Brilliant talk. But he is changing the question to address scientific issues that are valid, when there are perfectly good reasons why the philosophical discussion is valid on different (cultural) grounds.
1. The definition of free-will that he offers is insufficient. He says:
Free will is the power or ability sometimes to do otherwise than what one if fact does.
The above definition of free-will does not touch on the issue of causality, but rather on the quesiton of choice which we can all agree that we have within reasonable bounds. The above definition of free will is the classic one found in mainstream culture that perpetuates misunderstanding about free-will. For example, I ate an apple today. But if I had wanted, I could have eaten something else, because I had that choice. This is not controversial. But contra-causal free-will (CCFW) is not about the ability to choose, but rather about the inability of our brains to be free of independent causal events. But this is a minor point, and he does come closer to the right definition later, so let's move on.
2. I do not see neuroscience as addressing the philosophical question of CCFW at all, but rather as operating in line with the conclusion that CCFW is unscientific. This conclusion follows from scientific naturalism, and becomes a premise when doing neuroscience. The issue is not that scientifically we are confused by this whole free-will debate. Scientifically speaking, there is no debate. There is no controversy. CCFW is fantasy. It is a violation of the laws of physics. I know there are experiments being done right now on searching for CCFW in science labs, all operating under the idea that the physical laws of our universe apply to our brains as well- that is, there is no CCFW.
I can see neuroscience addressing and confirming all the ideas professed by those philosophers who do not accept CCFW.
But the issue is culture, not science. This is the point where he switches the question.
He talks about the validity of different explanations. This is good stuff. But explanations to what? He has fundamentally changed the question that he is trying to explain by making it about understanding human decision making.
Quote:"In the age of neuroscience, trying to understand human behavior in terms of free will or determinism doesn't help much at all. "
The CCFW vs NCCFW (No CCFW) debate is not an attempt to explain human behavior. It addresses a fundamental question- does human behavior have natural causes? From a scientific point of view, of course we say yes, there is nothing supernatural or uncaused/undetermined about our brains. And the best way to understand human behavior is through science, no doubt. But we are having the philosophical discussion on causality and free-will for other good reasons.
Take the god hypothesis, for example. We can always say, well the god hypothesis does not actually explain anything, and that it is a non-answer. This is 100% true. But why then are we constantly debating with religionists and talking about the god hypothesis? Why then does the term atheist even exist, and why do we identify with it? The answer is simple- the argument for god or the supernatural is not always a scientific argument. It is not always an argument that tries to provide explanations for natural phenomena. I think it is good that scientists are working to make it about natural phenomena. By making it about natural phenomena, we are changing the question. It is a good way of changing the question, and I'm not saying we should not do it when necessary, but the point being made is that there are good reasons why the original quesiton needs to be addressed. These are cultural reasons. Primarily, the prevelance of the belief in god as a moral authority, in popular culture. After all, the cultural sphere is where we must make the greatest impact.
Quote:"If a man molests his step-daughter, did he freely will it? Or was he pre-destined to do it? Framing the issue in that manner doesn't get us any closer to understanding why the man acted the way he did. "
But the debate here is not about understanding why the man did what he did. From a scientific perspective I can see why that would be a focus. On a philosophical level, the question takes a step back. IS there CCFW? Is it coherent to talk about CCFW? These questions are on the level of "IS there a god?" And just like the question "IS there a god", these are stupid questions. But just like the answer "no there is no god" has tremendous implications on our culture, so does the idea that there is no CCFW.
Finally, the analogy with scientific concepts of life also has the same effect of changing the question, IMO. From a scientific perspective, life is just a descriptive term for a particular level of organizational complexity exhibiting certain types of characteristics. Again, science is not concerned with the metaphysical question about whether life is a supernatural or natural phenomenon. Science takes it as a premise that life is a natural phenomenon, and this is what allows us to find actual answers to problems dealing with life. But there are billions of people who believe that life and consciousness are supernatural phenomena, and simply talking about descriptive phenomena is ignoring that entire debate, which is a philosophical one and a cultural one.
Overall, we can simply say that whenever talking about natural phenomena, the scientific method provides us with the best answers. But when the subject is a philosophical discussion about whether there are supernatural phenomena, all science can do is say that discussion is not useful if we want to answer descriptive questions, and that there is simply no evidence for any supernatural phenomena. We would still have billions believing in supernatural phenomena, many of them neatly partitioning their supernatural ideas to continue believing in such nonsense, while continuing to do science as a career. And meanwhile, those supernatural ideas inform their value systems, their moral decisions, their opinion about the legal, political and economic systems, their personal lives and their everyday interactions with everyone. This is why we have conversations on philosophical questions such as does god exist or is there CCFW while also pointing out that only scientific questions are meaningful in terms of providing us with useful explanations for natural phenomena.