We work in realtime
I'm reading Dennett's From Bacteria To Bach And Back. It's an excellent book; a sort of rehashing of the ideas he's developed about cognition since Consciousness Explained (gad - has it really been 30 years?)
He examines the distinction proposed by Wilfrid Sellars between the "manifest image" and the "scientific image"
The scientific image deals with the physical reality of photons and atoms and rocks and stars.
It's an image of how and what reality is.
The manifest image deals with the meaningful world we perceive.
Ideally, the scientific image is the same for everyone. But the manifest image varies from person to person; sometimes by a lot. The manifest image is full of necessary illusions. Free will is one.
The traditional view of free will, as a personal power somehow isolated from physical causation, is both incoherent and unnecessary as a grounds for moral responsibility and meaning. The scientists and philosophers who declare free will a fiction or illusion are right; it is part of the user-illusion of the manifest image. That puts it in the same category with colors, opportunities, dollars, promises, and love (to take a few valuable examples from a large set of affordances). If free will is an illusion then so are they, and for the same reason.
This is not an illusion we should want to dismantle or erase; it’s where we live, and we couldn’t live the way we do without it. But when these scientists and philosophers go on to claim that their “discovery” of this (benign) illusion has important implications for the law, for whether or not we are responsible for our actions and creations, their arguments evaporate.
Yes, we should shed the cruel trappings of retributivism, which holds people absolutely responsible (in the eyes of God) for their deeds;
we should secure in its place a sane, practical, defensible system of morality and justice that still punishes when punishment is called for, but with a profoundly different framing or attitude.
One can get a sense of this by asking yourself: If—because free will is an illusion—no one is ever responsible for what they do,
should we abolish yellow and red cards in soccer, the penalty box in ice hockey, and all the other penalty systems in sports?
I've criticized the idea of free will for the same reasons that Dennett does; the idea implies doing things without reasons which is absurd.
But most of our thinking takes place on a pre-conscious level so we are generally not aware of the mechanics behind the choices we make.
We just go with "I made a choice" of my own free will.
The illusion is that something called the will made the choice.
There is no such something.
There are many physical processes that enable us to make choices. But we have to be unaware of them for them to work. Our conscious processes are too slow. So we end up with the necessary illusion: I made a choice.
What do you think?