Free Will?

George Siemens, elearnspace, Feb 27, 2008
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The idea that 'new research' could show whether or not we have 'free will' misunderstands, I think, the meanings of the words. What the words 'free will' describe is a sensation we have of making decisions for ourselves. We can experience more of less of this sensation depending on external constraints (in the same way that the availability of food, say, allows us to feel the sensation of 'sating our hunger'). The idea that research could show that we do not have this sensation is absurd; it's like the idea that research could say we do not have a sense of taste. All that research could say is that the nature of 'free will' is not some sort of miraculous causeless creation of something - an idea, say - out of nothing. But people don't think that's what free will is - do they? And if they do - well, it's a pretty flimsy basis for morality, don't you think?
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