of us have little choice about how we’ll act after poverty conditions us to certain behaviors?

We truly need to sort out the chaff from the wheat on this one, for how can we doubly punish those who really can’t control their reactions to deterministic brain functions? What if poverty is determined by forces beyond a person’s control? Will we continue to blame them? If we blame someone for something he has no control over, then punishment is a futile way to alter behavior and a silly exercise in the first place. Could there be better ways of achieving good results?

Report by Cynthia L. Garza, Knight Ridder August 23, 2004 in our Spokesman Review.

"Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped." —Groucho Marx

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