Friday, 20 March 2015

Free Will?


Julian Baggiani has written about the hoary, old topic yet again (http://www.theguardian.com/profile/julianbaggini). He refutes the idea that the genes control every aspect of our behaviour and points to some of the oddities in the 'identical twins separated at birth' data. He points out that many behavioural attributes are polygenic and that our life conditions and experiences play a major role in determining our character and attributes. I'm surprised that any of this comes as a surprise. I have taught for decades that behaviour is always a result of a genes plus environment interaction. In one sense, of course, 'real free will' is an illusion. We are 'victims' of our genes and our upbringing. The analogy I like is one with the electromagnetic spectrum. We know that white light consists of wavelengths from red to violet and our instruments tell us that there are wavelengths our eyes cannot see (infra-red and ultraviolet). I think of infra-red as 'pure' instinct and ultraviolet as 'pure' learning. 'Real' behaviour is on a continuum like the visible wavelengths and will vary in its distance from the two, somewhat hypothetical extremes.

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