Following the rules


Anthropology.net has (here) a part of a discussion with Michael Gazzaniga. This bit is about responsibility.

“I did want to come back to the one point on the free will thing because I just think it’s a kind of a red herring. People talk about free will, you should return the question and say free from what, what are you talking about?

I mean what we all are, are information gathering organisms that have learned through a life’s experience what to do, what not to do, what’s good, what’s bad, does this payoff versus that payoff? And when a new situation presents itself we call upon our knowledge of the world from past experience to decide what to do. And that decision goes on through mechanisms of the brain, and once the brain decides, based on all your past experience, to do something, you want it to do it right. It’s not clear to me what free will means in that way of knowing that we have all these automatic processes that are going on in the brain that we’ve trained through time.

I think how you think about it is that personal responsibility, which is a key concept in our culture, is alive and well because it really isn’t in your brain, it’s in the social rules of a group. So think of it this way, if you’re the only person in the world, the concept of personal responsibility means nothing. Who are you responsible to? If there are two people to six billion, all of a sudden the rules develop. If we are going to socially interact, which is crucial for the human condition, we are going to have these rules. Almost everybody—you’d have to be extremely neurologically compromised—almost everybody can follow a rule.”

What excellent good sense!! Stop worrying about whether our decisions are free and start worrying about whether they are appropriate.

2 thoughts on “Following the rules

  1. I agree that the concept of free will is quite confusing given that we carry within ourselvs lots of constraints such us being pre-programmed in a certain way by our past and our basic instincts. So we are not completelly free to choose what we do, maybe people talk so much about free will because they like to think that they can fully decide, which makes them feel less constrained.

    On the other hand the article talks about personal responsability, and I think it is important to understand how it relates to free will. It is like when one person is a slave it might not be considered responsable or does not have responsabilities thowads society, but when that person is not a slave anymore it starts being responsable because of the freedom it has been given to it.
    Very intersting point Janet, be well

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