Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will

Salley Vickers in The Guardian:

WillJulian Baggini is that happy thing – a philosopher who recognises that readers go glassy-eyed if presented with high-octane philosophical discourse. And yet, as his latest book, Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will, makes clear, it is in all our interests to consider crucial aspects of what it means to be human. Indeed, in this increasingly complex world, maybe more so than ever. Freedom is one of the great, emotive political watchwords. The emancipation of slaves and women has inspired political movements on a grand scale. But, latterly, the concept of freedom has defected from the public realm to the personal. How responsible are we as individuals for the actions we take? To what degree are we truly autonomous agents?

…The neural information that has made waves, however, is the fact that scans indicates the brain’s chemistry consistently determines a decision prior to our consciously making that decision. So when I deliberate over a menu and finally choose a mushroom risotto over a rare steak, my brain has anticipated this before I am aware of my choice. At first, this looks alarming. I am not the mistress of my gastric fate, my brain chemistry is. But that is to fail to recognise that my brain’s chemistry may be responding to a vast array of accumulated information about my reading of restaurant reviews, my health, the kind of day I’ve had, my relationship to my weight, my dining companion, my views on animal rights. This is a process not dissimilar to intuition, which is no more than the mind’s ability to process a number of clues too complex to be consciously registered.

More here.