The term “free will” has so many diverse connotations that I’m obliged to define it before I explain why we don’t have it. I construe free will the way I think most people do: At the moment when you have to decide among alternatives, you have free will if you could have chosen otherwise. To put it more technically, if you could rerun the tape of your life up to the moment you make a choice, with every aspect of the universe configured identically, free will means that your choice could have been different.
Although we can’t really rerun that tape, this sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics. Your brain and body, the vehicles that make “choices,” are composed of molecules, and the arrangement of those molecules is entirely determined by your genes and your environment. Your decisions result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another. These molecules must obey the laws of physics, so the outputs of our brain—our “choices”—are dictated by those laws. (It’s possible, though improbable, that the indeterminacy of quantum physics may tweak behavior a bit, but such random effects can’t be part of free will.) And deliberating about your choices in advance doesn’t help matters, for that deliberation also reflects brain activity that must obey physical laws.
We’ve got strange insect discoveries by the bucketful this week, with the discovery of the oldest known fossilised fleas in China and super-tactical war-ants and parasitic wasps, plus I’ve thrown in massive ‘tree lobster’ stick insects on Lord Howe Island for good measure.
Read story here.
Image credit: Mark Moffett
THIS IS NOT PHOTOSHOPPED. THIS IS A GIANT THAT EXISTS.
The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.
They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”
Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.
I haven’t taken a look at the actual study yet, but my initial impression from reading this article is: why no consideration for the nuances of, y’know…human biology?
Instead, there are apparently only two groups for us to consider: fetuses and newborn babies.
I feel weird pointing this out in response to a study by medical ethicists, but a six-week old fetus and a six-month old fetus, for example, have almost nothing in common. A six week old fetus has barely developed into a vertebrate animal, and is just beginning to physically form what will eventually become its brain; a six month old fetus has a brain, and is capable of registering brain wave patterns typical of adults. It is capable of human thought, while the younger fetus is not. And biological certainties like this ought to be the determining factor in the abortion issue, not whether or not a woman has a right to choose*, or whether or not the fetus is capable of existential contemplation, or some other such philosophical nonsense. If you allow for that, then it follows that the severely mentally handicapped, the elderly and the demented are fair game for the chopping block as well.
Science: giving you the actual answer since 1615.
This study sounds like a big steaming pile of antiquated Singerian bullshit, honestly. There doesn’t seem to be any new ground being covered here. Oh well, Lord knows The Telegraph could use the hits.
*not diminishing or downplaying a woman’s right to privacy, which I’m all for, but any sensible pro-choicer would have to concede that this isn’t the determining factor in whether or not an abortion should be allowed to proceed.
“A group of scientists and ethicists argues there is sufficient evidence of the marine mammals’ intelligence, self-awareness and complex behaviour to enshrine their rights in legislation. Under the declaration of rights for cetaceans, a term that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises, the animals would be protected as “non-human persons” and have a legally enforceable right to life. If incorporated into law, the declaration would bring legal force to bear on whale hunters, and marine parks, aquariums and other entertainment venues would be barred from keeping dolphins, whales or porpoises in captivity.”
This seems like very important work. I hope people don’t confuse stuff like this with PETA’s mindless “Whales are protected under the 14th Amendment” lawsuit.
“Free will is, I believe, an illusion that we have that we can somehow affect the workings of our brain and free them from the laws of physics. My answer to that is no, we can’t arrange the subject of the laws of physics because they’re material entities.
The feeling that we have free will, which of course we all have, we all have that feeling of agency. Whether or not that’s proactive evolution or whether it’s an epiphenomena or anything like that is something that I don’t know. None of us know the answer to that question.”
Skeptico just posted a totally fascinating (and pretty contentious) interview with evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, which you can read and/or listen to here.
Nature is supposed to be red in tooth and claw, and domestication an artificial process for making animals gentle. But it appears that some corners of the animal kingdom are becoming kinder, gentler places. Certain creatures may be domesticating themselves.
This possibility is most apparent in bonobos, a close cousin of chimpanzees. Unlike their violent cousins, bonobos are generally peaceful. And while many animals have evolved to be socially agreeable, bonobos — and possibly other species — seem to be experiencing something more precise and profound: the physical and behavioral changes specifically described in studies of domestication, but as a natural evolutionary process.
This is ridiculously fascinating.
This is ridiculously fascinating.
Science & Religion: Are they Compatible? A debate between Theologian John Haught and Professor of Biology Jerry Coyne at the University of Kentucky
For some background on the drama surrounding the public release of this debate, check out Jerry Coyne’s website.