Thursday, June 21, 2012

Highjacked brain fallacy, and free will illusion going mainstream.

In a series of previous posts on MindBlog I have enjoyed following the continuing back and forth over free will and neuroscience,and my own sentiments are clearly revealed in my introductory web/lecture listed in the column to your left ("The I Illusion"). A raft of books on this subject has recently appeared, an example being Eagleman's "Incognito: Secret Lives of the Brain" as well as several mentioned in a recent Huffington Post essay by Victor Strenger. An interesting variation on the free will question is provided by O'Connor's discussion of a popular analogy that clouds our discussion of addiction, i.e. the portrayal of addition as a disease (not subject to our willful control, thus not the responsibility of the victim) rather than a choice.
In the “hijacked” view of addiction, the brain is the innocent victim of certain substances — alcohol, cocaine, nicotine or heroin, for example — as well as certain behaviors like eating, gambling or sexual activity...drugs like alcohol and cocaine and behaviors like gambling light up the brain’s pleasure circuitry, often bringing a burst of euphoria. Other studies indicate that people who are addicted have lower dopamine and serotonin levels in their brains, which means that it takes more of a particular substance or behavior for them to experience pleasure or to reach a certain threshold of pleasure.
"A hijacker comes from outside and takes control by violent means. A hijacker takes a vehicle that is not his; hijacking is always a form of stealing and kidnapping...The analogy of addiction and hijacking involves the same category mistake as the money switched from hand to hand...It might be tempting to claim that in an addiction scenario, the drugs or behaviors are the hijackers. However, those drugs and behaviors need to be done by the person herself...In the usual cases, an individual is the one putting chemicals into her body or engaging in certain behaviors in the hopes of getting high...There is a kind of intentionality to hijacking that clearly is absent in addiction...Addiction develops over time and requires repeated and worsening use...If we think, however, of addiction as involving both choice and disease, our outlook is likely to become more nuanced.
Linking choice and responsibility is right in many ways, so long as we acknowledge that choice can be constrained in ways other than by force or overt coercion. There is no doubt that the choices of people progressing to addiction are constrained; compulsion and impulsiveness constrain choices. Many addicts will say that they choose to take that first drink or drug and that once they start they cannot stop. A classic binge drinker is a prime example; his choices are constrained with the first drink. He both has and does not have a choice. (That moment before the first drink or drug is what the philosopher Owen Flanagan describes as a “zone of control.”) But he still bears some degree of responsibility to others and to himself...Addicts are neither hijackers nor victims. It is time to retire this analogy.

No comments:

Post a Comment