80 hours, 4.5 books, several articles, 23 written pages, and three times trying to write this blog post because somehow it keeps getting deleted and I am (officially at least) done my research. Overall, doing this research was a great experience for me. Two things that I did find were that it was much harder to find relevant material for my research than I had expected and it was much easier to drift into speculation that I would have imagined. The first is because when you discuss a topic like free will, so many other philosophical topics easily drift right into the discussion. The transition from a discussion of free will to what makes you you or to is there a god or to what is morality really is is all to easy to make, which, for at least some of the authors I read, led them very off task from what I was trying to do research on. The second is because many of the studies that led me to do this research turned out to prove much less than I had anticipated. This gap in scientific knowledge then left a lot of room for pondering. This was both good and bad. It was good because it allowed me to really think deeply and attempt to create some of my own philosophical examples, but obviously it was less good because it is far easier to question philosophical musings than scientific data.
Since my last post I feel as though I have done a lot of work, but had little success. I started to read Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennet, but have since taken a break from it. To be fair, I thought I would give it a go as a beach read, so perhaps it was my setting that failed to prepare me for the density of this book. Regardless, I struggled to read it. The first 100 pages of this 460 page book was simply him setting us up for this apparent revolution to the way we look at consciousness that he was about to bestow upon us. As it is, the use of and cause of consciousness is a little bit off the mark from where I intended my research to go, so when he couldn’t even provide anything helpful in the first fourth of the book, I decided it was time to take a break.
At this point I have read three books and done some online article research on the topic. The first book I read was titled Free Will by Sam Harris. It was the first book I tackled purely because it was the only one readily available at my local bookstore, and I had to wait for the other books to come in from an online order. While this book only briefly goes into the psychological studies I have set out to focus this project around, I still felt it was an important read because it worked to define free will and deeply explored the potential implications a lack of free will would have on life as we know it. My favorite quote to sum up Harris’ view of free will was as follows: “You can do what you decide to do – but you cannot decide what you will decide to do” (38). This is my favorite quote first of all because I think the phrasing simplifies the whole view in an amusing manner, but also because it addresses what to me seems to be one of the most confusing aspects of his (and my) belief in a lack of free will. Many people would like to argue that as long as I can choose what I would like to do, then I have free will. However, you need to then ask the question WHY would you like to do that? And the answer why you would like to do that is what he (and I) believe you lack control over. I may have decided to come to William and Mary and I have done just that, but why I decided to come to William and Mary was the result of an infinite number of biological and environmental factors that I had no control over all coming together in precisely the right way to cause me to decide to go to William and Mary.
My goal is to perform an investigation of free will from a scientific standpoint. My research will culminate in a paper. This paper will aim to build support for the view that we lack free will by exploring psychological studies through a philosophical point of view. The particular studies I will be exploring have demonstrated that our brains can make decisions anywhere from two to six seconds before we consciously register these decisions. I would like to look at how these studies relate neuroscience to the study of free will. I would like to note that I do not expect to create a comprehensive proof that we lack free will from these studies, but rather I would like to try to focus on connecting the topic of free will in philosophy to these studies in psychology to help build a focused, scientific argument for the idea that we lack free will.