The existence of free will, or lack thereof, has been the subject of critical discussion for thousands of years.
If you ask Stanford University’s resident neurobiologist, Robert Sapolsky, that’s been a bit of a waste of time, because all of our actions can be attributed solely to our biology.
It’s Thursday, freedom is almost within reach, and it’s been one of those weeks – we get it, so let’s try and keep it simple.
VICE interviewed Robert ahead of the release of his latest book, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”, and here’s how they set the ball rolling:
He’s opposed to the concept of “free will.” Instead, he believes that our behavior [sic] is made up of a complex and chaotic soup of so many factors that it’s downright silly to think there’s a singular, autonomous “you” calling the shots.
And the interview commences:
Tell me about your new book.
If we want to make sense of our behavior—all the best, worst and everything in between—we’re not going to get anywhere if we think it can all be explained with one thing, whether it’s one part of the brain, one childhood experience, one hormone, one gene, or anything. Instead, a behavior is the outcome of everything from neurobiology one second before the action, to evolutionary pressure dating back millions of years.
Your book expresses some pretty novel ideas about free will and the criminal justice system.
Ultimately, words like “punishment,” “justice,” “free will,” “evil,” “the soul,” are utterly irrelevant and scientifically obsolete in terms of understanding our behavior. It’s insanely difficult for people to accept the extent to which we are biological organisms without agency.
If we aren’t responsible for our bad behavior, then we’re also not responsible for our good behavior, right? Would that mean that all success in life is by chance?
As difficult as it is for us to be comfortable with a mechanized view of our worst behavior, it’s much harder for people to accept that it’s all biology when it comes to our good behavior as well. It’s a less pressing problem compared to issues of mass incarceration. But yes, we need to acknowledge how much sheer damn luck of biology has gifted some of us with things that others haven’t.
Still with us? Good.
Now you can read the rest of that VICE interview HERE, but we’re going to change gears.
Fancy a TED Talk from the rather eccentric Robert? This one promises to be more light-hearted:
At Stanford University, primatologist Robert Sapolsky offers a fascinating and funny look at human behaviors [sic] which the rest of the animal kingdom would consider bizarre.
If you’re not offended by the idea that we share many traits with baboons then hit it:
That’s about enough thinking for today.
Or is it? Who am I? Why are we even here? I think it’s time for a nap.
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