Celebrated neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga explains the new science behind an ancient philosophical question
By Gareth Cook| November 15, 2011 |
Excerpt: “The modern philosophers of mind now seize on neuroscience and cognitive science to help illuminate age old questions and to this day are frequently ahead of the pack. Among other skills, they have time to think! The laboratory scientist is consumed with experimental details, analyzing data, and frequently does not have the time to place a scientific finding into a larger landscape. It is a constant tension.”
My comment: As a medical laboratory scientist who spends at least 36 hours in the lab each week, I do not agree that there is no time to think about the philosophical tension.
What neuroscience has shown us about how the mind works is that classical conditioning and unconscious affects on behavior precede operant conditioning associated with neurophysiological rewards (or not). It is the neurophysiological rewards that link experience to the brain and the brain to the mind (and the mind to free will). Simply put, we have the free will that is required to deny ourselves the rewards associated with operant conditioning, though we cannot deny our need for food and social interactions that are responsible for adaptive evolution of our socio-cognitive niche, which enables our free will
What aspect of the mind/brain connection, which is often presented as a mind / brain dichotomy cannot be understood using the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization that link sensory input to gene activation in hormone-secreting cells of brain tissue of the mammalian hypothalamus — and to our conscious perception of self non-self differences so that we are not inclined to eat ourselves or even close kin?
Is the decision not to cannibalize an example of our evolved free will, or are we more like pigs who seem to mindlessly ‘see’ their conspecifics as if the injured were merely another souce of food — as they would an injured human who would just as readily be eaten by the hogs.
Why does anyone need to explain free will as the absence of human cannibalism in most societies, when it is largely absent across adaptive evolution that has occurred via ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction? Have I missed something important to debate about free will, or is the debate simply one that is foolish from a neuroscientific perspective — or from any other (e.g., philosophical) perspective?