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:
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
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