Book How To Behave And Why

so somewhere in all of this studying the biologybehavior, somewhere in there when you’re realizing activity levels in this part ofthe brain one second before this act: what you had for breakfast all the way back tolike what culture your ancestors evolved to—all of these are influencing your behavior. most of these variables we’re not even awareof. they’re subliminal. we never would have expected it. inevitably somewhere in there you’ve gotto sit down and start having the free will discussion.

so is there any free will in there? and the polite thing that i’ve sort of saidfor decades is that “well, if there is free will, it’s in all the boring places, andthose places are getting more and more cramped.” if you want to insist that today you decidedto floss your teeth starting on your upper teeth rather than your lower teeth, ratherthan the other way around, that that is an act of free will—whatever, i’ll grantthat one to you. that’s where the free will is. in reality i don’t think there’s any freewill at all. if you look at the things that come into accountas to whether or not someone is going to do

the right thing in the next two seconds amida temptation to do otherwise, the variables in there reflect everything from whether they’rehaving gas pains that day because of something unpleasant they ate that morning—that makesus more selfish, more impulsive, et cetera—to what epigenetic effects occurred to them whenthey were a first trimester fetus. when you look at the number of things we recognizenow that are biological—organic—where 500 years ago or five years ago we would havehad a harsh moral judgment about it. instead we now know oh, that’s a biologicalphenomenon. when we look at that, either we can say thelast 500 years of realizing all of this biology is going to stop right here and there’snever going to be a new piece of knowledge

in that area—yeah, there’s areas of behaviorwe still can’t explain biologically. but if all you can do is see the logical directionwe’re going with that is what we’re going to get to the point is recognizing yeah, we’rebiological organisms. this notion of free will, for want of a lessprovocative word, is nothing but a myth. what’s going to be really challenging thoughis to figure out how you structure a society that actually runs humanely built around thenotion that we are merely biological organisms. and that one i haven’t a clue. if someone tells me, you know, “oh, niceshirt you’re wearing today,” and i say “oh gee, thanks!”

i’ve just shown that on some fundamentallevel i have trouble accepting there’s no such thing as free will. no: actually i picked this shirt today becausethe culture i come from has these values and my visual, you know, color receptors toldme that this shirt matches with this. you know you still have a reflex to attributesome sort of free will and sort of tiny little domains. if that’s going to prove horrible and toodifficult to overcome, that’s fine. where we need to do the heavy lifting is whenwe’re making judgments about volition in areas where we harshly judge people.

there we really have to do the hard work ofthinking through that there’s not a lot of free will going on there.

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