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Susan Blackmore

8: Free Thinker: Susan Blackmore The Myth of Free Will


Are the choices we make really free? Many scientists now believe that there can be no such thing as "free will" - our genes, our inheritance and our biology are in control.
Leading brain scientist, TV presenter and best-selling author Susan Blackmore says that doesn't matter - we can live a moral and meaningful life without it.

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Your thoughts

edward penning, staffordshire
There's a reference to this programme on the bbc radio4 m/b 'word of mouth', where a thread was started quoting the word 'wisdom', (referred to, allegedly, on the programme).After a couple of days where several exchanges took place, one poster, on downloading the podcast, claims that...there is no mention of the word 'wisdom' throughout the entire transcript.My own curiosity aroused, I went to download same, but am informed on this site that it is not available....? Does this now mean we shall never know, never get to the bottom of this anomaly? (imprisoned thinker)

Carlos Rafael, Barcelona
I very much regret that this programme is not available for those of us in Spain. I look forward that this will change to favor us in the near future.thanks

James, Notts
As a sometimes impish disbeliever in free will I love to over-simplify this one and wind my friends up....You might decide to eat because you're hungry, so we can say the reason you ate was your hunger, not the decision. Get it?

Dr Craig Ross, Glasgow
Susan Blackmore's account is, in essence, - "I can see that we are only physical processes in a materialist universe". So who, then, would the “I” be who can “see" this? What would "seeing" be? If it is an event, which is what this physicalist account entails, then “seeing” and “saying” have no knowable truth value. The account might be true, but the odds are infinitesimally small, and the claim is not justified true belief. Thinkers like Susan Blackmore and Daniel Dennett think that they are very sophisticated. But if their physicalist account of the universe is true they cannot be "sophisticated" enough to escape their limitation – to wit, being matter. People who think there is no free will should think carefully what a caused rejection of free will (which is what they claim to have) could amount to. I would venture to suggest that this is best undertaken without the “aid” of drugs.

jason palmer,london
A great lecture with interesting points, it has sparked a discussion at the philosophy now forum :)

jehovajah Lincoln
"Free" and "will" mean what exactly? Where and When did the concept arise in the judeo christian wqrld and culture? Many equate it with "free choice" but this is the objective equivalent of a subjective "entitiy" and is it equivalent? The use of this term far out weighs its definition or understanding because it is used by powerful groups to support or promote a particular cultural world view. If we do statistical survey of individual behaviour we find that it is highly patterned indicating that free choice is not behaviourally significant. Social and cultural controls make up the majority of an individuals behavioural controls giving the individual only the "freedom" to choose between which already determined path of action that 9s socially or culturally acceptable . The true free thinkers in our society are called mad and often institutionalised because they are a danger to themselves or others? If you are for want of a better term socially or culturally responsible then you are bound and determined and not free, and if you are free then you will be bound and determined by your society and culture as soon as they or it finds out!From emperors to the man in the street the contiguity determines the nature and extent of your choices and the strength and effectiveness of your will. The contiguity then is the real and effective control and our cultural conception of how we interact with it changes with our understanding of it. Hemce free will and free choice are entities from the past whose referrent has to change or the terms will become obsolete.

Sidney Whitaker
Even with sound only, this broadcast was the most brilliantly managed lecture, with audience participation. ( I am "listening again") Susan Blackmore, without cannabis, helps us to conceptualise the impossibly difficult illusion. Seeing the text about this programme, I am worried by the disrupted "paragraphing"--surely an oversight?

John Bourne, Ewell
Thanks for the entertaining talk this evening (Sunday 2nd) from Susan Blackmore, with the premise that free will is an illusion. Experiments on the physical workings of the brain are perhaps our only hope of elucidating the 'mechanism' of conscious awareness, but unless and until we understand at very least how information is stored and processed surely it is utterly futile to speculate that such-and-such electrical activity represents the taking of a decision: it could be evidence of a timing mechanism or any of countless other processes beyond our imagination.It was well said that we must have free will, there's no choice in the matter.

ms - Milton Keynes
SB's argument is completely flawed. It is not so much free will in being able to do or be anything, but free will regarding how we (choose to) interpret events and free will regarding the content of our own minds. We have complete free will in terms of whether we think positive or negative thoughts. This, I believe is the fundamental point about being human - that we can choose good or bad, ie: moral choice. The debate ultimately is a 'religious' (spiritual) and/or ethical one. If we all chose positive thoughts, the world would be a better place; we would all be 'closer to God'.

A festival of ideas in Liverpool Friday 31st October - Sunday 2nd November 2008, on radio and online.

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