The Is-Will Problem: A Modest Contribution Regarding the Fluidity of Human Nature

David Hume proposed what has now become the famous is-ought problem. That is, Hume argued that what is in nature is not necessarily what ought to be in humans. For example, if nature, as a whole, suggests that it is good to be monogamous, this does not, by necessity, carry over into what must be the “natural” state for humans. Is does not equal ought. I propose another problem: the is-will problem. By is-will, I do not mean what Hume meant, I am not interested in “natural” arguments. The is-will problem merely suggests the following: what is does not mean what will be. For example, if a particular human being is given a particular stimulus, the response will not necessarily be the same in all cases. What is does not imply what will be. Here is a concrete everyday example: I meet a person who loves to eat vanilla ice cream every time we have dinner. As I continue having dinner with this person, I think to myself, “What is being done right now (i.e., what is) will be done in the future.” Unfortunately, the future comes upon us, and my dear friend orders chocolate ice cream.

The problem that, hypothetically speaking, this poses for future and current research is that it may be the case that exact neuronal pathways followed illicit random (or what appear to be random) results. In defense of this I modestly suggest that the theory of neuroplasticity and, more specifically, cortical remapping may shed light on the freewill versus determinism debate. If neurons could develop, change, adapt, I think that this may introduce a problem to those researchers who see all brain/neuronal activity as determined, easily catalogued, and predictable.

Written by Moses Y. Mikheyev

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