Free Will Essay
Having identified the differences between animals, humans, and machines from the neuroscientific point of view, Stanislas Dehaene provided details in which forms consciousness is present and unveils for these three groups. The scientist also deliberated on such an aspect of consciousness as free will; and while some sort of consciousness is innate to the three, humans stand out due to complexity of consciousness and its processes.
“Free will” as a debatable concept roots back to ancient civilizations and referred to philosophy and religion rather than science. Humans were believed to bear the power of making decisions regardless of the fate, God’s will, or other factors that would become predominating. However, the more humanity focused on body as the source human activities, the more vivid became the connection between the physical aspects of human operation and neurologic influence came to the fore, in particular.
While defining the free will that should separate humans from animals and machines, Dehaene focused on impulses versus cognition. He stated:
Our belief in free will expresses the idea that, under the right circumstances, we have the ability to guide our decisions by our higher-level thoughts, beliefs, values, and past experiences, and to exert control over our undesired lower-level impulses. (Dehaene 264)
Therefore, animals having global availability consciousness differ from humans only in the lack of complexity, such higher-level thoughts and gained knowledge apart from experience. This way a beaten dog would not trust people compared to wild animals that are not afraid of people who feed them in a wildlife reserve. Such cause-effect reactions cannot be called a free will. In a similar way, humans differ from machines n terms of complexity. Machines have a set of predefined factors, i.e. programmed data, where different combinations of data conclude in a range of reactions. Again, such reactions have nothing to do with free will. Given a more complex system of human cortex and neurological processes, humans believe to have free will when they make decisions because they believe to be making conscious decisions based on the factors provided above. However, new discoveries in neuroscience that fill in dark spots in science and reconsider the existing knowledge on brain conclude that free will does not exist because consciousness is the product of electric impulses that run through neurons in the directions predefined by life-time cognitions.
While a person thinks that the process of making a conscious decision lays in the realm of a free will, neurons transmit signals that run their route from checkpoint to checkpoint till all relevant data is processed in seconds as a “personal decision.” This way, a free choice to save a drowning child or a close friend, sexual preferences, a decision of carry out a massacre in a public place, or simply a choice of chocolate over vanilla flavor are predefined and “digested” by the brain being indivisible from consciousness and mind. Therefore, humans do not differ from machines in the mechanical processing of the existing data, yet, differ in complexity of data that humans operate.
Dehaene, Stanislas. Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. Penguin Books, 2014.