right now the present sucks anyway

I’ll keep my ill-advised and emotional reactions to the horror in Arizona confined to Twitter for now (though I should say that I’m quite certain I have a unique and trenchant perspective on the matter, having had a brief and superficial conversation about gun control with a cab driver in Phoenix last month). Let’s talk about something totally different!

I just stumbled across a video that explains my favorite experimental neuroscience result pretty well:

Libet’s work isn’t the conclusive case against free will that it might seem at first blush. Neural evidence of motor planning can occur without resulting action; such planning may not occur in the same way for different types of decisions; and you can come up with various free-will-as-last-minute-veto accounts that strike me as pretty lame but seem to make some people feel better. You don’t have to accept conscious experience as an epiphenomenon. Still, I’ve always found the result a great means of attaining a mild but pervasive sense of existential worry, which I think is worthwhile on its own merits.

I was prompted (through a clear chain of causation!) to search for the video after reading this (PDF), via Trivium. It’s short and worth a look. It descends into improbable and grandiose flourishes after the first column (people like me would keep a Predictor on their keychain and then get on with their lives). But with all the excitement over Daryl Bem’s paper that’s arisen during the last few months, I’m feeling pretty good about my odds of being able to buy a Predictor-like gadget from DealExtreme in the next decade or two.

3 Responses to “right now the present sucks anyway”

  1. Tim Lee

    Having read Daniel Dennett’s take on this I find it hard to understand what the empirical question is supposed to be. I think the mind is an emergent property of the brain, so talking about the mind as an entity that’s separate from your brain and telling it what to do strikes me as a simple category error. The mind just is the set of behaviors that emerge when the brain does its thing. It’s therefore utterly unsurprising that the brain starts doing some stuff before the mind experiences itself as doing stuff.

    I guess maybe this is another way of saying I don’t “believe in free will.” Or more precisely I don’t think free will is a useful concept, and I think people who argue about the existence or non-existence of free will succeed only in confusing themselves and one another.

  2. Tom

    I’m with you (though I’m not a huge fan of all aspects of Dennett’s case — admittedly, it’s been a while since I read it).

  3. NCProsecutor

    Wait, you’re on Twitter? Do tell.

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