The Morality Of Brain Science

by Dish Staff

Carey Goldberg interviews Daniel Dennett about how our understanding of neuroscience affects how we view free will. Dennett suggests reframing the debate:

This is a question that’s already millennia old: How can there be free will if everything basically works on cause and effect? So now we have a new layer on that age-old argument, which is that we can see more about the actual workings of the brain. Do you see that adding anything or is it the same-old same-old?

In one sense, it’s the same-old same-old. It doesn’t show that we don’t have free will, but it does show something interesting. And that is: An important element of free will, not often publicly and articulately or explicitly discussed, but an important one, is that we keep our thinking to ourselves. We want to have certain privacy about our thoughts, because if we wear our hearts on our sleeves all the time, then people will exploit that. They’ll charge us too much for everything we buy. If they know too much about what we’re thinking, if they can read our minds, then we are to some degree disabled as agents. There’s a very important moral to this story that’s not too hard to follow. If your head is in an fMRI machine, don’t play rock-paper-scissors for money. That’s about the only practical moral.