Tuesday, December 11, 2007


hi. it's finals time, and i haven't even gotten my ideas ordered enough to make a blog post of them, let alone a polished version of a final paper. i'm going to be writing about what it means to have a reason to do something, and what it means to have a capacity to do something, and how they're related (but mostly how they're not related). but until i can get things straight, here's something unrelated but provocative by susan blackmore, from the anthology What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty.

‘i believe that it is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will. as samuel johnson said, ‘all theory is against freedom of the will; all experience for it.’ with recent developments in neuroscience and theories of consciousness, theory is even more against it than it was in his time. so i long ago set about systematically changing the experience. i now have no feeling of acting with free will, although the feeling took many years to ebb away.

but what happens? people say i’m lying! they say that it’s impossible and so i must be deluding myself in order to preserve my theory. and what can i do or say to challenge them? i have no idea- other than to suggest that other people try the exercise, demanding as it is.

when the feeling is gone, decisions just happen with no sense of anyone making them, but then a new question arises- will the decisions be morally acceptable? here i have made a great leap of faith (or, more accurately, this body and it’s genes and memes and the whole universe it lives in have done so). it seems that when people discard the illusion of an inner self who merely acts, as many mystics and buddhist practitioners have done, they generally do behave in ways that we think of as moral or good. so perhaps giving up free will is not as dangerous as it sounds- but this too i cannot prove.

as for giving up the sense of an inner conscious self altogether- this is very much harder. i just keep on seeming to exist. but though i cannot prove it, i think it is true that i don’t.’

[in addition to thinking about capacities, i also talk to people. in fact, i talked to people this very weekend. and danced with them, too! for photographic evidence please see the set called 'monochrome party' (or any set, really) here.]

1 comment:

Anthony said...

i'm excited to read your paper, when it's done. p.s. i like how i'm the only one in your sidebar who has a last name.