Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Evan Thompson on Neuroscience and Free Will


This series of videos from Evan Thompson on the topic of neuroscience and free will was brought to my attention by the Integral Postmetaphysical Enaction blog (a great blog, by the way). I embedded all six sections of the video into this playlist, so they all play back to back.

The post at IPE breaks down some of the argument Thompson presents, and I wanted to mention one part of it that is in sync with my own views on free will (or, more likely, my views are in sync with Thompson's, since he is the expert).
From part 1, quoting William James: ""Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will" (7:10). From the conclusion of part 6: "Free will then is not exempt from causes and conditions but is rather the flexible coordination of attention" (4:05). In part 2 he starts to talk about the self related to meditation (around 7:00). Around 7:45 he notes it has 2 aspects, the present-centered "I" and the narrative self which adds past and future. He relates it to Damasio's ideas.
I recommend you go read the rest of the summary - it goes into the work of Antonio Damasio and his four stages of self.

The part that I agree with completely, and have been arguing in various ways for years (contra Sam Harris), is that free will is a product of attention. When we learn, through mindfulness, to pay attention to our thoughts, our feelings, our impulses, then we can begin to truly exhibit free will. Otherwise, we are simply creatures acting out of habit and unconscious needs.

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