Free Will is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Opinion.jpgFree Won’t

It’s a good thing my brain has some time to decide what I’m going to do before I exercise my free will. God knows what kind of trouble I’d get into without that extra time! Your brain takes about two seconds to commit itself to a behavior before you know that you are choosing to do it. (We know this because of brain research, particularly that of Dr. Benjamin Libet, who died in 2007.)

That’s no cause to say we don’t have free will. I mean, who said you had to know what you were choosing to do in order for it to be free will? Put another way, does the “you” in “you exercised free will” have to be the “you” that believes your philosophical pronouncements about free will? After all, there’s a lot more to you than you experience consciously.

Put another way, you have “free won’t.” There is a window of opportunity in which you consciously decide to stop yourself from doing something you were preparing to do before you knew it. People who have brain problems that affect this window of time for exercising restraint can get into (and cause) a lot of trouble by acting impulsively.

The Curious Incident of the Brain that was Recovering in the Night

In recovering from my own brain damage experience, I noticed something odd one day when I took off one of my shoes. My hand flipped it in the air, caught it, and smartly placed it on the floor. I had no conscious experience of choosing to do this. But it was a sign of recovery. At least some part of my brain was starting to have a good time…because, man, was I ever in need of one. Another time, I was making rice. After dumping the rice out of a metal measuring cup, my hand dipped the cup into the boiling water and sloshed the remaining rice granules into the water. My measuring cup was completely empty and ready for the dish rack. Lucky for me my hand was smarter than I was. It left me wondering why I hadn’t done that before the brain injury.

This was, literally, a first-hand experience of how the brain processes things in various regions somewhat independently of other regions, and of how the conscious mind is not privy to everything that is going on in there.

Rendering Opinions about Opinions

This should lead us to being more skeptical about opinions and even philosophy. If you make a subversive list of the outcomes of philosophy for philosophers, you get tenure, getting published, getting laid, feeling important, and getting other people to scratch their chins and nod wisely. Isn’t it fair to ask if those outcomes are more powerful shapers of philosophers’ behavior than the logic they consciously experience themselves following? Certainly the Sokal Affair (the hoax that physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated in 1996 on Duke University’s postmodern journal Social Text) gives the hypothesis legs.

Orwell that ends Well

Could better and widespread understanding of how our brains work create a better society? Imagine a nation with citizens so clear as to whether or not the opinions they hear are driven by useful information, that they could not be manipulated by a government that wants to use their bodies and minds to create a war machine that serves highly-capitalized interests. If there were a risk of such a citizenry developing, such a government would probably want to see school funding cut, expanded religious fundamentalism that acts as an easily manipulated political force. It would want well-orchestrated media, with ownership concentrated into the hands of a limited number of wealthy insiders. It would want to eliminate privacy protections and use brutal methods of coercion. It would even attack science in public schools.

People with mental illnesses and disorders would be more valuable to such a government as examples to produce fear and to feed funding into a justice system that makes use of private firms that can divert funds to election campaigns. That means putting them in jails and diverting funding from the kinds of therapeutic people and organizations that would disrupt that cruel frame of reference. It would promote the idea of its populace as “consumers” rather than “citizens.”

Hmmm… This is starting to sound eerily familiar.

Uh oh!

More Reading

Benjamin Libet, 91; probed science of brain, free will
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2007

Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t
By Dennis Overbye, New York Times, January 2, 2007

Benjamin Libet
Machines Like Us (blog)

Benjamin Libet

  • dar

    Lest we forget the cornerstone of anti-freewill:
    [via Richard,]

    The following letter was received by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, Milwaukee Wisconsin, on 2 October 1954, from Mr. Charles Perkins, a chemist:

    “I have your letter of September 29 asking for further documentation regarding a statement made in my book, The Truth About Water Fluoridation, to the effect that the idea of water fluoridation was brought to England from Russia by the Russian Communist Kreminoff. “In the 1930`s, Hitler and the German Nazi`s envisioned a world to be dominated and controlled by a Nazi philosophy of pan-Germanism. The German chemists worked out a very ingenious and far-reaching plan of mass-control which was submitted to and adopted by the German General Staff. This plan was to control the population in any given area through mass medication of drinking water supplies. By this method they could control the population in whole areas, reduce population by water medication that would produce sterility in women, and so on. In this scheme of mass-control, sodium fluoride occupied a prominent place. …

    “Repeated doses of infinitesimal amounts of fluoride will in time reduce an individual`s power to resist domination, by slowly poisoning and narcotizing a certain area of the brain, thus making him submissive to the will of those who wish to govern him. [A convenient light lobotomy]

    “The real reason behind water fluoridation is not to benefit children`s teeth. If this were the real reason there are many ways in which it could be done that are much easier, cheaper, and far more effective. The real purpose behind water fluoridation is to reduce the resistance of the masses to domination and control and loss of liberty.

    “When the Nazis under Hitler decided to go into Poland, both the German General Staff and the Russian General Staff exchanged scientific and military ideas, plans, and personnel, and the scheme of mass control through water medication was seized upon by the Russian Communists because it fitted ideally into their plan to communize the world. …

    “I was told of this entire scheme by a German chemist who was an official of the great IG Farben chemical industries and was also prominent in the Nazi movement at the time. I say this with all the earnestness and sincerity of a scientist who has spent nearly 20 years` research into the chemistry, biochemistry, physiology and pathology of fluorine–any person who drinks artificially fluorinated water for a period of one year or more will never again be the same person mentally or physically.” CHARLES E. PERKINS, Chemist, 2 October 1954.


    Quoting Einstein`s nephew, Dr. E.H. Bronner (a chemist who had also been a prisoner of war during WWII) in a letter printed in The Catholic Mirror, Springfield, MA, January 1952:

    “It appears that the citizens of Massachusetts are among the ‘next’ on the agenda of the water poisoners.

    “There is a sinister network of subversive agents, Godless ‘intellectual’ parasites, working in our country today whose ramifications grow more extensive, more successful and more alarming each new year and whose true objective is to demoralize, paralyze and destroy our great Republic–from within if they can, according to their plan–for their own possession.

    “The tragic success they have already attained in their long siege to destroy the moral fiber of American life is now one of their most potent footholds towards their own ultimate victory over us.

    “Fluoridation of our community water systems can well become their most subtle weapon for our sure physical and mental deterioration. ..

    “As a research chemist of established standing, I built within the past 22 years, 3 American chemical plants and licensed 6 of my 53 patents. Based on my years of practical experience in the health-food and chemical field, let me warn: fluoridation of drinking water is criminal insanity, sure national suicide. Don`t do it.

    “Even in small quantities, sodium fluoride is a deadly poison to which no effective antidote has been found. Every exterminator knows that it is the most efficient rat-killer. … Sodium fluoride is entirely different from organic calcium-fluoro-phosphate needed by our bodies and provided by nature, in God`s great providence and love, to build and strengthen our bones and our teeth. This organic calcium-fluoro-phosphate, derived from proper foods, is an edible organic salt, insoluble in water and assimilable by the human body, whereas the non-organic sodium fluoride used in fluoridating water is instant poison to the body and fully water soluble.

    The body refuses to assimilate it. “Careful, bonafide laboratory experimentation by conscientious, patriotic research chemists, and actual medical experience, have both revealed that instead of preserving or promoting `dental health,` fluoridated drinking water destroys teeth, before adulthood and after, by the destructive mottling and other pathological conditions it actually causes in them, and also creates many other very grave pathological conditions in the internal organisms of bodies consuming it. How can it be called a “health” plan? What`s behind it?

    “That any so-called “doctors” would persuade a civilized nation to add voluntarily a deadly poison to its drinking water systems is unbelievable. It is the height of criminal insanity. “No wonder Hitler and Stalin fully believed and agreed from 1939 to 1941 that, quoting from both Lenin`s Last Will and Hitler`s Mein Kampf:

    “America we shall demoralize, divide, and destroy from within.” …

    “Are our Civil Defense organizations and agencies awake to the perils of water poisoning by fluoridation? Its use has been recorded in other countries. Sodium fluoride water solutions are the cheapest and most effective rat killers known to chemists: colorless, odorless, tasteless; no antidote, no remedy, no hope: Instant and complete extermination of rats. …

    “Fluoridation of water systems can be slow national suicide, or quick national liquidation. It is criminal insanity–treason!”

    Dr. E.H. Bronner, Mfg. Research Chemist, Los Angeles.

  • dar

    Don’t just stand there, think
    New research suggests that we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies

  • Hi Dar,

    Flouride must have turned me into a state-sponsored zombie, since I forgot to mention the cornerstone of free will, the flouride conspiricy. You could be the anti-Bobby Fischer that can wake us up. Or, it could be more a matter of researchers and politicos being in bed with industry. To wit:

    But why would you cite somone like Dr. Bronner? Don’t you like credibility?


    Robert A. Yourell

  • dar

    G’day Prof Robert,
    -forgive the delay in responding
    -forsooth,haven’t a clue who dr bonner is, as the post
    was lifted[credit given]from Richard,mod,at

    -You know,prof Robert, if one manages to survive
    at the threshhold of dotage with sanity somewhat
    intact…you realise that ‘reputation’ isn’t as
    important as content afterall.

  • Pingback: Free Will and the Philosophy of Science | Brain Blogger()

Robert A. Yourell, MA

Robert A. Yourell, MA, has extensive experience in the mental health and social services dating back to 1975. His training includes Ericksonian communication and hypnosis with John Grinder, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with Francine Shapiro, PhD, Body Integrative Psychotherapy with Jack Rosenberg, PhD, and solution-focused psychotherapy. He provides free audio experiences on his site that include bilateral sound and Shimmering.

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