Showing posts from December, 2023

Undetermined - a response to Robert Sapolsky. Part 2 - assessing the scientific evidence

In Part 1 of this series, I explored the different philosophical premises that Robert Sapolsky and I bring to the question of free will, in our respective books, Determined and Free Agents . Here, I will examine the scientific evidence that Sapolsky marshals to make his argument that all our decisions are fully determined. Part 2   No, but yeah, but no – assessing the scientific evidence   Sapolsky presents an array of experimental evidence from studies of various kinds to support his claim that we are completely driven by all the causal factors in our past or intervening on us in the present. The word study appears 163 times in the text, in fact, and it felt a bit like being pummeled into submission at times. I’m all for providing experimental evidence to support one’s claims, but in this case, much of the supposed evidence is completely unreliable. The fields that are cited the most include social psychology, especially social “priming” experiments, ca

Undetermined - a response to Robert Sapolsky. Part 1 - a tale of two neuroscientists

Free will is in the air. Among neuroscientists at least, the question of whether we are in control of our actions has been attracting renewed attention of late, driven in large part by the successes of the field in laying bare the neural machinery of behaviour. It’s thus not a total coincidence that two books by neuroscientists on this topic – Determined , by Robert Sapolsky, and Free Agents , by yours truly – have been published so close together (both in October, 2023). What may be more surprising to readers is that we reach such divergent conclusions on the topic. With thanks to Bill Sullivan   That we can survey the same evidence and interpret it so differently may suggest to some that the question of free will is not really an empirical one at all. Of course many of the issues are metaphysical, but both Prof. Sapolsky (Sapolsky hereafter) and myself think that the science of decision-making is at least relevant to these philosophical discussions. In short, he thinks that science