Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Essay in 'Nature' : "Is Free Will an illusion ?"

Reference citation :

Is free will an illusion?
NATURE|Vol 459|14 May 2009, 164-165

Foreword :

The essay has an interesting debate as to what constitutes Free Will and what doesnt.........and attempts to explain a very long and intriguing philosophical conundrum scientifically...... (?)

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The author Martin Heisenberg is professor emeritus in the department of biology at the University of W├╝rzburg, Germany, and works with fruit-flies.

He initiates the debate emphasising on the dictum that response is independant of stimulus, and unicellular animals move/locomote in ways which are different from that of multicellular organisms where synchrony between parts is needed to maintian a whole, but which could be completely independant of external stimulus, a fact corroborated by the earlier appearance of motor functions as compared to sensory system during developemnt.

On the basis of his experiments on fruit-flies where they (the flies) generate 'new' actions (never known to have been performed earlier by other flies), in the face of clear adversity......the author decides to explore and explain Freedom in scientific terms.

He first defines Freedom in the words of the great German philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, as when "a person acts freely if he does of his own accord what must be done" which implies a non-deterministic, stochastic behaviour, and then goes on to argue on the basis of his belief that "we need not be conscious of our decision-making to be free" as opposed to "freedom as the ability to consciously decide how to act"......

The essay though interesting, leaves quite a bit more explaining before a point could be fully made, especially when a scientific explanation is extended for a largely metaphysical question. Maybe more intuitive experiments on fruit-flies as well as more complex beings ('higher animals') should address this philosophical conundrum clearly.

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