[Edit: In this post I should have written that we generally live “as if” we were causally determined beings. Later discussions showed this mistake of mine confused a lot of people.]
There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week called “Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Donâ€™t” (Hat tip to the BCC sideblog). The author gives a quick review of the scientific arguments against the concept of Free Will (and in favor of causal determinism). I recommend you check it out.
There was one section and specifically one conclusion the author drew that I want to focus one in this post. The author recounted a now-famous experiment that has been brought up around these parts before (by some of our local science guys like Jeff G., Christian C., and Clark if I remember correctly). Here is the passage from the article:
In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock.
Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.
The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.
In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done.
Dr. Libetâ€™s results have been reproduced again and again over the years, along with other experiments that suggest that people can be easily fooled when it comes to assuming ownership of their actions. Patients with tics or certain diseases, like chorea, cannot say whether their movements are voluntary or involuntary, Dr. Hallett said. …
Naturally, almost everyone has a slant on such experiments and whether or not the word â€œillusionâ€ should be used in describing free will. Dr. Libet said his results left room for a limited version of free will in the form of a veto power over what we sense ourselves doing. In effect, the unconscious brain proposes and the mind disposes.
In a 1999 essay, he wrote that although this might not seem like much, it was enough to satisfy ethical standards. â€œMost of the Ten Commandments are â€˜do notâ€™ orders,â€ he wrote.
But that might seem a pinched and diminished form of free will.
So there is evidence that the subconscious mind acts before the conscious mind actually make a “decision”. This has been used as evidence that none of us actually freely choose our thoughts, words, and deeds after all even though we are under the illusion that we do. But Dr. Libet described a gaping hole in such conclusions when he “said his results left room for a limited version of free will in the form of a veto power over what we sense ourselves doing”. The author of the article then concludes that such a form of free will — what I’ll call “veto free will” — is a “pinched and diminished form of free willâ€ but I dispute that conclusion.
I have written in the past my theory that we are mostly causally determined beings in this life. In one post I proposed that the natural man spoken of in our scriptures is a another name for the causally determined man. In a follow up post I suggested that we rarely actually use free will but when we do it is to “jump tracks” either to get on a more Christ-like life track or a less Christ-like life track. The reason I bring this up is because I think my theories are very much in line with this Veto Free Will that Dr. Libet left room for after his experiments.
So my question is why would one conclude that Veto Free Will is a “pinched and diminished form of free will”? If we can veto any thought, word, or deed that comes naturally to us in life then we are completely free as far as I can tell. If we feel an urge to hate we can veto it. If being unforgiving is what comes naturally to us in any given situation we can veto it. Any of The Devil’s GPA from scriptures (Greed, Pride, Appetites) tempt us we can veto them. All it takes to jump tracks and become more and more like Christ is veto power. We can veto the persuasive pleadings of the natural man. We can overcome our genetic and environmental programming if we really have veto power. What else would we need?
I actually like this version of free will too because it helps explain why God is such a good predictor of the future acts of free-willed people. If we are mostly causally determined then we are mostly predictable. But if we have the power to veto our programming and the causal stimulus that the “great casual chain” throws at us then our future is not fixed and we are free indeed.
What is your take on this article and on this notion of Veto Free Will?