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On Free Will: Part 1-A Short Linguistic and Semantical Assessment

On Free Will: Part 1-A Short Linguistic and Semantical Assessment

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Essentially my own thoughts with notes provided where necessary for anyone interested in following up anything
Essentially my own thoughts with notes provided where necessary for anyone interested in following up anything

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12/04/2012

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On Free Will
Part 1: A Linguistic and Semantical Assessment 
Daniel Bourke1/1/2012
 
Introduction
Modern neuroscience by and large tells us we are biochemical puppets. That we are bereft of free willand that our actions are not essentially our own, being instead nothing more than physiologically andcontextually-determined
re-
actions. In a co-inciding of philosophies, Neo-Darwinism too tells us that thisis an unsurprising outcome. It being concerned primarily with purposelessness and predicatedfundamentally on the perceived
“creative capacity” of rand
omosity.Darwinism has been one of the key ingredients in the rise of post-Cartesian rationalism. It could besoundly argued that Darwinism was indeed the premier component which propelled the rationalisticphilosophies toward popular consideration in modern times, and ultimately acceptance, even amongmany staunch theists.We will here examine and critique just some aspects of the issue; specifically there will be a focus on theuse of language and its characteristics in shaping the flavour of the debate. Those issues which have notbeen addressed have been either purposely omitted or were not considered due to a lack of familiarity.We are first and foremost concerned with an essay of a more philosophical, personal and speculativeleaning, full academic corroboration notwithstanding. However, notes and reference will be provided
where necessary. A future piece will delve into and examine the “Neuroscience of free will”
directly. Soif upon reading this the reader finds its lack of attention to the science which underlies the opinions of many in the field problematic, they should refer to the accompanying
“Part 2”
Both are derivative of each other and representative of the same wider thought process, hence they need not necessarily beread in numerological order. There will be no personal definitions or opinions offered on the matterhere, these are to be fleshed out in part 2 of the series.
The Value of Philosophical thought within Science
To begin with, in philosophy, concern with the definition of terms and how this type of clarification canadvance conversational rapport is of paramount importance. Too often language meaning is assumed asa given while the message it carries is alone interpreted or critiqued.
In linguistic terms, the “signified” is
giv
en precedence over the “signifier”.
It is of the utmost importance to understand that, in the majorityof essays one may read on this topic; any
particular author’s definition of “free will”
is rarely elucidated;or, as is more often the case, is not at all. Rather, the term is simply bandied around without referenceto its status as contentious in definition. Its meaning is assumed. This immediately calls any conclusionsmade into question. The importance of defining our terms, while often perceived as an overly-intellectual indulgence, should not be underestimated, particularly in cases such as this, where the termin question has no universally agreed upon meaning.This said, I must here state, to those who would go so needlessly far as to respond that I should followmy own example and define
every 
term I use, I would say this; my primary concern here is the definitionof 
 free will 
, those terms which have far more universally agreed upon meanings will be left up to thereader to interpret to the best of their own ability.
 
 
Shall we understand a Flies Brain?
With this
 
in mind let us look again at the proposition held by the greater community of neuroscientiststoday.
That is, that free will doesn’t exist
: that free will is merely an illusion, something of a trivial andnot particularly noteworthy epiphenomenon of matter and its machinations.These same terms have also been used to describe consciousness itself. This is something I considertantamount to an
intellectual “jumping of the gun”. When one
thinks momentarily on the state of ourcurrent understanding of the brain, or indeed briefly surveys the relevant literature, one quickly comesto terms with the enormous complexity of the organ and the nigh-on embarrassing presumptionsrequired in order to arrive at such ostensibly informed conclusions so early on in our engagement withthis impressive collection of nerve cells, dendrites and axons. This is itself of course
assuming that “free“will” or “consciousness” itself more generally is in fact
even birthed of the brain at all. This is one of themore contentious issues which we do not have the space to examine sufficiently here, though it is to beheld in consideration."
We won't be able to understand the brain. It is the most complex thing in the universe,
” so
saysProfessor Sir Robin Murray, one of the UK's leading psychiatrists.
1
Consider too the Neurosciencetextbook entitled,
23 Problems in Systems Neuroscience.
Chapter one of this largely syncretic volume isdefiantly entitled,
Shall we even understand a flies brain? 
Further into this chapter we read Giles
Laurent’s
answer to his own question where
he states…
”we may be better off starting with the modest 
goal of understanding the files brain first. Will the next century be enough? I am not so sure
2
.
We are not here attempting to say that the entirety of the brains functioning must be understoodbefore an opinion may be had on this issue. Rather, we are saying that this unparalleled complexitymust never be forgotten as we draw our ignobly swift conclusions as to the workings of theextraordinary interactome which is the brains 100 billion neurons.
What is Free Will? What is not Free Will?
Moving on to some critical thought; i
f we know we don’t have
 
what we have termed “free will”
, as iswidely and increasingly claimed, and if we are so sure that free will does not exist, then would it not alsostand to bear that we must therefore, in order to formulate an ingenuous argument, know what freewill objectively is? One would assume. Though let us consider this further.It could be said that we do not need to know what object
a
” 
is, in order to know what object
b
” 
is not.At least that is, when we are speaking of physical objects in the physical world. In this case though, weare dealing with one phenomenon. Discounting the no
tion of “free will”, as
is practiced by the vanguardof the evolutionary and neurological sciences, is also implying that we know what free will
actually and objectively 
is. Without knowledge of what free will is, or rather a clearly presented opinion as to itsmeaning, ones ideas if presented as fact about whether or not it exists are mere pretensions and

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