Daniel Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves”

I am disappointed only because Dennett spends most of his effort trying to convince me of what I already believe. I contrast this in part with Pinker’s “Blank Slate” which I found engaging for its portrayal of the perils of supporting contrary views; I confess a bit of schadenfreude.

On page 223 he quotes Tom Wolfe quoting a straw man: “Don’t blame me, I’m wired wrong.” and says that Wolfe blames such talk on Dennett’s thesis that free will is compatible with a deterministic universe. In answer to such a statement I would reply at the same abstraction level: “Very well, I won’t blame you but I will put you in prison to prevent you from doing it again.”. Another reason to put you in prison is to dissuade others like you are wired well enough to realize that behaving is a preferable alternative to prison. I judge that Dennett argues well that behavior that is observationally and functionally equivalent to free will can emerge inside a deterministic computer. It is an emergent phenomenon. Now is it real? See this.

The more general question is whether emergent phenomena are real. There is a common idea that existence is only a reductionistic concept. No latitude regarding levels of abstraction is allowed. I think that this hard nosed approach is not suitable for even physics. Thermodynamics was not overthrown by quantum mechanics even though its classical “foundations” were falsified. I think that free will is as real as heat. They can both be explained away in terms of simpler things, but only at the loss of vast explanatory power.

I think that the biggest barrier to the idea of an entirely mechanical consciousness and free will is the implicit adoption of the dual framework, despite its overwhelming contradictions. People are just sure that they are spiritual and not mechanical. Philosophical arguments convince few. (They seldom convince me.)

I speculate that parts of our brain’s functions are directly sensible to us while other functions are not. I think this may account for our perspective that the world comes in two parts.

“... criminal law should be thought as a tool by which the damage caused to society by the offender can be repaired, and if this is not possible, it is necessary that criminal law prevents individuals from repeating these sorts of behaviors. The objective of criminal law is to repair the inflicted damage or to prevent new offenses that may jeopardize society.”
M. Foucault, 1998. La Verdad y las Formas Jurídicas. Barcelona: Gedisa (trans. by Enrique Lynch).
Reference snitched from First Monday