The Internet is amazing. It hosts media of all kinds. Anybody can communicate with anybody. And you can find out anything you want to know. It's huge and complex but we don't need to understand how it works to know that it does. In the same way, we don't need to understand how the brain works to know that it does. Its electro-chemical machinations, while interesting, aren't necessary to understand in order to know that the brain deliberates. That's what it does.

Neuroscience can't yet explain how the brain does what it does but it has made some intriguing discoveries. One such discovery is numerous feedback mechanisms in various modules of the brain. It's this mental (intelligent) feedback that has led me to an interpretation of (the ill-named) "free will" that explains human purpose: I call it "self-determinism".

The philosophical conundrum with "free will" has always been the notion that it necessarily violates a fundamental law of nature: cause and effect (causality).That's a false dichotomy. It's not either/or. There are other possibilities. I hope to convince you that, because of intelligent feedback, self-determinism can explain our ability to manipulate events (purpose): not despite causality but, rather, because of, and in concert with, causality. The challenge is in overcoming philosophical objections. I hope, this time, my explanation succeeds.

By the way, I get the impression that some people think it's "arrogant" of me to attempt an explanation of "free will". That's ridiculous. Everybody's got an opinion. This one's mine. If that disturbs you, I suggest you look within for the reason.

Causes aren't monolithic: they're discrete. Normally, cause and effect are constantly repeated (or repeatable) with predictable results. Scientific experiments rely on this fact. Outside the quantum realm, causality is universal. You can't cite an effect without a cause. Like time, causality is unidirectional; flowing from the past, through the present, to the future. Cause comes first, then its effect: the sequence is invariable. This means effects have no influence on their causes. But with intelligent feedback, effects can have an influence on future instances of their causes if we learn from them and prepare for those future instances. If we succeed, we've altered the path causality would have otherwise taken. And that takes purpose: self-determinism.

Because of these properties of causality (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) intelligent feedback gives us a virtual, temporal, advantage over causality when we interact with it. With intelligent feedback we can examine events and tie their effects to their causes and deduce the preceding sequence of events. We understand consequences. But the real empowerment of self-determinism comes from our mental ability to extrapolate cause and effect into the future to manipulate anticipated events to suit our own purpose(s). That is self-determinism. We use our intelligence to prepare for -- or even control -- cause and effect. Cause and effect are not violated. But because of our preparations, we manipulate how it unfolds.

Take Amsterdam, for instance. It is below sea level. Causality would normally dictate that it be under water. But it's not. Because of our intelligent, proactive, interaction with causality, Amsterdam remains dry. Did we violate causality to accomplish this? Of course not. We intelligently used causality to accomplish it. Causality does not have purpose(s). It doesn't think. It doesn't care if Amsterdam exists or not. But we do. We served our own purposes and altered future events (causality) accordingly.

We find this easiest to do with materials and phenomena we readily understand. And what we readily understand are materials and phenomena with consistent, persistent, properties. We can reliably manipulate sand and gravel, wood and metals, air and water, elements and chemical compounds but reliably manipulating people is a different matter. I believe the difficulty boils down to the two different modes of causal response between inanimate matter and animate beings. The inanimate mode of response to causality is passive and predictable. The animate mode of response to causality is interactive and unpredictable. It's the difference between a rock and a brain. Inanimate matter is easier to manipulate because it's easier to predict. Animate beings are more difficult to predict because they're more complex and possess properties, such as intelligence, motility, respiration, digestion, etc. that inanimate matter does not.

As human beings, we interact with the external world intelligently. In other words, we interact with causality intelligently. That means we learn from it, understand it and use it for our own purposes. Feedback is the key. It empowers us by mentally rendering causality bi-directional. We learn from the past to manipulate the future. It's really just that simple. We can understand consequences and act accordingly. There's no advanced philosophy needed to explain away man-in-the-machine, mind-brain, dualism because there is none. Just simple facts that anybody can understand.

Self-determinism requires no violation of causality because it's the properties of causality (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) that facilitate our intelligent interaction with it. Causality gives us a fundamental means by which to understand the world around us. The fact that we use this understanding to manipulate the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality intelligently and with purpose. And that means we really do make choices that serve our own purposes -- because causality has no purpose. We don't progress arbitrarily . . . we progress with purpose. That much seems transparently obvious and undeniable. You can claim it's an illusion, if you like, but you can't substantiate your claim. The fact is that, in actual practice, civilization takes "free will" for granted and pursues its goals as needed. We all act as if we have "free will". We take credit for our achievements. Everything we do presumes purpose. Nothing causality does presumes purpose. It's pretty cut-and-dry when put in the proper perspective.

So I'll ask: "How does our manipulation of the world around us NOT demonstrate purpose?" Were we really scripted, since the beginning of time, to fly jets into the Twin Towers? Are we really automatons programmed, somehow, at the moment of the Big Bang? That's what you're asking us to believe if you insist causality is necessarily violated by "free will". I say we are what we appear to be and that any assertion that self-determinism is an illusion is based on the erroneous assumption that it must violate causality. That is a false dichotomy which hastily and unnecessarily rules out other possibilities like deliberate, proactive, interaction with causality: self-determinism.

If human brains deliberate and if causality is a law of nature, then they are obviously compatible. Self-determinism explains how. Intelligent feedback extends determinism to self-determinism. It is a compatibilist explanation of what "free will" really is. It is compatible with causality and is, in fact, an extension of it: extended, primarily, by intelligent feedback.

Intelligent feedback makes us self-aware, future-aware, manipulators of events . . . and events are what causality is all about. This manipulation of events gives us a modest power over causality: the power of purpose. That is self-determinism. The only kind of "free will" we have. And the only kind we need.

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Comment by Atheist Exile on December 13, 2011 at 10:18am

There is a commonly asserted assumption that "free will" must violate causality. That's a false dichotomy. It's not either/or. There are other possibilities. Free will can work with (unidirectional) causality by thinking bi-directionally; applying to the future what our intelligent minds learn from the past. As with Amsterdam, we can actually determine, according to our purpose, the paths causality will take. Determinism is the cards we are dealt. Self-determinism is how we play them.

Does causality influence our deliberations? Of course. I've never denied that. What I'm saying is that intelligent feedback and proactive measures enable us to carve our own paths into the future. This is unique in the universe because human intelligence is unique in the universe. Until life and human intelligence came along, causality had only one mode of response: passive and predictable. Human intelligence extends the possibilities because it's proactive and deliberate.

Comment by Albert Bakker on December 16, 2011 at 4:29pm

I'm reading "Freedom Evolves" at the moment of Dennett which deals exactly with this subject. Seems very sympathetic to your way of thinking Atheist Exile. I think with his help we can make a much more rigorous defense of your position here.

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 17, 2011 at 1:09am

@Albert Bakker,

Finding a specific book, here in the Philippines, is kind of hit or miss. I hope Dennett writes more engagingly than he speaks.

I've grown disappointed with philosophers on the subject of free will. The great philosophers of the past knew nothing about the brain. Modern philosophers contradict each other. What I've been trying to do is to stick with the knowledge we have and avoid philosophical entanglements and conjecture as much as possible. However, certain philosophical conundrums must be addressed, such as: (1) the false dichotomy of free will versus causality; (2) mind-brain dualism; and (3) deliberation versus illusion of choice. Perhaps the greatest obstacle is unlearning the impossible notions of what, exactly, free will is. There's a lot of overlap with these issues, which makes it hard to lay out a clear and concise argument.

I think this fresh attempt to address objections will take too much space, so I'm going to post it as a new blog entry. I'll reply with the URL as soon as the mods approve it.

Comment by Albert Bakker on December 17, 2011 at 3:51am

Well, I don't know exactly what you mean by engaging but you can forget about skimming Dennett's writings in any case. This book calls for reading with a philological pace.

But he deals among other problems with the distinction between determinism and inevitability (not predictability) and instead of proposing black boxes (deliberation, anticipatory feed-back) to graciously circumvent the still accepted implications of determinism and leave it at that (if determinism is true, then we don't have free will - in fact if indeterminism is true this would not imply necessarily that we do have free will) he attacks the problem head on, on how exactly to think about determinism and how a deterministic world can accommodate for truly free agents to exist in it.

Those black boxes are opened and the inner workings revealed and shown how freedom, free will as in having the ability to act as free agents in a deterministic world is a product of evolution. And so one implication is therefore that there is no all or nothing dichotomy between free will being real or free will being illusory in the world as is, however tempting, but rather it is a real, yet gradual concept.

At the moment to be honest I don't understand it yet, just beginning to see a dim light somewhere in the distance.

Now I am going to read your new thoughts, I think I am with you on this one.


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