Evolved to be free?

In “Evolution Explains It All for You,” Galen Strawson considers Daniel Dennett’s arguments for compatibilism, the idea that “freedom is wholly compatible with determinism, although determinism is the view that everything that happens in the universe is necessitated by what has already happened, so that nothing can ever occur otherwise than it actually does.” Yet, Strawson says, “This compatibilist freedom … seems intensely unsatisfactory. “

A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem

Two heads … a very interesting profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland, the mind-body problem generally, and the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of …

Paul and Pat, realizing that the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of is still in its infancy, are nonetheless already preparing themselves for this future, making the appropriate adjustments in their everyday conversation. One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

(Until July 21, only subscribers had access to this article on The New Yorker‘s website. It may go back behind the paywall when the magazine sets up a “metered paywall” in Fall 2014.)


Anorexia, brain activity, and hormones in the womb.

Anorexia visible with brain scans and womb hormones ‘lead to anorexia’.  These two articles are of interest with respect to the mind-body problem and the question of how much is up to you. Are the brains of persons with eating disorders different because they have eating disorders, or do they have eating disorders because their brains are different? Or is this a confused question because there is only the brain? And is your brain programmed in the womb?

Does it matter if your professor grades your paper when tired or hungry?

What if your professor suffers from decision fatigue? What if you do?   Nice review by John Tierney of psychology studies on decision-making and self-control.  “Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by [FSU psychology professor] Roy F. Baumeister in homage to a Freudian hypothesis. Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy.  … Freud’s energy model of the self was generally ignored until the end of the century, when Baumeister began studying mental discipline in a series of experiments, first at Case Western and then at Florida State University. These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. … Willpower turned out to be more than a folk concept or a metaphor. It really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted.”  More here.

Do you have free will? You’d better believe it

Do you have free will? It’s the only choice.  Nice review by John Tierney of ideas about free will.

How do philosophers’ and scientists’ theories about free will line up with what people actually think about it? “Intellectual concepts of free will can vary enormously, but there seems to be a fairly universal gut belief in the concept starting at a young age.  … Whatever their cultural differences, people tend to reject the notion that they live in a deterministic world without free will.”

Does it make any practical difference whether you believe you have free will?  We “pragmatically intuit that regardless of whether free will exists, our society depends on everyone’s believing it does. The benefits of this belief have been demonstrated in other research showing that when people doubt free will, they do worse at their jobs and are less honest.”