Can you change your mind/brain?

Posted on November 9, 2011

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If  Dan Dennett, and an increasing number of neuroscientists are proposing that you have no free will, how can you change yourself?

Presumably your network of biases or models would have to include some kind of super-bias or super-network – that keeps some kind of  score and automatically attempts to modify or destroy other biases  (networks ) that fail to ‘make the grade’ or fit in, or facilitate your physical and social survival.

At the biological level you can think of your immune system as playing that score-keeping and intervention role – wins some and loses some.

Dan Dennett - mini-robbots

At a psychological level you can thing of habits of thinking and behavior as built-in biases or networks controlled to some degree by a psychological or behavioral immune system that keeps score and attempts to over-ride the troublesome habits ( or in Dennett’s terms ‘teams of mine-robots’ pursing their particular agenda).

You may recall Freud’s model in which the id (in modern terms: genetic biases or mini-robbots) tried to control the system, and the super-ego (cultural biases or acquired teams of robots) attempt to suppress the Id team, with the ego ( stress manager or peacemaker biases or robots) tried  to generate compromises.

We find the familiar concepts of habit and New Year’s Resolutions as helpful in providing conceptual stepping stones between Dennett’s concept of teams of mini-robots and our traditional manner of thinking of free will. When we have trouble giving up smoking or declining the second piece of chocolate cake, or the third martini we recognize that our wills are not quite as free as we suppose – Dennett takes that insight a step further in proposing that we have no free will.

But the hard question remains – if Dennett is right where does the universal meta-model of FREE WILL come from? How do we account for the illusion that we are the captains of our fate? How does the ‘free will team’ of mini-robots evolve and persist providing the meta illusion that we’re running the show???

From an evolutionary perspective what survival value does it have? Why are virtually all our institutions built on the presumption of free will and personal responsibility?

Play with the idea that all of us are ‘innocent’ all of the time…. ” It’s not my fault… my teams of mini-robbots made me do it!”

Let me know how you make out.

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Posted in: Sciencing