So my Philosophy teacher informed us all in class yesterday that cognitive science has shown that the sequence in the brain, as far as can be observed, when we will to raise our arms and then our arms do rise, is rather the opposite of what we might have expected. First, the synapses which signal the arm to move are active, and then only afterwards, as though a psychological coping mechanism, does that part of the brain which has to do with intention and will light up. This means that we only suppose that we ‘will’ to raise our arm, and then it rises, and implies that actually the causal chain starts in the brain with movement without intention, then movement in the arm, then finally we ‘will’ to raise our arm. As we were discussing Malebranche’s occasionalism and speaking about determinism and mechanism in general, it was obviously a relevant tangent.
The teacher said that he was just fine with it, and that it implied determinism, but that most people are disappointed when they first hear about it.
I, on the other hand, am delighted. This is a fantastic argument for mind-brain dualism. I take it that everyone knows that when they say “I will raise my arm in 3 seconds” and in 3 seconds my arm rises, my willing it must be that which begins the causal chain. In Theological terms, as a being with a rational soul we act as causal ‘first-movers’. In other words, if the theologians are not right about the mind-brain dualism (or soul-body dualism) then cognitive science, it would seem, has settled the case for determinism. This, it seems to me, can only be bad news for an empiricist.
I take it as properly basic that we have free will, since we experience it immediately and understand ourselves and our inter-action with the world with which we are presented, in those terms. Even the determinist cannot help but at least ‘pretend’, as though adopting a comforting myth, that he is free to do that which he wills to do. Indeed, even the staunchest determinist, if woken suddenly in the night, will without thinking about it act on the assumption that she has free will.
This argument may even have implications for the epistemological arguments among Medieval philosophers (such as between Bonaventure and Aquinas) about the powers of the soul. I think it clearly vindicates (though doesn’t prove) Bonaventure’s model over that of Aquinas. Funny how, though I don’t advocate any kind of naturalized epistemology, I it that take science is always able to bring something to bear on philosophy, and is able to provide arguments (inconclusive, but good) for or against that which has long tormented the best philosophers.
That is all for today.