Materialism: the assumption that proves itself

As Thomas Nagel once said, materialism is a vast limiting assumption about what is real, and whatever could be real. I bought a book by a famous professor, Robert Sapolsky, called Behave. (As you may have gathered, I read people with whom I do not agree). Sapolsky was speaking in an interview recorded in MacLean’s Magazine:


You’ve written a lot about neurology and the law. You’re not really impressed with the concept of free will.

Nah. I used to be polite and say stuff like I certainly can’t prove there isn’t free will. But no, there’s none. There simply is nothing compatible with a 21st century understanding of how the physical laws of the universe work to have room for some sort of volitional little homunculus crawling around in our heads that takes advice from the biological inputs but at the end of the day goes and makes this independent decision on its own. It’s just not compatible with anything we understand about how biology works. All that free will is, is the biology we don’t understand yet. If you’re willing to look at the trajectory of what’s happened with knowledge, anything that still counts as free will we’re going to have an explanation for at some point soon.

Observe how what is assumed is consequently proved. Since we are nothing but a meat machine (a purely material occurrence), free will “cannot be compatible with anything we understand about how biology works.” Ipso facto.



If your understanding is materialist, your understanding is materialist. He starts  from his out of date understanding of physical laws: quantum indeterminacy has not been discovered in the Sapolsky view. Then he writes a huge promissory note on the future. “Anything that still counts as free will we’re going to have an explanation for at some point soon.”

In other words, if we cannot explain free will and consciousness, do not worry. We will do so soon. In the meantime take my materialist notions on, what would you call it? – faith.

And this guy has a McArthur Foundation genius grant?

From the Wikipedia article on him:

Sapolsky describes himself as an atheist.[5][6] He stated in his acceptance speech for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, “I was raised in an Orthodox (Jewish) household, and I was raised devoutly religious up until around age 13 or so. In my adolescent years, one of the defining actions in my life was breaking away from all religious belief whatsoever.”[7

At least his materialism is consistent, unproven, and thorough. Assuming the truth of his assumptions, there can be no free will. Bully for him