Friday, July 08, 2011

Metabolic Syndrome is NOT About Free Will

Ah, the old willpower and diet argument, will it never die?

Scott Adams (of Dillbert fame) is a highly intelligent guy who often has some interesting things to say. But recently he wrote a brief post on his blog titled "Chipping Away at the Superstition of Free Will" which linked to a typically idiotic Huffington Post piece about the "psychology" of losing weight: cut out the sugar (good, of course) AND FATS, cultivate self-discipline, surround yourself with like-minded people, blah blah blah.

The HuffPo piece simply parrots the shallow and idiotic party line so I won't bother dissecting it.

Adams writes:
Here's another blow to the Nature Deniers. Yes, I did just invent a new label for people who believe human nature is not an important factor in human actions.
Uhm, what?

I believe human nature is an important factor in human actions, how does that make Free Will a superstition? I enjoy sex, I'm designed by evolution to enjoy sex, I'm aware that I'm designed to enjoy sex. Does that mean I can't control my actions and try to constantly hump the legs of pretty women I see walking down the street? Yes! Wait, maybe that was a bad example.

Seriously, the majority of people (in most western countries) are overweight and fail in their quest to lose weight. This is because these people have no idea that they are screwed up and addicted to neolithic agents of disease (NADs) thanks to the party line still being spouted by the mainstream. It is most certainly not because of a lack of discipline (although there is discipline involved in curbing the initial addiction) and definitely not because free will is a superstition. 

Here's Adams doing a typically funny strip on the subject back in 1993 (I suppose I'll get a takedown request for this although I'd argue it is fair use):

Source
This is an interesting topic because the root of it is whether or not the brain is an algorithmic machine, which is something I'm very interested in, and which, of course (being a huge fan of Roger Penrose), I don't believe it is. If the brain is an algorithmic machine, like this computer I'm typing on, then there is no such thing as free will and hence true culpability goes out the window along with a lot of other things. We are all just very complex wind-up toys going through the motions with the illusion of free will.

If the human brain is simply an algorithmic machine then we should be on the verge of making a much better algorithmic machine out of silicon which will very quickly make another, etc, and then we are at the singularity and we all become redundant, blah blah blah.

If the brain is not an algorithmic machine then the question of what is free will is tied up with the question of what is self-awareness which is something we don't understand AT ALL. And something which Penrose argues we won't come close to understanding until we have a unifying knowledge of the laws of the Universe that can link together and explain quantum mechanics, gravity and entropy (the unidirectional flow of time).

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