Re: Curious Conundrum

Posted by
Barry on Feb 04, 2004 at 18:17

Re: Curious Conundrum (True)

Since this discussion may lead to the topic of "free will" I dug up this article from :

Free Will

It is interesting that Matt Ridley, a strong advocate of evolutionary psychology, sees free will as an adaptation 'there was a reason that evolution handed our ancestors the ability to take initiatives and the reason was that free will and initiative are means to satisfy ambition, to compete with fellow human beings, to deal with life's emergencies, and so eventually to be in a better position to reproduce and rear children'.

In contrast Rita Carter thinks that free will and agency are illusions created by the way natural selection designed our brains. She argues that human beings must be determined because we are part of the natural universe which is governed by the laws of cause and effect. On the illusion of free will she says 'The reason it is so utterly convincing is that the illusion - like the illusion that the objects around us are solid, or have some integral colour - is deeply wired into the brain as a set of mechanisms which automatically create the sense of self/subjectivity and agency that makes it feel as though we decide what our acts will be rather than merely respond to stimuli.' She cites as evidence that this is the case experiments that show that the brain begins an action before consciousness of it emerges. She also argues that neuroscience is now unravelling the mechanism of self and agency and claims that these are charted well enough for them to be copied in AI systems raising the question; will these "self-sensing" robots develop the same sense of agency and subjectivity we have?

Susan Blackmore, in her 1999 book The Meme Machine comes to remarkably similar conclusions. She makes the case that human beings are products of both natural and memetic selection; 'We humans are simultaneously two kinds of thing: meme machines and selves . . . Our bodies and brains have been designed by natural selection . . . In addition, because of our skill with language and our memetic environment, we are all repositories of vast numbers of memes' and argues that the idea of an inner self is a 'selfplex' - a collection of memes creating the illusion of self -

'I' am the product of all the memes that have successfully got themselves inside this selfplex - whether because my genes have provided the sort of brain that is particularly conducive to them, or because they have some selective advantage over other memes . . .
She goes on to argue that the illusion of self gives rise to a number of other illusions, including free-will, consciousness and foresight. For her, even human creativity is best understood as the product of memetic evolution; 'the generative power behind this creativity is the competition between replicators, not a magical, out-of-nowhere power such as consciousness is often said to be . . . Replicator power is the only design process we know of that can do the job, and it does it. We do not need conscious human selves messing about in there as well.'


C. Badcock, Evolutionary Psychology: A Critical Introduction, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2000

J. Barkow, L. Cosmides and J. Tooby (eds), The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, OUP, 1992

S. Blackmore, The Meme Machine, 1999

R. Carter, Mapping the Mind, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998

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