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Masami Voelkel voelkel at bcs.rochester.edu
Wed May 14 16:08:14 EST 1997

On Fri, 9 May 1997 cmspecht at acsu.buffalo.edu wrote:

> the question of whether or not we are deterministic is not meaningles.  i
> can immediately think of two reasons why:
> 1)	a fundamental basis of many religious beliefs is that we have
> 	the capacity to make many decisions about our behavior

But how can religious belief justify a concept such as free will? It seems
to be that free will is less dubitable than most religious beliefs, which
are held out of faith rather than empirical evidence. At least with free
will people claim to experience it (and how could they not?).

> 2)	if you happen to study the brain (experimentally) you have to set
> 	any notions of free will aside (at least in your laboratory) - 
> 	for  one cannot suppose to understand the workings of the mind or
> 	any behavior if it is not physical and measurable.

The same sorts of problems exist with trying to understand "cognition", or
worse, "consciousness". Yet these things are certainly embodied (in a
literal sense of the word). They must have physical causes. Whether or not
they are measurable is questionable, at least at our puny level of
understanding. :)

> intuitively, it is very difficult to think that our behavior is completely
> mechanistic.  however, there is not a single documented case of a
> non-physical (i.e. anti matter (free will if it did not have a physical
> function as a neural outcome)) event conclusively determining a physical
> event.  and yet there are a gazillion examples where physical events have
> been shown to cause the non-physical.

I am interested in any example of a non-physical event you can give me,
that is caused by a physical event. And who is to say that free will is
not physically instantiated. I tend to think of it as an emergent
property of a complex system (like our brains), if the term has any
meaning (ie. if it has any real referent in the world, whatever the hell
*that* is)

> the question is NOT a simple one, whether quantum mechanics is the law or
> is not.  so far, it cannnot ultimately explain consciousness.
> i would suggest to the original poster that this is more a question dealt
> with by the philosophers (not that this precludes, by any means, a
> scientist from attempting to understand it).

I would hope not! (coming from a philosopher turned neurobiologist)


-mako voelkel (who hasn't been able to find the time to engage in a decent
philosophical discussion since moving into neuroscience)

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