EPISODE RELEASED 15th OCT 2022

IS OUR EXPERIENCE OF FREE WILL SUPPORTED BY THE EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE? IF NOT, HOW DO WE TAKE MORAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR ACTIONS? WHY DO MEDITATORS, USED TO WATCHING THOUGHTS ARISE AND PASS WITHOUT IDENTIFYING WITH THEM, FIND THIS DATA LESS DIFFICULT TO INTEGRATE?

In this episode, we have the tough job of evaluating the experimental evidence for the existence of Free Will. The debate has raged for centuries in Philosophy, but now with advances in neuroscience and psychology experiments, we may have some actual physical evidence to examine, and its implications to reflect on. We’re going to discuss how most of those who accept this evidence have chosen to carry on as if it they still have Free Will, which sounds contradictory. Do the implications for personal moral responsibility require us to do that? We’re also going to get into meditation and Zen, as our guest today and another famous advocate of the illusion of free will, Sam Harris, are long term practitioners. It seems those who use some kind of mindfulness meditation, and hence are used to watching the way thoughts arise and pass without identifying with them, are less troubled by the idea that they may not have free will. What does all this mean for the reality of a ‘self’?

 

So who better to explain this mind boggling question than, our first returning guest, psychologist, author and visiting Professor at Plymouth University, Susan Blackmore. Best known for her books The Meme Machine, Zen and the Art of Consciousness, Consciousness: An Introduction, and Seeing Myself, Sue’s work spans across hundreds of publications in over 20 different languages, making huge contributions in the fields of psychology, memetics, religion, philosophy of mind, supernatural experience, and many other areas.

 

What we discuss:

00:00 Intro

04:24 Previous Interview with Susan - Epsiode #1 on The Hard Problem of Consciousness

05:00 Maturity changing opinions over time

08:20 ‘You’re never going to be complete’

08:30 Experimental evidence refuting Free Will

10:00 Going for a walk with Libet

13:30 The brain does things before you know you want to do it

14:30 Daniel Wegner - Thought suppression experiments

17:18 The illusion of causing an action is similar to conflating correlation and cause

19:30 Who is making the decision if not our consciousness?

22:00 Are ethical decisions encoded into the body and evolution?

25:00 Illusion defined: not what it seems, rather than nothing at all

26:30 Arguments for free Will from reductionists: Dennet and Churchland    

29:40 Wegner, ‘I let the decision make itself’ = Zen: Let the universe or practice do it

30:45 Why wouldn’t we just run amok and ‘run over old ladies in the road’?

33:30 P.S. Legalise drugs to improve the rehabilitation of bad actors

36:00 How Dennett argues that consciousness is an illusion but free will isn’t

40:00 Meditation: frustration, Sam Harris and letting go of free will

44:00 Noticing we attribute thoughts to ourselves arbitrarily, but the self is also illusory

49:00 There’s no word for free will in the Zen sutras

50:00 Connections between Buddha’s ‘dependent origination’ and science’s causation

56:45 Experiencing without words, mental constructs or assigning agency to self

01:00:00 ‘Form and emptiness are the same’ Heart Sutra

 

References:

Susan Blackmore - ‘Living without Free Will’

Benjamin Libet - Testing readiness potential against the time of choice

Daniel Wegner - thought suppression experiments

Susan Blackmore - Conversations on Consciousness’

Dan Dennett - ‘Consciousness explained’

Sam Harris - ‘Free Will’

Susan Blackmore - ‘Zen and the art of consciousness’

Susan Blackmore - ‘Consciousness: an introduction’ Textbook

Samuel Johnson quote ‘All theory is against free will, all experience is for it’  1709-1784