Free Will, personal experience and other thoughts evoked by Hustvedt

This reading brought so much to the tip of my tongue “which indicate that half-remembered underground.” (88)  In 2008? I had a very strange experience.  I had all of these strange pains all day.  As they increased in intensity, so did my concern.  I ended up waiting on my porch for my husband to drive up so that I could just jump in the car and go to the hospital.  They were not painful enough to call an ambulance or even to call him out of work, but they distracted me enough to just sit and wait.  It was an odd combination of stomach pain and ankle pain.  My ankle and top of my foot was swollen but I had not done anything specific to cause the injury.  I’m sure you already know where I am going with this.  I went to the hospital and was shocked when the doctor told me I was just too stressed.  I was furious.  He sent me home with muscle relaxers, which I gave to my father with a bad back.  Of course, my strange pains went away in a few days.

More recently I had a case of Shingles.  I went to the doctor early and anti-virals managed it ( I did not have any excruciating pain, just exhaustion and headaches).  However, again, I was shocked to hear that stress is the trigger.  Seriously, they sometimes prescribe anti-depressants for Shingles.

I am amazed as I read this book that not only are these circumstances common, but that there is a disparity is diagnosis.  Psychology versus Physiology.  I thought dualism was left for the philosophers and that practical medicine disregarded the separation.  It was dramatic (even though her tone is often that of a “belle indifference”), to see how much research she has done only to find the crevice deepen.

I have a bunch of Nature magazines around the house.  They are perks of my husbands job in an advertising company (no one in the house knew how to read them at first).  I looked into them when I came upon Hustvedt’s comments about free will on page 87.  I found a more current article from 2011 which cites Libet’s controversial study as well as that of those who have furthered his work, namely John-Dylan Haynes and Itzhak Fried.  Mostly the article is about the difference in thought between neuroscientists and philosophers.  Besides the unnerving results of the studies which showed again that there is evidence to dispute (even if insignificantly today) free will, there was a surprising notation of the role of semantics in the arguments:

” There are conceptual issues — and then there is semantics.  ‘What would really help is if scientists and philosophers could come to an agreement on what free will means,’ says Glannon.  Even within philosophy, definitions of free will don’t always match up.  Some philosophers define it as the ability to make rational decisions in the absence of coercion.  Some definitions place it in cosmic context:  at the moment of decision, given everything that ‘s happened in the past, it is possible to reach a different decision.  Others stick to the idea that a non-physical ‘soul’ is directing decisions.  Neuroscience could contribute directly to tidying up definitions, or adding an empirical dimension to them.”

I am considering how this semantic problem might apply to other consciousness concepts and am hoping I can come down with a bit of a repression disorder.  It seems that even if we can get the philosophers and scientists together, the problem of language will still arise.

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One Response to Free Will, personal experience and other thoughts evoked by Hustvedt

  1. Etienne says:

    Scientists and philosophers can hardly come to an agreement on what free will means for a number of reasons:
    a) first of all the history of the concept of free will is mostly a theological and a philosophical affair that mostly feeds on the mind/body dichotomy
    b) Scientific enquiry tends to be positivist in the sense of setting out to establish facts and concrete phenomena. Science will not really bother to craft the meaning of something so elusive as “free will”
    C) However, philosophical and theological studies can reassess the concept of free will in light of neuroscientic findings like the ones Hustvedt referred to in her book (pp.86-88)
    d) Still there will remain largely the divide between philosophers/theologians -mostly conceptual/analytical- and scientists (mostly factual/experimental)

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