Stanford neuroscientist claims people don’t have free will after all

We are all “biological machines” whose behavior is governed by genetics and circumstances.

After four decades of study of humans and other primates, Robert Sapolsky, a 66-year-old neurobiologist at Stanford University and a beneficiary of a MacArthur grant for behavioral research, has reached a damning conclusion that “free will” does not exist - at all.

His new book, "Determined: Life Without Free Will," which explores the human nature, describes the living organisms – not just people – as mere “biological machines” whose actions are influenced exclusively by their DNA sequencing, experiences, and circumstances.

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"We've got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn't there. The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things they have no control over," Sapolsky told the LA Times.

A true free will means that it would have to function on a biological level completely independently of the history of that organism.

"You would be able to identify the neurons that caused a particular behavior, and it wouldn't matter what any other neuron in the brain was doing, what the environment was, what the person's hormone levels were, what culture they were brought up in," Sapolsky shared his views with another newspaper, the New York Times.

Organisms spend their entire lives being conditioned to respond to different stimuli — a bad smell, for example. How we react to this smell is determined by our genetics, which programmed our olfactory receptors and got reconditioned during our upbringing how to act in response to that perception.

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At any meaningful juncture, we're making decisions based on our tastes and predilections and values and character. These all come from somewhere, and our minds don't act independently of them, he stressed.

And here comes an important question. If people do not control their actions and therefore are not responsible for what happens as a result of thereof, why do they need to be punished or rewarded for anything?

If free will is a sham, the researcher claims, then moral responsibility must not exist: people could only take ownership of what they do — including moral decisions — "in a purely mechanical sense."

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