I’ve just discovered a quick guide to free will (pdf) written by neuroscientist and decision-making expert P. Read Montague for the July issue of Current Biology, which he’s made freely available on his website.
Unlike many academic journals, Current Biology publishes articles in a range of engaging formats, including interviews, news, reviews, reports and quick guides.
In his quick guide, Montague argues that free will in the traditional sense is beyond the realms of scientific description: “Free will is the close cousin to the idea of the soul” he writes, “- the concept that ‘you’, your thoughts and feelings, derive from an entity that is separate and distinct from the physical mechanisms that make up your body.”
However, he explains that although we can’t possess free will in the traditional sense, it’s clear that we do possess a capacity for flexible choice. He goes on to describe how contemporary scientific research is uncovering how we place values on the finite range of choices that are available to us – an approach that among other things is casting fresh light on the nature of addiction.
“Such models portray addiction as a valuation disease, where the nervous system over-values cues associated with drugs or drug taking. However, there is a point here: the addicted nervous system is choosing highly valued options, a rational manoeuvre; but the valuation of the drug-associated cues is pathologically high.”