I've been wrestling with evolution and being human. Could you let me know where my reasoning goes wrong? You see, I think i've solved not only all philosophical problems, but all of life's problems as well... and i'm wondering why no one else sees it the same way.
It's an interesting site, but although I agree with some of what he says, there are some important points where I think he is quite seriously mistaken. I'll step through these one at a time - his claims (as I understand them) in italics, followed by my response.
1) Free will is incompatible with modern science [read: materialism].
That might be true of the libertarian conception of free will, but it certainly doesn't hold of compatibilism. Ian claims that "when we do something 'because we want to' we can see that we're really just doing what we’re told." Told by who? Our brain, presumably. Well that's us, and I must say I have no problem with the idea of doing my own bidding.
Just because my decisions are embedded in the causal framework of the world, doesn't mean they're not my decisions. (See my post on destiny & determinism.)
I should add, however, that it's entirely possible for an appropriately designed robot (artificial intelligence) to have free will, according to this view. See Jason's evil robot. So I wouldn't deny that we are indeed 'conscious robots', if by 'robot' you simply mean a purely material being.
2) We are entirely pre-programmed by our genes.
I may have misinterpreted, but 'Conscious Robots' seems, in places, to advocate the absurd doctrine of Genetic Determinism. I find it helps to think of genes as biological blueprints: instructions for how to build a body (and brain). However, those instructions give rise to extremely versatile structures, that can respond appropriately to a wide range of environmental stimuli. That is, we have a huge capacity for learning. (It isn't difficult to see why that should be of evolutionary benefit.)
Our genes are just the builders. Once construction is complete, our brains take over control. (This is very much a simplified picture, of course, but I hope it captures what's most important here.) Evolution drives our genes to build a body (and brain) that will be reproductively successful. That does not necessarily mean that our brains (even subconsciously) directly aim to increase the "survival chances" of our genes. Rather, our brains would evolve in such a way as to - overall, and indirectly - facilitate genetic success. Not every little decision will do so, however.
So it is simply false that "when an event in the world makes us feel good it's because the survival chances of our genes have increased." We can feel good for all sorts of reasons, some of which have nothing at all to do with genetic success. The role of our genes, though important, is very indirect. Our feelings are caused by our brains, not our genes. More generally, explanations for human behaviour are best found in psychology, not biology. (The latter is too basic [theoretically fundamental] to deal with the complexities we face here. You wouldn't attempt to explain cellular reproduction in terms of particle physics, would you?)
3) "Our conscious minds are programmed to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain they experience."
This claim is known as motivational hedonism (a form of psychological egoism), and is simply false. This is easily demonstrated by the thought experiment described here, which shows that we care about objective desire-fulfillment, not merely the subjective pleasure of desire satisfaction (follow link for full explanation).
More generally, the claims at 'Conscious Robots' involve overly simplistic psychology. People are complex creatures; we act from a variety of motives, for a variety of reasons. You cannot reduce these all down to mere pleasure and pain - unless, that is, you redefine those words so as to simply mean 'whatever it is that motivates someone'. But then the earlier claim is an empty tautology: humans are always motivated by whatever it is that motivates them.
4) We should forget about the external world and hook ourselves up to a 'pleasure machine'.
This is the conclusion he reaches based on the previous claim. Funnily enough, this is usually considered a refutation of ethical hedonism . It's obvious that the present claim is false - few people really want to live such a meaningless life - so the considerations that lead to it must be false also. There is more to wellbeing than mere pleasure. (Again, see my post on desire fulfillment.)
Of course, even if we granted all the above, it still wouldn't come close to solving "all philosophical problems". But despite the unrealistic ambitions, the site is quite thought-provoking in places, and you may find it worth a look around.