Unwilling to accept determinism – spot the mistake

A quick one prompted by Uncommon Descent’s ongoing campaign against reductionist psychology. UD links to this blog about a book by David Eagleman, which is another of those efforts to show that neuroscience increasingly demonstrates that free will is an illusion. 

Science 2.0 comments that Eagleman’s work will be rejected, especially his wise suggestions for improving society, because the masses will not accept the shattering of their illusions of self-determination. 

UD’s angle is that maybe they will reject it because, collectively, they know it is nonsense. Which is fair enough. But Eagleman’s thesis is actually refuted by the Science 2.0 piece and even by the book itself.

The blogger writes of Eagleman’s book and a similar work by Michael Shermer:

Both books, though, offer information that many people will not be willing to accept: the idea that we are not the masters of our own destiny, not in control.

He then offers arguments for this unwillingness, based mainly on the self-flattering nature of the mind illusion. But he neglects the obvious point that unwillingness, or his own more enlightened willingness to accept the evidence, necessarily assumes the reality of will.

Granted, later down the piece he says in frustration:

…most people will ultimately reject this information, just as Shermer’s books will not find favorable reactions from the masses. Our very wiring, our neurobiology, makes it almost certain that most will reject the idea that they are not in control, that their identity can be reduced to a three pound pink jello-like substance that is an electrochemical soup.

But notice how “our” wiring makes it “almost” certain that “they” will reject the idea. How come it didn’t make it utterly certain that he, and Eagleman and Shermer, didn’t also reject it? The necessary implication is that they are not of the masses – that they are made of better stuff. In other words that they have bucked the system by actually having the free-will to understand that the masses do not have free-will. Whereas the masses, not having free-will, are incapable of perceiving that they are deluded into believing they have.

It’s the old myth of science’s objectivity, of course. Science is objective and I am a scientist. So I am objective. I study you, so you are a subject, and subjective.

Says the blog in conclusion:

…the reality is that it’s likely that people who pick it up already knew a great deal of that information he presents and he may merely be preaching to the choir.

If Eagleman is right, then of course it’s much worse than that. He’s just a zombie parroting noise to a choir of zombies. Only they’re under the illusion that he’s preaching knowledge.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Unwilling to accept determinism – spot the mistake

  1. Cal says:

    I don’t know why, but I always get sick when a person of any scientific grade begins to degrade man or his constitution, referring to the brain as “pink jello that is electrochemical soup”. Or mankind is just a walking reproductive organ etc.

    There is almost a rage against the body and maybe that’s why I feel ill. We realize our own limits, our mortality and it disgusts us, we’d rather be men of steel than the body we have. Before I was a Christian, I hated this body, I was ever obsessed in making it as peak as it could be. Afterwards, I’m still dealing with those scars. Learning to accept my skin and bone.

    Yet all this flies into the face of determinism. Why would life, at its pinnacle, seek to escape itself? It is a perversion of realizing our own corruptibility and instead of seeking for the Incorruptible One, we try and make us a body of steel. But only Spirit can fulfill us (literally fill us full!) and bring us into true life, in the Resurrection marked by the Messiah and His body, still flesh, but incorruptible as He is the Incorruptible One.

    Just a couple of thoughts from one brother to another,
    In Peace,
    Cal

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    I agree, Cal. One of the great mysteries of life is being fat and ugly. I remember a cartoon in the venerable magazine “Punch” many tears ago showing the rise of man. It started (humorously) with Adam and Eve, went through various stages of hominim, and ended with “Modern Man”.

    Only instead of the Arian Uberman it showed a bald man with glasses, no collar and a bottle of beer, and his overweight wife in a shapeless floral dress with a cigarette hanging from her mouth.

    I we learn to love people with real bodies, we’ve probably made some great spiritual progress!

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