Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wet Robots

Photo by Surian Soosay .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
I recently had a stimulating discussion with an old friend about the nature of reality.  We were discussing an assertion by science and philosophy (specifically a man named Dan Dennett) that free will is an illusion and our actions are all the product of a fully deterministic physical brain.  Dennet, to his credit, makes the point that even if free will is an illusion, it's still important to live life like free will is real.  In other words, even if we are "wet robots", it's not practical to live our lives like there's no consequences to our actions.
There are some scientific findings that support the notion that our decisions form in our brain in a measurable way before we are conscious of them.  I wrote the below in response to watching a video by Dennett posted to a social network by my friend.
"My takeaway from this one is that it makes sense from a philosophical and scientific point of view but has little practical value to impart to day to day living. The analogy {Dennet makes} to fiat vs "real" currency seems like an appropriate one. I will admit to struggling with the philosophical implications of this video for about 24 hours after I watched it. But, ultimately, I think there's still room in this model for some consciousness apart from the physical body. For instance, maybe there's an infinite number of physical bodies on multiple planes and our free will phases us between alternate timelines? I appreciate the machine-like nature of the mind--and, lately, I've enjoyed trying to "life hack" myself. But, ultimately, I don't view science
as the sole informant of my point of view. Science is good at reductionist measurement, but I do think you can lose the forest for the trees. And even if we view ourselves as "wet machines", the very contemplation of that fact could negatively impact our "programming". So take this down! (Just kidding) I think we differ on this point about the existence of the external "soul". Maybe Decker is a replicant after all--but you'll never convince him while he's hooked up the Matrix. Turtles all the way down!"

My friend subsequently pointed out that Dennett's argument is actually supporting living as if free will is real.  I am still thinking about my response.  My first thought is how would I even attempt to live like a robot pretending to be a "real boy"?  I've never been a great actor.  I don't envy those who subscribe to this lack of free will principle, even if they don't go off the deep end of nihilism.  Wouldn't this belief create an undercurrent of despair in daily life?  No thanks.  My friend does make one interesting point, though.  He says the truth should trump any comfortable illusions.  I do agree with that statement.  So I think I have some thinking to do in order to reconcile my argument with these two potentially conflicting concepts (free will and the acknowledgement of the possible philosophical implications of the science).  Of course, a multiverse model of reality pretty much allows for anything--and there is "spooky" physics to support at least the possibility of that.

On the writing front, I am excited to announce I've scheduled a writing retreat for November.  My goal is to complete the first draft of Hemlock book four.  I am extremely excited about this and will probably post more frequently than I have been during that period.  The Hemlock books seem to have a life of their own!  I have virtually ceased all marketing for a few years with the exception of this humble blog, yet sales continue to trickle in and downloads continue unabated.  I can speculate on one big reason for the continued momentum: the venerable Indie Book Blog .  Scott Poe is the operator of this nice indie review site, and has generously been running a banner for the Hemlock books for *years* at this point.  Please visit his site and give him some love!  Thanks, Scott!