Free Will (to Dennis Prager)

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I sent the following to Dennis Prager (DennisPrager.com) after his discussion of this topic…

Dr. Prager,

I sleep next to my radio and woke up to your interview with Dr. McCauley.  Like most of us evolutionists, he disliked the term “free” but couldn’t account for everyone’s insistence on it.

Many of my fellow evolutionists ignore freedom. Ed Wilson, for example, refers to the ability to construct environments as the “ultimate” adaptation but never mentions the topic again. Evolutionists also neglect Karl Popper’s observation: “it seems to me far more important to stress that the organisms find, invent and reorganize their environments in the course of their search for a better world.” (Popper, 1989/1994, p. viii).

The eminent evolutionary molecular biologist, Richard Lewontin (Lewontin, R. (1998/2000) Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment. Cambridge, MA, Harvard), reinforces Popper’s thought when he describes environments and the organisms in them as a construction, that, within and across generations, living creatures make environments from physical settings. Each leaf on a corn plant, for example, adjusts its own temperature and humidity.” (Brody, JF, 2008) Rebellion, 16.)

Scott Turner’s book, (Turner, J. Scott, 2000, The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) Scott records engineering feats of spiders, worms, coral, and crickets as each individual makes a niche for itself. Humans certainly do as much.

Odling-Smee and his collaborators have given us a fine book on “niche construction” (Odling-Smee F.J., Laland, K.N., & Feldman, M.W. (2003) Niche Construction. The Neglected Process in Evolution. Monographs in Population Biology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Camazine has done a similar favor for us: (Camazine, Scott, J-L Deneubourg, Nigel Franks, James Sneyd, Guy Theraulaz, & Eric Bonabeau (2001) Self-Organization in Biological Systems. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.)

The treasure is the extent to which this niche construction is so individual.


Robert Plomin describes the concept of “non-shared environment” … each of us after eight years of age stores the memories, toys, books, and ambitions specific to his or her specific nature. And a clincher: heritability increases between the ages of 4 and 60, apparently  because we are guided by our particular nature when we make our homes, careers, and almost automatically retain the things in school that match our particular set of talents.

We have freedom. Even a fox or raccoon will sever a limb to escape a trap. So will a man trapped between rocks in a canyon. Immobilize a rat and it develops ulcers. New mothers develop panic when they sense confinement by their infant.

Again, from Rebellion: “Given the endless differences between individuals, differences that have substantial contributions from genetics, then you must have a ‘personal will’ and act upon it. You either find a different home with different neighbors, rebuild what you have, hide in oblivion with pain-killers, television, and the Internet, or renovate yourself with calluses and hair on your hands, buttocks, and feet. Life is best when you find, make, and defend situations where you can be your self.”

Thank you for your persistent, gentle interest in vital things…

James Brody, Ph.D.

Posted by Dr. Jim Brody at 12/23/2011 10:02 AM Categories: Free will,

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