Atheism, Free Will and Scientific Paradigms

Atheism, free will and scientific paradigms

To me, free will is not absolute or limitless. Free will is constrained by physical laws, ethics, and circumstances.

There is evidence that thoughts arise from diverse modules within the brain. These diverse sources of thought, within the brain, are integrated somehow (i.e. in the brain’s electromagnetic field) and passed back for a decision. It’s the decision – yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, not yet, if conditions warrant, keep in mind, that’s interesting, etc. – that constitutes choice and, thus, free will.

Of the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang, human intelligence has only existed for one or two hundred thousand years. That's just the blink of an eye in cosmological time.

Until we discover extraterrestrial life, our best understanding says that the universe was over 10 billion years old before the first single-cell life forms arose. Until that point in time, THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE WAS TOTALLY INANIMATE. Then life introduced motility: the ability of animate beings to move about on their own. Life was a major milestone in the history of the universe because, instead of inanimate matter, the universe now had animate beings too. Life is intrinsically and intimately shaped by evolution; an entirely new process in the universe. Pretty major stuff, this life force!

It would be another 3.5 billion years before humans evolved. Human intelligence is the next major milestone in the history of the universe. Instead of living at the mercy of nature (like all other animals), humans had the intelligence to harness nature: which is to say, humans had the ability to understand, anticipate and use causality for their own purposes . . . clothing, shelter, weapons, tools and fire. This expertise with causality is a prerequisite for intelligence and is also demonstrable evidence of free will.

Without free will, nature would be the only source of causation on Earth. But free will rises (modestly) above causality and harnesses it to do our bidding. Nature didn't cause man's achievements . . . man did. The only way that could happen is if man has free will. There's nature; and then there's human nature.

From the empirical point of view, free will is taken for granted: we live, work, play and plan as if we have free will. We don’t experience the horror of watching helplessly as we do things we don’t want to do (unless you suffer from a compulsive disorder).

I’m aware of the usual objections to the notion of free will. Many very educated people – even those in the fields of physics and neuroscience – believe that everything is physical: matter or energy. There are far too many people who treat the current scientific paradigm just like a religion: they actually put their faith in reductionistic physicalism and conclude that EVERYTHING is determined and that free will is an illusion. They believe it absolutely – despite the experience of their everyday existence.

The fact is, science is still maturing. Its history is one of successive paradigm shifts. What was once seen as obvious, develops nagging problems, inconsistencies and contradictions. The problems beget new understandings that usher in a new paradigm that becomes the new obvious answer.

We already know that the existing paradigms are flawed. Relativity doesn’t get along with the quantum world. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle points to a mystical side of quantum physics that stretches credulity and suggests "mind" as a component of the material universe.

Matter emerges from nowhere and disappears again. Subatomic particles can’t both be and be known to be. Matter shifts from existing to only having the potential to exist.

Our human acts affect what is true at the quantum level. The act of measurement distorts what’s being measured. Human consciousness itself seeps into the discussion of quantum physics. Consciousness, mind, data, or whatever you want to call it, is beginning to factor into quantum physics and even black holes. These curious developments are the dissonances that precede paradigm shifts. It appears that the next paradigm will need to accommodate "consciousness, mind, data, or whatever you want to call it".

The question of human consciousness has been relegated to philosophers until fairly recently. As of late, neuroscience has made some amazing inroads to understanding this “emergent property of the brain”. The more they learn, the more it seems that consciousness defies the reductionistic physicalism of science’s true believers. Consciousness (and life and intelligence) is one of the incongruencies revealing the gaps in the physicalism of our current paradigm.

Life itself is a (relatively) new phenomenon in the universe. Life, in turn, has spawned amazing phenomena that never existed before: motility, evolution, instinct, procreation, consciousness, intelligence and, I assert, free will.

Perhaps the next scientific paradigm will pay more attention to the distinct differences between inanimate matter and animate beings (especially human beings). Complex systems also deserve more attention. If you look at the trends in the history of the universe, it appears almost as if everything has been leading up to a universe that acknowledges itself via life: human life. Until the mysteries are resolved, I’ll try to keep an open mind and remember that opinions are a dime a dozen until facts decide the issue.

P.S.

Science is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, human endeavor. However, atheists who substitute science for religion are still guilty of faith. Science is the question, NOT the answer. Atheists, to my experience, seem likely to forget that, unlike religion, science has never claimied to be the final word – and, in fact, is not.

© Atheist Exile, AtheistExile.com

Views: 20

Tags: animate, big bang, biofeedback, compatibilism, consciousness, determinism, free will, inanimate, intelligence, mental feedback, More…reductionistic physicalism

Comment by Serotonin Wraith on August 22, 2009 at 11:47am
Okay, I think I'm starting to understand what you're saying. Humans are better than other natural things. Which is why, if I say leaves have unique characteristics found nowhere else in the universe, so they're 'set apart' from the rest of nature, that sounds silly.

But, how do we decide what is better? What if survival is a better characteristic? Cockroaches are better then.

Can we really exert more influence over the universe than say, a supernova, or a hurricane, or rays from the sun?
Comment by Reggie on August 22, 2009 at 12:18pm
But, how do we decide what is better? What if survival is a better characteristic? Cockroaches are better then.

Exactly the point that I think needs clarification. My dogs couldn't care less if I play them Beethoven or show them a Van Gogh. Now, if I offer them some cheese, I have their attention. From their point of view, cheese is mystifyingly awesome.
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 23, 2009 at 8:23pm
Hi Reggie,

I'm 100% anti-supernatural. I'm an atheist. My website (AtheistExile) makes that abundantly clear. Nonetheless, there are some mysteries and cosmic coincidences (see anthropic principle) that are suggestive of design. PLEASE don't go to the races with that statement! I only assert that such things are interesting and worth pointing out. Not that they're true or constitute evidence of any kind.

I prefaced my statement about the universe acknowledging itself with "it appears almost as if". I'm aware of the human conceit that insists we're so special that God has to babysit us: I, in fact, wrote a paragraph about that anthropocentric view in my previous reply to Serotonin Wraith.

I felt my essay stated my opinion coherently and that I would catch a lot of flack from physical reductionists in the atheist audience. The notion that everything can be explained by their most basic components is an article of faith to some people. It wasn't very easy for me to express some of my thoughts and I recognized the potential for misunderstanding, so I was careful to place qualifiers where that potential was greatest. It doesn't look they did any good!
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 23, 2009 at 9:24pm
Serotonin Wraith and Reggie,

With your latest replies, I'm beginning to feel you're being argumentative or perhaps beating the devil's advocate to death. With words like, "better" and "more", you've taken very real qualitative differences and turned them into relative value judgments. I've seen this form of relativism before and have never liked it. It seems to me that people apply that argument selectively, whipping it out only when necessary. Nobody really applies relativism in their own ideas or lives: we make distinctions about EVERYTHING. Animals can be pests, pets, wild, livestock, carnivorous, omnivorous, poisonous, colorful, etc. Rocks can be igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, gemstone, etc. A large part of science is making these distinctions.

I never said humans were "better" than anything and I never said they exert "more" influence than stars. What I said was that "humans have a presence and exert an influence unlike anything else in the universe".

When discussion centers around what was not said instead of what was said, it's time for a break.
Comment by Reggie on August 23, 2009 at 10:03pm
PLEASE don't go to the races with that statement!

Lol. I'll try not to!

When discussion centers around what was not said instead of what was said, it's time for a break.

Perhaps assumptions were made that should not have been made. Language is an ambiguous beast that is far from perfect. I try to focus on what is said but I may expand further when making my points. If I suggested that you said something that you didn't, whether intentional or not on my part, I do apologize.
Comment by Atheist Ninja on August 23, 2009 at 10:26pm
It’s the decision – yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, not yet, if conditions warrant, keep in mind, that’s interesting, etc. – that constitutes choice and, thus, free will.

It's the decision - $50, $100, $200, $0, $500, etc. - that constitutes choice and, thus, free will.
Does Plinko have free will?

Nature didn't cause man's achievements . . . man did. The only way that could happen is if man has free will. There's nature; and then there's human nature.

Nature didn't cause ant's achievements... ant did. The only way that could happen is if ant has free will. There's nature; and then there's ant nature.
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 23, 2009 at 10:44pm
No biggie, Reggie,

I've been realizing how difficult it is to express oneself unambiguously. It's hard to anticipate the assumptions and expectations of others. I've completely missed the point when responding to others and I've also gotten derailed by misinterpretations. So, I do understand that communication is a protocol of adjustments.
Comment by Serotonin Wraith on August 23, 2009 at 10:53pm
we make distinctions about EVERYTHING. Animals can be pests, pets, wild, livestock, carnivorous, omnivorous, poisonous, colorful, etc. Rocks can be igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, gemstone, etc. A large part of science is making these distinctions.

Do any of those characteristics mean the objects in question should be considered separate from the rest of nature? If not, you really need to narrow down why you feel the human mind should be. Not better, not different, so what specifically?

I never said humans were "better" than anything and I never said they exert "more" influence than stars. What I said was that "humans have a presence and exert an influence unlike anything else in the universe".

The same can be said for anything. You single out the human mind. The lack of understanding on my part comes from not knowing why you do this. We've established it's not better, and that uniqueness is universal, so just hit the nail on the head as to the reason you consider the human mind worthy of being separate from the rest of nature.
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 23, 2009 at 10:54pm
Hi Atheist Ninja,

I have no idea what you're saying with the Plinko comparison. I do get your point on the ant comparison, though.

Aside from the simplistic equating of man and ant, you've isolated brief statements from their context and theme. The same technique is used to portray negative book or movie reviews as positive reviews (or vice-versa). It's really too easy.
Comment by Atheist Ninja on August 23, 2009 at 11:02pm
Hey Exile

You know Plinko from the price is right? The little coin drops down and is knocked back and forth on pegs until it comes to it's final resting place, or "decision."

I guess I'm just trying to say I didn't find anything I could sink my teeth into, and without reading through it again, I believe those were really the only two statements that directly implied themselves as evidence of free will.

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