This post is in response to Sam Harris' article on Huffington Post: You Do Not Choose What You Choose.
With apologies to Strother Martin: What we have here is a failure to equivocate.
In other words, this entire argument is based upon a fallacy of equivocation, defining a word in different ways within the same argument. Sam Harris narrowly defines the word "you" to mean "one's conscious self" at some points of this argument, but uses it to mean "all of one's body and brain" in other parts of his argument. In fact, he does so within the headline itself.
By stating that one's conscious self is not aware of or able to directly control the mechanisms by which one's unconscious self makes decisions, Mr. Harris seems to believe he has made the point that we have no free will. Instead, he has merely made the point that a small subset of what we commonly call "me" does not have free will. I will accept, as much research has shown, that my conscious self is usually - if not always - not directly aware of what is going on on the back burners of my brain. My conscious mind is not able to direct which synapses form where or how strong or redundant the connections will be.
However, I do not accept that my conscious mind is all there is to "me." Perhaps the distinction is between "me" (with a little 'm') and "Me" (with a capital 'M'). Both are nevertheless part of the collective "ME." I assert that - even though my conscious self may not be aware of what is going on - it is still "ME" who is ultimately making the decisions. My conscious self may not choose to choose "rabbit" instead of "elephant" but my unconscious self did. My conscious self may not know why my unconscious self chose one over the other but my unconscious self may. Or it may not. It is still "ME" that is making the decision. Even if that decision is entirely random and based on the quantum state of a couple of molecules of neurotransmitter. Those molecules are still part of "ME" and I claim them as my own.
In the end this "free will" debate is moot. Like creationism, free-will arguments will always be "gap-based" arguments. Anything that can't currently be explained will be treated as proof for one side of the argument or the other. We are unlikely to ever be able to definitively settle the dispute. What ultimately counts is our perceptions (as well as the reactions within our unconscious minds which those perceptions trigger). As long as our collective perception is that we can actually do something to make ourselves and our world better then I will be satisfied.
The contents of this post is Copyright © 2011 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.