In my own philosophical development, I've had to give up the notion of free will. One will hear, for example—and even from people who are otherwise believers in science—that things like painting, symphonies, and poetry imply that we have free will.

Science seems to be telling us otherwise, not only because everything else in our world seems to be determined by preceding events in causal chains that go all the way back to The Big Bang, but because what we are learning about the brain tells us that what we think we are doing freely was actually determined in our brain prior to our being conscious of it.

For me, the most fundamental problem comes from the illusion that by simply juxtaposing the words "free" and "will" we have a rational and understandable concept called "free will." Consider if we put the words "exuberant" and "soap" together. What have we got? Nonsense! I think the main reason we don't see "free will" as nonsense is that we never stop to ask ourselves what this word "will" means.

What does "will" mean? It's hard to resist thinking of psychokinesis when referring to will.

What do free will believers believe? Apparently that a novel or string quartet or a murder (to take a negative example) happens through an act of willing these works or events into reality quite apart from a causal chain or through some act of personal intervention into a causal chain.

Free will believers believe in personally-caused miracles.

I myself believe that people originate works and events by being who they are. They are part of the causal chain but not outside or above it.

If you feel free will exists, then let's start with a definition, not a simple refusal to believe that we don't have it. And in your definition, please avoid negative definitions centering on what free will is not or on what is not explained if you don't believe in it. In regard to the latter, please avoid stuff like "If we can't refer to free will, then how do we hold criminals responsible for their misdeeds?"

I think you'll soon see that the main problem with the notion of "free will" is that you can't define it well enough to turn it into a proposal that can be disproved. And if you haven't asserted something which lends itself to disproof, you really haven't asserted anything at all. As if one were to propose that there is an invisible, ineffable, and totally undetectable being in control of everything.

That is the kind of notion of free will is, it seems to me.

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I'd like to replace the paragraph following Daniel Dennett's block quote with the following:

Nature is riddled with emergent properties: especially where there is life. Life itself is an emergent property of organic molecules. Self-aware consciousness, intelligence and, yes, self-determinism, are emergent properties of mental feedback (which is, itself, an emergent property of the brain). Because the emergent property of mental feedback must exist before the emergent properties of (1) self-aware consciousness, (2) intelligence and (3) self-determinism can exist, these 3 higher-level phenomena are at least twice abstracted from the brain. They are emergent properties of an emergent property (mental feedback). You can also take the view that human intelligence includes self-aware consciousness and self-determinism but you'd still have a phenomenon twice abstracted from the brain: an emergent property from an emergent property. This feedback loop, in which we think about what we think, is where choice arises.

How does your analysis handle culpability and laudability? It sounds like it simply ignores it. As you say, free will doesn't exist, but can we send someone to the guillotine or prison without hard free will? If so, how do we do it without, invoking free will?

We ruminate over what we think. Everybody knows that. The brain deliberates. That what it does. This mental feedback loop is what gives us choice. And if we have choice, we are responsible for our actions.

Fuck free will. Forget about it. All it takes is a simple advantage (anticipating causality) to give us direction and purpose . . . to hack our own paths into the future. That seemingly minor attribute of human intelligence is all it takes to explain what we do -- and why.

About half way this very interesting (as usual) CFI interview with Dennett turns to the subject of free will: Daniel Dennett - December 12  It provides an answer as to what "free will proponents" want.

Ricky Gervais has the best answer I've heard "We have the illusion of free will and that's enough"


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