Free Will – Is It An Illusion?
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An aspect of cognitive science is considering the philosophical question of whether free will is an illusion. In general, cognitive scientists study how we solve problems, develop complex plans, how we remember faces and recognize objects; even how we create art and music. Philosophers have struggled for thousands of years to comprehend the nature of the human mind, and the concept of free will falls into the realm of philosophy. As an interdisciplinary discipline, cognitive science includes philosophy, so the question of free will is a part of cognitive science. Science being what it is however, came to conclusions that humans and animals were mechanistic in nature with the mind an immaterial thinking substance which was profoundly separated from the body, a view initially proposed by the French philosopher, Renee Descartes. However, Descartes view had one problem in that it did not address the interaction between mind and body.
In time, it came to be understood that mental processes are computational processes, complimenting each other in mechanistic ways. The dominant view in cognitive science today is that the mind is an information processing system, and that the processes are explainable in mechanistic terms, but that the relationship is by no means clear. In nature, there is no concept of moral responsibility. Such a concept is human related. Social contracts developed initially in families, and was then extended to the tribe. Today, social contracts are complex, and vary within different social structures. Is free will an illusion, or is everything deterministic? Do we live within the law because it is moral to do so, or because we will be punished if we don’t? Do we function under a mechanistic system of thinking that differentiates between the concept of good and evil, or a moral system that entails free will?
Choice and Free Will
We have a choice in how we behave, deciding to act, react, or do nothing accordingly. Is free will involved, or is the choice made as a result of the brain processing alternatives to arrive at the most preferable solution? Science does take the materialistic and mechanistic view of many things, however, consciousness has eluded them, and perhaps, as a result, science has ignored how consciousness plays its part in decision making with the brain being the processor that results in a behavioural outcome as it sends its electrical signals through the synapses and the nervous system. Do we make free will decisions at the sub-conscious level that after a short elapse of time (5 – 10 seconds), results in a conscious action?
The following documentary, titled Is Free Will An Illusion? What Can Cognitive Science Tell Us? seeks to answer the above questions, and more: