- File Size: 499 KB
- Print Length: 115 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1454927356
- Publisher: Sterling (February 28, 2018)
- Publication Date: February 28, 2018
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B075TT25ZG
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,727 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Digital List Price:||$8.99|
|Print List Price:||$9.95|
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Free Will Explained: How Science and Philosophy Converge to Create a Beautiful Illusion Kindle Edition
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The book is well worth reading for qualities like these, and for its quiet precision of language and analogy. Its appeal is poetic rather than polemical though, and after reading I found myself disagreeing as profoundly as ever with its core assumption.
That assumption is expressed several times in the book, but without much support, as if it were a settled matter of science rather than a leap of faith. For instance in the sentence: “Your actions are all predetermined by unconscious natural causes before you are aware of them.” While reading, I kept expecting Barker to backpedal and start replacing the word “predetermined” in statements like this with something less absolutist like “constrained.” But the line of thought never budges from strict, dogmatic determinism, the belief that there is an unbroken chain of inevitability tracing through all events.
And yet that whole wild extrapolation of strict causality is, first of all, so counterintuitive. As a jazz musician and an author, can he really believe that each note or word he’s ever been inspired to reach for was written already, eons before anyone’s birth, in some minor imbalance of the pre-atomic plasma?
Forgive me, but isn’t this just reconfiguring the traditional omnipotence and omniscience of god into an equally mystical scientism? Of course causality exists, David Hume notwithstanding; and we observe it in particular in certain mechanical relationships that are readily induced and measured. But there is no reason to postulate the total absence of any relationships other than strict causality among events, such as might be represented in consciousness. Certainly our experience of life tell us that we are at least somewhat free, and why should we assume that such a fundamental level of experience must be illusory?
It seems so much more plausible that nature and the sequence of causality create parameters for us, capacities of various kinds, instincts, predilections, etc, which yes of course are rather deterministic at the population level - but that at the same time sentience is able to carve a degree of genuine individual freedom within this flow of events. The analogy would be life itself, and its ability to carve a niche of evolutionary order as a kind of back-current in the flow of entropy.
There is of course no syllogism to prove that free will exists. The determinist can answer any seemingly free action by insisting it was foreordained. You can even argue, seemingly irrefutably, that determinists are inconsistent in their own lives, because they make efforts of various kinds (writing books, raising children, resisting enemies, etc), while allegedly considering all effort to be futile. But of course the answer even to this is, I do so only because I have no ability to do otherwise.
Perhaps the most marvelous feature of Dan Barker’s charming book comes roughly halfway through. Namely, while he was typing one day out on his back patio, Little One (the chipmunk) hopped onto his keyboard and made a random hyphen. Barker left the hyphen in. He would have us believe that neither he nor the chipmunk had a choice in the matter.
A simple declaration of the author’s opinion would have sufficed.
As a reader, I conclude the book suggests that, yes, we have free will or, no, we do not have free will.
It does not matter, if we do not wish our descendants to live in a world of dystopian terror, we need to practice secular morality. Perhaps that is predestined.
Barker’s chipmunk actually was more interesting than the discussion. The author explained that his chipmunk was less chipmunky than other chipmunks. This chipmunk might compare to my squirrels which, however, do not eat from my hand. My squirrels get an ear of corn each day. I have noticed that each spring I have one or two young squirrels, but the older ones are gone, even though they allegedly live five to six years. I suspect that my less squirrely young squirrels eat their parents.
Do my squirrels have free will or are they predestined to eat their parents? Yes.
Does this book answer my questions? No.
Was this book moderately interesting? Yes.