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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Edward O.Wilson on Free Will

Edward O. Wilson is an important biologist, one of the world's experts on ants, and the author of Sociobiology and several other significant works (One won the Pulitzer Prize). He is an avowed materialist and humanist.

Here's what he had to say on whether or not free will exists, in a recent interview :

Edward O. Wilson: ...but I'll just give you my take on it... in terms of our ability to make personal decisions independently and combined with our own inability to predict what, except in narrow categories of behavior, can predict what we're going to be doing from one day to the next... recognizing that any event, small or large, can change the direction of our thinking, even the way we think... means that we have what is thought of intuitively at the level of consciousness -- full consciousness --- intuitively, as free will. But if you go down to the level of brain physiology and hereditary propensities and individual history... if you knew reliably what their environment was going to be then you could probably predict a lot of what their behavior would be in a contingency analysis... given certain circumstances... so you start taking it away and little bit and once you get down to the level of those tens of billions of neurons and how they're going to wink on and wink out and decay and so on, you can see this maybe becomes maybe a philosophers [sic] dream of determinism but even then there is random element almost down to the quantum level...

I guess that means he thinks we have free will, but maybe not as free as we often think.

4 comments:

Mirtika said...

if you knew reliably what their environment was going to be then you could probably predict a lot of what their behavior would be in a contingency analysis... given certain circumstances... so you start taking it away and little bit and once you get down to the level of those tens of billions of neurons and how they're going to wink on and wink out and decay and so on, you can see this maybe becomes maybe a philosophers [sic] dream of determinism but even then there is random element almost down to the quantum level...

So, predestination and free will (both in a sort of tension in Scripture) works in tandem down to the quantum level? :)

Mir

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for reading and writing.

I'm not sure about quantum indeterminacy as the generator of free will, although there are theologians and philosophers who seem to think that they have something important to do with each other.

I've got a post or two on this submect coming (unless I'm predestined not to post it!) that will say more about this.

Catez said...

Interesting post Martin. I'm going to review a book that deals with this soon. One thing I notice though - "freewill" gets a rather broad definition - there's a differnece I think between civic volition and spiritual regeneration in that sense.

I like your new blog look and it downloads easier for me too.
I'd suggest making a backup if you haven't - just to be on the safe side. I dropped in while you were away - glad you are back and hope you had a great time.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Catez.

The first rule, when discussing any subject even close to controversial, should be "define your terms." Unfortunately, it is seldom honored. I have thrown "free will" around pretty loosely.

I back up my blog once a month, by saving that month's posts as a separate file. I hope that's often enough!