In his 1932 “My Credo” Albert Einstein wrote “I do not believe in free will.” In the best-seller Free Will, Sam Harris declares the notion “incoherent.” Neuro-philosopher Garrett Merriam opines in an IEET interview “the notion of ‘free will’.. [is a] useless concept… I have high hopes that neuroscience will…eliminate [it]…”
We don’t have free will because human physiology isn’t wired that way. In 1983 Benjamin LIbet published research in Brain proving our motor cortex initiates action before the “I” is informed about it. Gary Weber PhD., agrees: “The research is conclusive; the brain determines what you will do, well before you are aware that you will do it. What does your “free will” mean? We no more initiate events “consciously”, than we cause our hearts to beat, or our stomach to digest our lunch.
Nobel Prize Winner Francis Crick offers this definition: “your free will [is] no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” Sam Harris asserts, “You are not controlling the storm… You are the storm.”
I agree with all this. I believe we’re controlled by chemical cocktails in our brains that require us to behave in ways that are impossible to avoid. We are not responsible for our actions; we’re slaves, victims of our psychophysiology.
It is true that certain factions still believe in free will - Religionists and Libertarians - but I’m not in either camp. I’m an atheist social progressive.
Having established my opinion on free will, let’s proceed… Am I “happy” about my Un-Free situation? No. Not at all. I would hugely prefer to have free will.
So… my question, dear readers, is: Should 100% Free Will be a Transhumanist Goal? Think about this: if humanity never achieves free will, we’ll remain slaves. Genius slaves who can fly, perhaps, but slaves, nonetheless.
But, on the other hand.. would universal free will lead to chaos? Is it even possible?
Four years ago I thought boosting IQ was the most important mental enhancement for transhumanists. I’ve written two ebooks on that topic, Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews So High? and Brighter Brains: 225 Ways to Elevate or Injure IQ.
But today, I find that assumption premature. Attaining a large IQ for all humans is not as monumental an achievement as obtaining free will for all humans, unlimited control over our actions, total liberation.
Let’s back up a bit first - in the 1970’s I participated in the “Human Potential” movement. Free Will or the lack of it was a common topic in the “personal growth” ambitions of that era. Although many leaders promoted the naive notion that “we create our own reality” - I wasn’t attracted to that. I preferred the harsher ideas of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and Carlos Castaneda.
Gurdjieff asserts that humanity is just a herd of unconscious “automatons” who are “hypnotized”, existing in “waking sleep” with no freedom of thought or action. Our only escape is via full acceptance of our imprisonment, followed by deep, persistent discipline towards “The Work” that can transcend us to a higher state of consciousness.
Castaneda was my favorite author in this genre, although he has since been discredited as a fraud and plagiarist. The viewpoint of Don Juan, the shaman protagonist, is “that the idea of free will is absurd.” Only “warriors” who pursue “the path of knowledge” with “unbending intent to be free” have a chance to escape psychological bondage.
My subsequent opinion mimics the philosophies of these two writers - I believe free will isn’t available, but it could be attained, at least partially, perhaps through excruciating disciplines… or - definitely - via emerging transhuman technologies.
Returning to the present time, let’s examine the suffering caused by our enslavement to our outdated neurochemistry, which evolved to protect us from pre-civilization menaces. Let’s divide our investigation of the consequences into three categories:
Emotion Humanity is cursed with negative feelings that injure us with internal pain and agony. On a good day, some of us feel “happy” half the time. On a bad day, we’re on a cruel roller-coaster due to our neuro-chemistry instinctively responding to what it perceives as environmental and social “threats.” We’re constricted by anger, greed, envy, resentment, fear, anxiety, grief, disgust, shyness, alienation, guilt, and depression. Episodes of depression scourge 6.7% of the US population annually. Our ghastly feeling are not chosen by us, we’re condemned to experience them in this overlap between Body and Thought.
Thought Our minds often flit spasmodically from one obsession to another, exhausting us with their randomness and superficiality. Frequently we ruminate helplessly on subjects we’d rather avoid - like traumatic memories and irrational phobias. We procrastinate, we lose focus, we can’t pay attention, we brood, we’re paralyzed, we’re helpless to resist our prejudices, biases, and self-destructive affections.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all these problems were eradicated?
Imagine an existence as Free-Will Transhumans, who decided 100% of the time what we wanted to think, feel, and do.. We would be an immensely more powerful species.
But - returning to the cautionary questions - would a planet of elevated free will beings be safer, or in unforeseen danger? Massive ability requires massive responsibility. Would it be wiser to only incorporate 70% free will, or 50%, or a mere 20%? (Assuming free will is even quantifiable) Should transhumanity gradually accumulate greater free will, slowly in tiny increments, to prevent social catastrophes?
I’m going to further delay that speculation, to theorize first how Free Will - or, at least, increased control of our psychophysiology - can be approached. We’ll begin with options presently available, and continue from there into futuristic, far-out, fantastical possibilities.
Today’s Techniques and Technology Control of one’s thoughts and feelings can be improved via meditation. Studies have shown that the ancient discipline can elevate attentional control, rational decision-making, and dozens of other mental activities. “Consciousness Hacker” and IEET Affiliate Scholar Mikey Siegel is also developing “biofluent technologies” that steer users “toward higher consciousness, self-realization, awakening…transcendence.”
Pharmaceutical Control of our Biochemistry “Paradise engineering”, advocated by philosopher David Pearce of HedWeb.com, has “abolition of suffering” as its goal. Copious synthesized and organic chemicals are proposed to alleviate emotional agony and severe discontent; dozens are listed on the Good Drug Guide - with promises that many are “exhilarating… life-transforming and soul-enriching.” Does this equate with “free will”? Not exactly, but studies on psilocybin, for example, have found that it can release people from entrapment in negative emotions and reduce the symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Memory Erasure and Alteration + Injection of Joyful Invented Memories Our neurological response to situations is largely determined by memories of similar events. Egg sandwiches disgust me, for example, because I vomited one up when I was young. “Once bitten, twice shy.” PTSD episodes and panic attacks are triggered by noises, visual cues, or other stimuli that remind the victim of the original trauma. Wonderfully, a cure is appearing to end this repetition of horror - scientists are erasing painful memories in rats by injecting “a compound called ZIP into the hippocampus.” “Sunshine Technology” could make humans happier by deleting negative memories or altering them to make their recall enjoyable. Artificial memories could also be installed in our hippocampi, to provide calmness, trust, exuberance and other positive feelings.
Rewiring Our Brains, with Wires Our mental activity currently depends on largely-out-of-our-control neurochemical reactions. If we can’t manipulate these complex substances to guarantee ourselves free will, perhaps we should scrap the fragile, temperamental biological system for a network that’s easier to control. Of course I’m talking about a “machine” - a supercomputer brain. Adding thoughts (data) will be simple downloads, choosing emotions will be as easy as selecting fonts. Our will, our focus, our attention, will be enormously freed because it will be on a binary system, without all the distractions of the hundreds of competing neurochemicals in our present thinking organ.
You’re welcome to listen to her POV: I haven’t yet, because the answer seems obvious to me.
A 2014 study from Utrecht, The Netherlands reports that people with greater self-control are happier. Why? Impulse control is linked to academic success, professional achievement, and better health; it enables us in goal-directed, disciplined drives to become our ideal self. Additional studies support these claims.
Am I willing to say this is proof enough? Yes, I am.
Am I asserting that a quantifiable gain in happiness attained via self-control, indicates more happiness will be available to everyone if 100% Free Will is attained? Yes, I am.