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TagFree Agents (Princeton 2023)

Independent Thinking

The Free Will Debate Really Heated Up This Year

Many commentators are weighing in; surprisingly, perhaps, well-known materialists are disputing the claim that there is no free will

The two big books of the season on free will are primatologist Robert Sapolsky’s Determined (Penguin 2023), which maintains that there is no free will, and neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell’s Free Agents (Princeton University Press, 2023), which maintains that evolution gave us free will. Prominent cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker argues that Sapolsky is wrong to say there is no free will because 1. Levels of analysis. The fact that individual neurons are deterministic doesn’t mean that an intricate assembly of billions of neurons is deterministic. Matter is mostly empty space, but that doesn’t mean we can walk through walls…. 2. Determinism in the technical math sense (input perfectly predicting output) is false when applied to human behavior. Identical twins reared together Read More ›

a hand drops a ballot into a transparent plastic ballot box on election day at a polling station. the will of the voters. free elections. Generative AI

Can Evolution Create Free Will? A Neurologist Says Yes

Could the impersonal natural force of evolution shape hierarchies in the human cerebral cortex so that we have the free will that it does not itself have?

The traditional materialist stance, one that neuroscientist Sam Harris, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne endorse — along with many thinkers past and present — is that in this universe there can’t be free will. Albert Einstein (1879–1955) expressed the basic view in a 1932 address to the Spinoza Society where he stated,””Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” Now a debate seems to have started up again. From one corner we learn that free will could possibly exist, provided that it is materialized or, if you like “evolutionized.” A new key player is primatologist and Stanford professor of neurology, Robert Read More ›