Free by Alfred Mele – An Absurd Being Book Review

At just 90 pages, Free, by Alfred Mele, is a light, easy to read, accessible refutation of the idea that scientists have proven freewill doesn’t exist. Mele tackles some of the scientific arguments typically offered in defence of determinism and succeeds in, while not strongly making a case for freewill, definitely dismantling the scientific case against it.

He begins by looking at Benjamin Libet’s now infamous experiments from the 80s in which he asked subjects to flex their wrists whenever they felt like it and report when they first had the intention to do so. On average, participants reported the urge to act around 200 milliseconds before the muscle burst. However, through EEG, Libet detected activity in the brain (called the readiness potential, (RP)) around 350 milliseconds before the subject reported the conscious intention. Libet concluded from this that our brains ‘make’ our decisions without any conscious input. Continue reading

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Bad Faith and Other Commonly Misunderstood ‘Sartrean’ Ideas

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The twentieth century French existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was astonishingly popular in his day. He wrote novels, plays, dense philosophical treatises, was a part of the French underground resistance during the Nazi occupation, an influential political activist and even awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (which he turned down). If you still doubt Sartre’s popularity and influence, the fact that more than 50,000 people turned out for his funeral should seal the deal.

He is (arguably) the philosopher you must engage with if you want to learn about existentialism and it is his long and difficult magnum opus, Being and Nothingness, that is (arguably) the principal text of modern existentialism. B & N is a very thorough enquiry into existential philosophy that warrants, and rewards, a close reading. Unfortunately, it is this very 800-page thoroughness that surely winds up discouraging all but the most determined of students. And doubly unfortunately, in 1946, three years after publishing B & N, Sartre gave a talk to the general public on the subject, (now a book, Existentialism is a Humanism) in which he laid out some of the key consequences and insights of existentialism. I say this was unfortunate because, while it well and truly brought existentialism into the public eye, it also reduced it to a handful of trendy slogans and pithy quotes. Existentialism went from a serious, philosophical investigation into the human condition to a popular cultural movement characterised by black-clothed, non-conformist, anti-bourgeoisie, chain-smoking coffee drinkers loitering in and around cafes and declaring that life is meaningless and absurd. Continue reading

Materialism – The Unlikely Hypothesis

The universe and everything in it is physical. Despite there being no shortage of supernatural, religious, new age and downright crackpot notions of some kind of non-physical ‘stuff’, not one of their claims, from crystal healing to ghosts to the effectiveness of prayer to out of body travelling, has ever been empirically verified, despite many efforts to do so. It certainly seems sensible to conclude from this that materialism (the hypothesis that the physical is all there is) is true. But does closing the door on ghosts, fairies and energy bodies necessarily consign us to materialism? I argue in this article that it doesn’t.

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Let me begin by asking you a very simple question. Are you a robot? Surely, you will have answered this question in the negative. Of course you’re not a robot. You’re a human being. Continue reading