Materialism and free will: two views

1. From How the Brain Creates Our Mental World:

At first glance, the fact that our brain filters and constrains what we can see is a challenge to the notions of reality and free will. After all, if our brain has already decided what we are going to perceive, then in what sense can we perceive the world as it truly is? And if our brain is making decisions for us, in what sense can we act on the world according to our own free will? Consequently [Chris] Frith argues that what we see is not the world as it truly is, but an illusion: ‘Even if all our senses are intact and our brain is functioning normally, we do not have direct access to the physical world. It may feel as if we have direct access, but this is an illusion created by our brain.’

And he expresses considerable ambivalence regarding the nature of our conscious minds and the possibility of free will. ‘I am a materialist’, he writes. ‘But I admit that sometimes I sound like a dualist…. On the other hand I am firmly convinced that I am a product of my brain, as is the awareness that accompanies me.’ He also says, ‘My beliefs on free will are very ambivalent. What I do know is that I have a very strong experience of free will’.

2. From Robert Lee Hotz, in a science article published in the Wall Street Journal:

Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision—an eternity at the speed of thought.

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice.

“We think our decisions are conscious,” said neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, who is pioneering this research. “But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t rule out free will, but it does make it implausible.”


Shane said…
I think both of these authors are drawing conclusions far beyond what the empirical evidence allows. Benjamin Libet discovered all of this stuff supposedly showing that "free choices" were produced in the brain before the conscious experiences of those choices were felt, but his view has been subject to (in my opinion) devastating criticism from several quarters. See, for instance, chapter 2 of Al Mele's recent book "Moral Luck".
Luke said…
The position of the first article is clearly inconsistent. If he really believes reality is an illusion and that we do not have direct access to the physical world… How does he know it? He has an experience of his free will… What kind of experience is that? An illusion, perhaps? And, again, how does he know it?

The second one is consistent, as he leaves room for responsibility
Tim said…
I also wonder how "free will" is being defined here. Depending on what some folks mean by it, I don't believe in it.

Joel B. Green has done a lot of work with neuroscience and Scripture, more specifically the soul, and has several books out there on it. He's a good person and scholar, and his classes were always my favorites.