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The author, Alfred Mele, is a philosopher based at Florida State; he specializes in the "free will" topic. As you can tell from the book's subtitle (Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will), he's decided to argue for the survival of the concept. (Which, he argues, is a choice he's freely made.)

It is a very slim book, under a hundred pages even counting References and Index sections. (It's an actual book, though, and I am counting it on the my list.) It is aimed (fortunately for me) at the layman, and the style is chatty and accessible.

So we have a philosopher at odds with "science", specifically recent research in neurophysiology, psychology, and sociology: it seems like the odds wouldn't be on his side. But (to my mind) he does a good job of arguing that all those experiments do not prove the non-existence of "free will". Instead, the anti-free willers (Mele argues) are setting the bar for what they consider to be "free will" absurdly high, all the better to debunk it. If we define "free will" reasonably well ("modestly"), it appears that the concept survives.

To be sure, a number of experiments show that we can (for example) fool ourselves about the timing of our choices; for example, a famous experiment's neural monitoring demonstrates that a subject's "decision" about when/whether to push a button can actually be made a few hundred milliseconds before the subject is conscious of the decision.

But, Mele argues, even if such observations apply to some types of "decisions", the experiments fail to show that they apply to all decisions. The human decisions where experiments seem to demonstrate "unfree" will are those based in mental processes we share with animals: instincts, reflexes, appetites, herd behavior, etc. Conscious, rational decisions are another story.

It has long seemed to me that arguments that free will is illusory are self-refuting: if you're summoning rational arguments and evidence to get me to change my mind on the matter, you're already kind of admitting that I have a choice to do so or not. So I'm on Mele's side.

I suppose to be fair, I need to read something on the other side. This book seems like the best bet. One reviewer says " Read it: you have no choice." We'll see.


Last Modified 2016-07-15 6:21 AM EDT