Dualism and Free Will


Lately I have been distracted by the discovery of Sam Harris and his opinions. Having somehow stumbled across some YouTube videos in which Sam participated, I was immediately struck by his obvious intelligence, his articulate mastery of the English language, and his calmly rational way of speaking. I would dearly love to have a conversation with him.

Sam and I agree on our respective views of religious organizations and of formal religious doctrines. We agree that the organizations are a net negative for humanity and that the doctrines are almost all patently false.

Where Sam and I disagree is in the understanding of the mind and the existence/role of free will. He thinks it is an illusion and doesn't exist and I think it is a fundamental operating principle in the universe. So if I could have a conversation with Sam, I would explore his objections to the duality of mind and body and to the possibility of free will.

I would offer as evidence for the duality the arguments presented by Searle, Chalmers, and Penrose. I know that Sam has a degree in philosophy and I would try to discover whether he has simply bought into the anti-dualist position as a result of his education or whether he has thought through the evidence himself and arrived at an independent position. In one of the video discussions, I seem to remember him dismissing Searle and Penrose with a passing comment something like, "You could fill an auditorium such as this with their detractors." If his position is grounded in this sort of "consensus" philosophy, then I would love to pursue a logical analysis of the question with him.

In the case of free will, I would present my explanation of Libet's "half-second delay" and pursue the logical consequences of that.

As I see it right now, the notion of free will lies very near the heart of any true explanation of reality. Briefly, here's how I see it. The universe either has a cognitive component at the most fundamental level, or it does not. I am of the former opinion while Sam is of the latter. Science is with Sam while Religion is with me. I depart from all religions, however, in rejecting the attributes of perfection, infinity, omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, completeness, omni-benevolence, and eternality. I might cave on omnipresence. As a result, I don't know how to answer the question of whether I believe in "God". I do not believe in any of the perfect Gods of religions, but I do believe in a respectably intelligent designer of the universe.

Now, if I am right, it is only logical that a conscious designer of the universe would have the power of free will to cause the existence of the structures that seem to have been designed. The structures that impress me are the familiar chemical structures with their constituent atomic and sub-atomic particles, and the fantastic structures involved in living organisms. Both of these pale in comparison with the structures designed and built by spiders, beavers, and humans, impressive as they are. In the last example, that of humans, there is no doubt that cognition and design are involved in creating the structures, and that the designers are far from perfect, omniscient, etc. so it seems logical that the cosmic designer is also not perfect, etc.

After watching many long videos of Sam in various discussions on YouTube, it is clear to me that the likelihood of my getting an audience with him is slim to none. It is also clear that I should read his book Free Will before I take any serious steps toward conversing with him. And, I think the logical point of entry would be to write a review of the book on Amazon after I read it. As in the case with Pinker's book, my reviews get read by at least a few thinkers if not the authors of the books themselves. So that is my plan: I will buy and read the book.

I had a delightful surprise last week as I clicked my way through YouTube videos: I found an interview with Chris Langan. I had run across Chris years, or decades ago, before there was a YouTube. Chris is acknowledged to have the highest IQ of anyone in the world and he has been active in developing his own explanation for reality and the cosmos. He calls his work CTMU (Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe). He agrees with me that cognition is a fundamental constituent of reality. I exchanged a few emails with him, indirectly through Gina LoSasso PhD., his then-girlfriend, and now I believe, his wife. My views are very close to Chris' and I would have loved to have discussed the differences with him. I didn't get very far at that time.

Now I discovered that Chris and Gina are living on a small farm in Missouri (I think) and are enjoying life the way they want to live it, and that Chris is still actively involved in developing CTMU. I intend to re-establish contact with them for the selfish reason of collaborating on my views and also to offer my friendship and best wishes to the two of them. I hope I can do it.

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