Friday, July 11, 2014

Do you veto yourself?

In his book Mind Time, Benjamin Libet raised the possibility that free will is not so much a free choice as a conscious veto on certain options as they bubble up from the unconscious. His experimental work was confined to motor control, but the idea is easily extended to wider issues of belief.

In other words, free will may not be a matter of freely choosing what to believe as freely choosing what not to believe - a conscious veto on social beliefs, opinions or narratives we have no wish to adopt.

If so, then belief simply implies that a conscious veto has not been exercised. Scepticism implies the opposite - a conscious veto has been exercised. In other words scepticism is the footprint of free will - belief leaves no footprint.

The idea is not new and of course it works both ways. If I veto any suggestion that the Earth is a sphere, then I may be exercising free will, but it is a ludicrous and intellectually damaging achievement. I suspect this may be one of the attractions of The Flat Earth Society – the free will aspect, the attractions of dissent.

Because there do seem to be attractions to scepticism and dissent. So much so that wholly conventional ideas are often presented as dissent – which in one sense they often are. The traditional politics of left and right for example. Both sides tend to use the language of dissent, often by inventing straw men - or straw women. It must feel like the cool breeze of intellectual freedom, even when no more than the other side of a numbing orthodoxy.

One obvious attraction of a broader and deeper scepticism is that the options are less constrained. Possibilities remain open, further analysis is always worthwhile. This seems to be the attraction of detachment. The veto is active and well developed, but also rounded by habits of introspection.

Should I accept this idea - or is there more to be understood? No I’ll pass for now - there is more to be understood.

The veto is transformed into a positive experience; an aspect of well-being, of a genial life lived apart from the rancour of intellectual passion and coercion.

If feels like free will – possibly because it is.


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Sackerson said...

Bertrand Russell described himself as a philosophical liberal - i.e. all knowledge is provisional.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - almost all. We can be sceptical even about that!

Paddington said...

We do the best that we can, but most people just insist that what they feel is factual. The quickest reality check is poker.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - many seem quite unable to veto ideas driven by what they feel.