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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Okay you grant us a "sensation of consciousness" I think this is awfully self referential (since what is it that senses it?) but does this epiphenomenonally redefined internally inconsistent definition of consciousness differ from actually being conscious in some subtle way or not?

You see apart from or rather within or as a consequence of this experience of being conscious I submit we experience free will. We experience it as being in control and we experience it when we lose it. Would you argue with this?

What do you think the functionality of this sensation of control is and again why it evolved if fatalism is true. What in other words would be the evolutionary edge that makes it at least apparently so useful?

How does the availability of possibilities imply freedom? Suppose you have a robot who is known to operate according to a complex deterministic algorithm, and we send it to the deli counter to select and buy cold cuts. It then selects the pickle loaf. According to the OCD it has made a free choice, right? even though its choice can't possibly be free! So, the OCD has a fundamental flaw.

@David England    Seems like you are agreeing with me.  You say that a conclusion that is neither logical nor rational was not formed by free will.  That means that if I am an irrational and illogical person (and as a Christian, many on this site would consider me so) then I didn't become that way freely, and therefore I can't freely change.  So, to point out the irrationality of my beliefs is pointless because I can't change them.

    Might as well tell a rock to stop being a rock...

    Well, it's hard to say anything about agreeing or disagreeing about "free will" when I don't even know what that means. Especially the "will" part. Is it kind of like that Firestarter movie or Carrie where the protagonists could make things happen with their mind? Hahaha!

    I don't think you're being irrational. I think free will is nonsense to start with. You're just not making sense, which is a little different from being irrational, which I take to mean that there is a rational position, but you're not taking it.

Actually your confidence in your argument is completely unfounded. Your position is best described as fatalism, which is a tiny minority even within the incompatibilist camp.

"...fatalism holds that the natural world causes events in human life but is not itself influenced by human will or behavior. No matter what you do, the same things will happen to you."

No, actually I hold the opposite, that the human being isn't exempt from being the effect of antecedent events nor from being the cause of subsequent events. I hold that the free will people seem to imagine that humans are exempt, at least at times, from being part of such deterministic systems. This is the natural view, not a supernatural view. Of course, if you do A, B will happen, but if you do C, D will happen. It's just that the decision to do one or the other is because of who you are, not because of some free choice you made.

I think Gervais's answer to this is the best.We have the illusion of free will and that's good enough.

I guess it's good enough to condemn people to death or life in prison. Go figure. Best we just send them off to their doom and not ruminate overmuch.

Let's not forget that the "free will versus hard (absolute) determinism" question is an age-old debate hindered by a lack of understanding of the human brain. Nothing conclusive has been proven either way. It's a matter of opinion. Libertarian views of free will have fallen out of favor; leaving us, primarily, with compatibilism versus hard determinism.

The problem, as I see it, with hard determinism is that it asserts an unnecessary dilemma: namely, that causality strictly precludes the possibility of free will because free will would constitute a cause unto itself -- which violates the law of causality (“every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause”). That's a false dichotomy. It's not either/or. There are other possibilities, such has intelligent interaction with causality (as opposed to simple physical reaction to causality).

I'm not saying self-determinism is necessarily the reality of life as we know it. I'm saying it can explain how human endeavor demonstrates purpose. Self-determinism is a compatibilist worldview that asserts a limited form of free will stemming from human intelligence evolved with just the right properties to take advantage of the properties of causality itself.

• Causality unfolds with time. This means that, like time, it has a strictly unidirectional sequence from past to present to future.
• Outside the quantum realm, causality is highly predictable where inanimate matter/objects are concerned. Any event (cause) has one -- and only one -- possible result (effect).
• Causality is less predictable where animate beings are concerned. Living things are not simple objects but are, rather, complex systems. Animate beings have a distinctly different mode of response to causality than does inanimate objects. It's the difference between a rock and a brain.
• Because most of the classical universe, including Earth, consists almost entirely of inanimate matter/objects, causality is, generally speaking, highly predictable.

Mental feedback is the neurological mechanism that makes the properties of human intelligence possible. Some key properties (per self-determinism) of human intelligence are:
• Memory. Events and experiences stored in the brain. Recallable on demand or subconsciously.
• Imagination. The mental ability to virtually play out a scenario.
• Self-awareness. Accounting for oneself.
• Temporal Awareness. Accounting for time.

Cause and effect is unidirectional; forward to the future. Causes create effects but effects have no influence on their causes. What's done is done. Causality has no plan, no purpose, no intent. It's not monolithic. It's discrete and repeats (or is replicable): a fact that scientific experimentation relies on. It's a simple and fundamental process. When we interact with the world around us (causality), the properties of human intelligence adds unique abilities to this process which can alter the future in ways that nothing else can or does.

The fact that we observe, learn from, anticipate and use causality to modify the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality to pursue our own goals: our own plans, purposes and intentions. Skyscrapers, dams, dikes, highways, vehicles, Mars rovers . . . ALL technology serve human purposes -- NOT causality's (because causality has none). They are products of human intelligence interacting with causality.

Our self-aware, time-aware, memory and imagination compliments the sequential and predictable nature of causality. That's not a coincidence. Our intelligence has evolved to take advantage of the properties of causality. Cause and effect is unidirectionally linear. So our memory and imagination combine to render causality virtually (mentally) bidirectional. This provides us an evolutionary advantage that mitigates causality by anticipating and preparing for it. The process is transformative. With our interaction, the future need not unfold as it ordinarily would because we can learn from the past to change the future. We are not free agents so much as we are intelligent agents; agents of change.

It's pretty simple if you compare the properties of human intelligence with the properties of causality. The fit is perfectly aligned for intelligent human interaction with causality. The result is unique in the universe . . . but that doesn't mean there must be some sort of unnatural conflict. Life is also unique in the universe (as far as we know) but nobody thinks it's unnatural. Self-determinism no more unnatural -- and no less phenomenal -- than life itself.

I don't know what free will proponents want. We depend on causality to bring our choices about, and yet they want to pretend that the choices we make have no causes. It seems to me that "free will" is a religious concept allied to the belief in a parallel spiritual reality, which is absurd enough. The absurdity is compounded by the assertion that the spirit or soul can somehow intervene in contravention of the normal course of cause & effect to make exceptions to it. How this is accomplished, then, needs some sort of explication.

You appear to be replying to me but I have no idea what you're talking about. NONE of it applies.

None? I doubt that. Take your statement, The fact that we observe, learn from, anticipate and use causality to modify the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality to pursue our own goals: our own plans, purposes and intentions. Skyscrapers, dams, dikes, highways, vehicles, Mars rovers . . . ALL technology serve human purposes -- NOT causality's (because causality has none). They are products of human intelligence interacting with causality.

I wrote this: The absurdity is compounded by the assertion that the spirit or soul can somehow intervene in contravention of the normal course of cause & effect to make exceptions to it. How this is accomplished, then, needs some sort of explication.

There's nothing absurd or contradictory in saying that we interact with or use or plan on causality to bring about our ends. It would be if there were but one causal chain, but we all know that innumerable causal chains operate in parallel. That we have purposes does nothing to make the notion of causality doubtful.

Are you saying that our purposes are uncaused? Subatomic physics aside, everything has a cause. Assuming otherwise is tantamount to Hawking's assertion (since retracted) that information is lost when matter falls into a black hole. If that's true, there's no sense to the world. To me, whatever isn't governed by the laws of causality is governed by randomness, which is okay for the subatomic world. Our everyday world stops making sense if we can't count on causality.

Only religion offers a third alternative: the spiritual world where souls can step in and miraculously make something happen that didn't have a physical cause.

I simply say that what we do is due to who we are. I don't need a spirit or soul at the mental levers controlling the brain. The brain works on its own, according the the same laws that drive everything else.

Birds make nests or drop mussels from the air onto rocks to serve their birdie purposes. Watson selects chess moves to suit its purpose. We think birds operate on instinct and computers imply follow their algorithms. We don't attribute free will to them. You seem to be saying that when we are doing something purposeful that implies that we are somehow outside the chain of causality rather than in it, and yet you don't explain how this is even possible.

The point of free will has always been to ensure that people are responsible for what they do, meaning that we can either put laurels on their brow or rush them off to the guillotine. The thing is, none of the free will thing really works to that end without positing a separate entity on a non-physical plane. A plane that, magically, is able (without using physical forces of any kind) can change the course of things in the physical world.

Either we are in the world, and are subject to causality, or at least part of us is magical.


Your thinking is too stuck on a false dichotomy to move past it. You said that: "That we have purposes does nothing to make the notion of causality doubtful." . . . as if I said something otherwise. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentence. You can (repeatedly) see that for yourself if you actually read what I wrote. The assumption explicit in your assertion is that purpose somehow violates causality. It's the same old, worn out, false dichotomy of the "conventional paradigm".

You're missing the whole point because you can't or won't entertain alternative views.

I'll summarize my main points but I'm not going to invest in a long-winded reply that can only repeat or paraphrase what I've already said. But Daniel Dennett, in the interview mentioned by Albert Bakker, uses an argument I haven't raised for a long time but will, below. It's derived from complexity theory -- which I believe is better suited to mind/brain questions than the reductionist approaches favored by hard determinists. For your convenience, the attached .MP3 file contains just the section of the interview dealing with free will. I'll transcribe, now, the part dealing with complexity theory . . .

Most people are quite happy with the idea that things can be colored even though their finest parts aren't colored. Atoms aren't colored but things can be red, blue and green -- they can really be red, blue and green -- it's not just an illusion that they're red, blue and green even though the atoms that they're made of are not any color at all. Things can be alive, like a cell, even though they're made of parts that aren't alive. In fact, if it doesn't work out that way, we're in deep trouble. So you can make something living out of parts that are not living. You can make something colored out of parts that aren't colored. You can make something conscious out of parts that are not conscious. Neurons aren't conscious . . . [and] you can make something free out of parts that aren't free.

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.

I believe, as I've already stated, that self-aware and time-aware mental feedback is transformative: that's where the complimentary properties of causality and human intelligence interact to produce self-determinism.

Please forget about free will. It doesn't exist. Our intelligent interaction with causality produces a more subtle, nuanced, phenomenon: self-determinism. I think of it more or less as "direction" or "purpose". Because of feedback, we can (with varying degrees of efficacy) distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea or something in between and pursue the one we want. These are options -- yes, options dictated by causality but options none the less -- we choose as self-aware, intelligent, human beings. The brain deliberates. That what it does. It couldn't without feedback. If you insist on a reductionist philosophy that equates brains to rocks, you will never acknowledge the distinctly different modes of response to causality exhibited by inanimate objects and animate beings.

We suspect that abiogenesis somehow transformed inanimate matter into living cells. We haven't proved it yet. But it's the best theory we have and most of us are willing to accept it because life must have started somehow.

Of course . . . you could say "God did it" and leave it at that. But that's a cop-out.

In the same way, we know that we are self-aware, time-aware, intelligent human beings who bring purpose and direction to a universe that otherwise has none. Self-determinism provides a theory that uses what we all know to explain how this phenomenon is compatible with causality.

Of course . . . you could say "The Big Bang did it" and leave it at that. But that's a cop-out.

The philosophical challenge will remain unsolved if we keep trying to explain the impossible notion of the ill-named "free will". Turn your attention to what we know and can actually point to as real. The true challenge, in light of causality and reality, is to explain the goal-seeking purpose of human endeavor . . . NOT to fatalistically deny it.




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