Dispatches from the Post-Cartesian World

I've posted a lot about the crisis of free will and how theologians and ministers will have to rethink things in a post-Cartesian world. See the following posts for my observations on this topic:

Salvation in a Post-Cartesian World
Strong and Weak Volitionists
Ministering in a Post-Cartesian World

Well, just to keep this point alive--that my theology friends will need to be working on weak volitional (or even free-will-less) models--there is yet another dispatch from the frontlines of the Post-Cartesian world. Check out Dennis Overbye's January 2 essay in the New York Times: Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t.

Thanks to Dr. Mark Love, one of the most courageous of my theological friends, for the link.

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4 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Post-Cartesian World”

  1. Meh. Looks like Overbye's editor chopped his article to bits. (At least I assume that he originally wrote an article that really *explained* the problem and didn't just string quotes together.)

  2. In regards to the Libet study that Overbye cites in the article, I wonder if the results of the study would've been different if the participants had been asked to perform novel movements as opposed to things like pushing buttons or flicking their fingers. By the time the people had participated in the study, I'd surmise that they'd pushed buttons thousands of times in their lives and perhaps flicked/tapped their fingers thousands more. They were practiced motions. I wonder if they'd been asked to perform a movement they had never performed before in their lives whether Libet would still have found signals beginning unconsciously. In other words, do novel actions begin as conscious actions, and once they are repeated enough develop unconscious triggers? If that's the case, then could the connection explain a situation like the one Overbye relates about his inability to not pass up on dessert? Whenever he first consumed a dessert in his life, he chose to eat it, not knowing whether he would like it or not. If he chose to eat dessert enough, did the unconscious part of his brain then assume control for dessert-eating because it had become a practiced action? When I was pondering these questions, I was reminded of your "Strong vs. Weak Volition" thread in which you concluded, "I think we can find middle ground with the notion of “acting as if.” We choose to act in a loving way and find, someday down the road, that my emotions have been changed. What was before volitional and behavioral is now emotional and spontaneous."

  3. Matthew,
    It is a choppy article. My main point in linking to it was not the inherent quality of the piece as much to point out that we are seeing more and more of these pieces in popular media outlets. That, as Overbye points out, "free will" is going to be our next big Science vs. Religion debate (as the evolution wars still rumble on).

    That is an interesting point about the Libet study. I don't know the answer. For more detail I'd refer you (anyone else listening in) to "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel Wegner. Overbye's article is really just a pop-peice on Wegner's research. Wegner's book is considered to be a pivotal book in this area as he replaces armchair philosophizing with laboratory research. Wegner's conclusion is this: "Will" is a feeling (akin to an emotion). Specifically, a feeling of authorship, as in "this experience is mine." That is, the "feeling of will" developed to help the organism sort and organize, to use William James' phrase, the "great blooming, buzzing confusion" of conscious experience. "Will" helps me sort out those experiences I am the "author" of versus those which act upon me. Obviously, for adaptive/suvival purposes such a distinction would be critical.

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