In Which a Dismissal of "Free Will" is Itself Dismissed

Confession: Mrs. Salad is a member of AARP. It was free, she was (relatively) young and careless at the time, and the only side effect is that we get a lot of mail from them.

AARP once stood for "American Association of Retired Persons", but they dropped that long ago. You could say that AARP no longer stands for anything. Except, of course, keeping the money flowing from taxpayers to elderly beneficiaries of entitlement programs. And also making sure people buy its Medicare supplementary coverage.

But at least their publications occasionally make for interesting reading at the kitchen table. Which is what this post is really about. The August/September issue of AARP The Magazine (presumably named to distinguish it from AARP The Motion Picture) contains an interview with Stanford brain researcher Robert Sapolsky plugging his new book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. And this Q-and-A simply leapt out at me:

[No Free Will]

Um. Wait a minute.

I am sure Sapolsky is a nice guy, a smart guy, and a careful researcher. (Well, maybe. Truth be told, I have no idea. It seems like a charitable thing to say though.) But what he says here is just irredeemably stupid and self-contradictory.

It seems obvious that, in opening up the door to free will in matters of shirt choice, it's a logical necessity that the door remains open for other choices too. If you can use free will to choose your shirt, you can also use it to choose how to spend your time and resources, who to marry, which career to pursue, your ethical beliefs, and… well, just about everything important in life.

How Sapolsky can dismiss such things as "uninteresting" is (to understate it significantly) puzzling.

Yes, I understand that his business is neuroendocrinology, and it's true enough that it's "mighty hard to find" free will at that level.

But that's similar to the very old joke:

[The Light is Better here]

Sapolsky's research can't find free will, because it's not where he's "interested" in looking. But the light is better there.

Now, I've placed Sapolsky's book on my things-to-read list—it's very well reviewed—and I will probably get to it someday.

I don't know if it has additional arguments about free will, but if it does, I will carefully consider them. I will weigh them against other things I've read. And then I will decide…

Woops! I will decide? Using what mental facility, exactly?