09 February 2007

Free Will c.450BC-2007AD

Think what you like .... actually, don'tAs A Dodo has no choice but to report the passing of Free Will, which - after many years of illness - has been ordered into eternity by a team of neuroscientists from Germany, London and Oxford.

Free Will was born in the philosophical schools of ancient Greece in about 450BC when, following Socrates's conclusion that "the good - being identical with the true - imposes itself irresistibly on the will as on the intellect when distinctly apprehended and that every man necessarily wills his greatest good, and his actions are merely means to this end", one of his students punched him in the face for being a dreadful old bore.

Free Will was an unpopular child – frequently getting into fights with philosophers who felt their decision to gang up on Free Will and attempt to beat it to a pulp were all preordained by bearded men on Mount Olympus given to chucking thunderbolts about and changing into swans and bulls to ravish young maidens. Later on it would grow up be an unpopular adult, frequently getting into fights with Logical, Biological and Theological determinists who thought their decision to gang up on Free Will was preordained by past events, the contents of their genes or a bearded man in the sky with a strange resemblance to Dr Rowan Williams.

After two millennia of hard knocks, and a succession of increasingly repressive British Home Secretaries, Free Will first began to complain of feeling unwell when millions of Britons felt compelled to vote New Labour into power in 1997, while in 2000 millions of Americans thought they were voting the Democrats into power but were told otherwise by Jeb Bush and Fox News. Free Will continued about its business but its health was repeatedly called into question after a rapid series of heavy blows including speed cameras, CCTV, biometric passports, DNA testing, ASBOs, 28-day detention without trial and the continuing success of the musicals of Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

The final blow for Free Will came when it was revealed that neuroscientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, with colleagues from University College London and Oxford University, had developed a new technique that allows them to look deep inside a person’s brain and predict their intentions before they act. On making the discovery they immediately informed Free Will, which promptly did as it was told and died.

Free Will has asked to be cremated in a secular service but will instead be held for 28 days before being buried at St John the Reid’s Church of Thoughtcrime. It is survived by the National Lottery.


james higham said...

Sheer brilliance. this one's in the next Focus. Many of the girls ahve been asking for a Focus of class men's posts. This is one of them.

Not Saussure said...

Interesting. I didn't read the story that way at all; I took it as meaning they've managed to use the technology to determine, before he's actually done it, what someone's used his free will to decide to do (in the experiment, whether to add or subtract a pair numbers he was going to be shown) rather than to say what he's going to decide to do.

It's more like mind-reading than anything else; one of the examples they give is that, if they manage to develop it further, you'll be able to think 'I want to send an email' and the PC will open your email programme for you without you having to use the mouse or keyboard-- but you've still got to decide you want to send an email in the first place. It won't say, 'Aha, I bet he'll feel like sending an email any minute now.'

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Anonymous said...

Nice one CC. Free Willy - every girl's dream.

Unpremeditated said...

Hello Not saussure

Admittedly this is a case of As A Dodo stretching a point for comic effect but I think the point is at least arguable. If it's possible to predict what somone will do from a reading of the electrochemical activity in their brain then, at least from that point on, free will would appear to have ceased. The experiment also opens up the possibility that in the future it might be possible to examine the electrochemical state at point (a) along with the stimuli acting upon the brain to predict what the electrochemical state of the brain will be at point(b) and from that to work out what decision would be made at point (b). This is the kind of thinking that leads some scientists to believe it will one day be possible to record a human personality as data which can be played back by computer. If true it would suggest that our free will might really be illusory,which would be really quite scary!