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Death threats for thinkers who deny free will

Is free will an illusion? The argument that we have no real choice has scientific support but outrages some, who feel it robs their lives of meaning. For the most part, philosophers don't ruffle feathers as they used to in the days of SocratesConsidered by some to be the greatest philosopher in history, Socrates is credited with developing the whole notion of critical reason.. But this week Galen Strawson told the Guardian that he has received death threats for suggesting that nobody has free will or was really responsible for their actions. Clearly, the idea that free will is an illusion deeply disturbed the people who wrote to Strawson, but experiments have leant support to his case. In 2007, for example, neuroscientists plugged people into an fMRIFunctional magnetic resonance imaging measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. Blood flow is linked to the activity of neurons.  machine and asked them to press a button at random, using either their left or right hand. By looking at the image of the subject's brain, the scientists could predict which hand would be chosen before the person in the machine reported having made the choice. If the decision was made before we knew we made it, how can we claim that we willed to do something? The simplest argument against free will is an ancientVery old.  one. We live in a universe governed by cause and effect. If each action is caused by a previous one, how is it possible to say that I freely chose to do something? If I could do that, then the physical laws of the universe would not apply to me. A famous version of this argument was made by a French philosopher called Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1814. He imagined a super-intelligent demon who knew the position of every atom in the universe and the forces acting on them. Laplace's demon would then be able to predict the position of every atom in the future, including the ones in your brain, predicting your behaviour. While quantum mechanicsA fundamental theory in physics describing the properties of nature on an atomic scale. Unlike general relativity, which works when applied to large objects, quantum mechanics helps describe the world on a tiny level - at a scale where things can be in several places at once, and measurement can affect reality. has thrown the idea of a fully predictable universe in doubt, Strawson himself has made an argument against free will which he claims holds true even without complete determinism. Strawson also thinks that, without free will, we need to change how we think about responsibility. Seen by the lights of Strawson's argument, it was wrong for his correspondents to blame him for upsetting them - he could not choose to do otherwise. But it would also be a mistake for Strawson to blame them for being angry. Nobody could have behaved any differently. Some argue, therefore, that we must go further. We cannot really say that criminals choose freely to commit crimes. You have no choice but to be born with certain genes, in a certain environment and to live through certain events, which combine to give you your personality. This is what makes your choices, good or otherwise. Another way of putting it is that every crime has only one real culprit, the Big Bang. Instinctively, most people reject arguments against free will. We appeal to others, try to persuade them, treat them as if they could change their mind. We live all the time as if we had free will. Sceptics, however, say that as the evidence mounts, we will have to accept the truth. We have no choice. Is free will an illusion? No choice Yes, say some. The conscious experience of free will is simply a story we tell ourselves, after the fact, to justify what happens in our brain with no input from our conscious mind. Free will simply does not make sense and is not compatible with our understanding of physics. Belief in free will is a way of feeling in control, but it actually prevents us from sympathising with our helpless kind. No, it isn't, say others. The experimental evidence against free will has barely scratched the surface of human decision making. Some neuroscientists have even suggested that conscious decisions can rewire the brain. Furthermore, arguments against free will misunderstand what freedom is by trying to locate it outside of a person's experience. KeywordsSocrates - Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher in history, Socrates is credited with developing the whole notion of critical reason.

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