Cook: Are there particular experiments which you think have shed important light on the question of free will?
Gazzaniga: All of neuroscience in one way or another is shining light on how the brain works. That is the reality of it and it is that knowledge, slowly accumulating that will drive us to think more deeply. One way to get going on this is to try and answer the simple question. Free from what? What does anybody want to be free from? I surely do not want to be free from the laws of nature.
Cook: Do you think this science is going to force philosophers to change how they think about free will? And how about the rest of us?
Gazzaniga: Human knowledge can’t help itself in the long run. Things slowly, gradually become more clear. As humans continue on their journey they will come to believe certain things about the nature of things and those abstractions will then be reflected in the rules that are set up to allow people to live together. Beliefs have consequences and we will see them reflected in all kinds of ways. Certainly how we come to think and understand human responsibility in the context of modern knowledge of biologic mechanisms will dictate how we choose our laws and our punishments. What could be more important?
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.