Finite Will and Infinite Will

Gualtiero Piccinini @ Brains calls attention to this NYT article on finite will: “Tighten Your Belt, Strengthen Your Mind“. Excerpt:

No one knows why willpower can grow with practice but it must reflect some biological change in the brain. Perhaps neurons in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for planning behavior, or in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with cognitive control, use blood sugar more efficiently after repeated challenges. Or maybe one of the chemical messengers that neurons use to communicate with one another is produced in larger quantities after it has been used up repeatedly, thereby improving the brain’s willpower capacity.

Here’s a little bit of fiction I wrote a few years ago about infinite will: “Desire Magnitudes“. Excerpt:

I tear open my package, and, as is typical for ET merchandise, the accompanying literature is indecipherable trash. Fuck it. I pop a pill and wash it down with some hot sludge. I’m not real sure what to expect, but I’m figuring on an ingestible analogue to my previous surgery. I’m figuring nanobots are going to modify my frontal lobes allowing for the simulation of an indefinite number of ersatz consciousnesses to deal with an indefinite number of annoying distractions. Wrong answer, dude. That is not what this pill does to me at all. Just a few seconds after swallowing, the pill establishes various interfaces with my brain, and I know my way around my cerebrum well enough to know what’s what. The first interface established between the nanoprocessors and my brain is through the visual areas of occipital cortex. A translucent blue rectangle pops into my field of view. White alphanumerics scroll from top to bottom. It’s extraterrestrial at first, but as the pill coordinates the visual processing with the semantic association networks in my left temporal cortex, the text writhes into recognizable English:


2 Responses to “Finite Will and Infinite Will”

  1. Ecclesiastes says:

    I have been really interested in this philosophical problem (akrasia/incontinence) for a while and I would like to see what answers pop up form neuroscience , but I have a hard time finding research about the subject.. ( I am a physics student , so I don’t know exactly where to look ) so , I was wondering if you know of what advances are in the field or who could be leading a research in the subject.
    Also I would like to suggest out something, although I doubt it had not been done before (there nothing new under the sun).The act of resisting temptation involves some sort of pain in the tempted, and activity of pain somewhere should be shown when such an act is realized (or perhaps fear, I don’t really know what I am talking about) .
    If the whole Socratic pleasure vs pain is model is to hold at all, then gradual reducing of such pain in such areas should show an increase in self control.
    Then ,mfolks “traditional “ techniques of obtaining self control
    ( meditation and such) could had their effectiveness tested and we could see what works best as a whole or we could find that it varies according to the individuals and then make up some sort of therapy)
    Has anyone tried something like that before?
    Thanks for the help

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    You might be interested in George Ainsle’s book *Breakdown of Will*. Google him, and you should find his cool website with useful stuff on will, pain, etc.