“Of Course Free Will Exists.”

“Of Course Free Will Exists.” December 3, 2020

Person223 stated this in another thread recently:

Of course free will exists. You choose to walk on a bridge. You can choose to jump off that bridge or choose to walk to the other side. I get the feeling, with some people, that they think free will doesn’t exist because we are bound by the realities of science. People can spend hours and days arguing about things to the point of being mired in minutiae or go out and see the world. Free will is independent of whether a particular individual believes in deities or not. Choices are still made in life. Even dogs make choices even though they don’t understand the nature of consequences as well as humans do. Communicating with a dog as when one trains it is different, and less direct, than communicating with a human. Much debate over whether spanking of a kid is a good thing, and I think for the most part it is not. But a very young kid that doesn’t understand that grabbing a boiling pott of water or running into the street is dangerous a slap on the rear might deter that kid from reaching for that pott or running into the street. One of my teachers pretended that the street was hurting him when he was on it and that kept his kid from running into when the kid saw how the street “hurt” daddy. I don’t know if that might psychologically affect a kid as much, or more, than a spanking.

I was going to respond to this comment. But I didn’t need to because 2lemenope stepped in with a lesson of his own:

Part of the confusion here is the conflation between “choice” and “free will”. Pretty much everyone, determinist or not, believes we make choices. It’s just that determinists don’t believe those choices are free; that our conscious experience of making choices is really a post hoc illusion that our mind creates to make sense of what we’ve done.

>>>I get the feeling, with some people, that they think free will doesn’t exist because we are bound by the realities of science.

Pretty close. Physics presents a two-sided puzzle, and then biology presents one more, and metaphysics/theology has been unhelpful in solving either one.

First, physics. If there is nothing but matter and energy in the universe, then at macro scales (anything much larger than a buckyball) that universe is measurably and reliably deterministic. Billiard balls, and all that. Neurons and all of their functional component parts are much, much larger than a buckyball, so it is entirely reasonable to assume that the components of a neuron are likewise deterministic in physical behavior, as predictable and bound to prior physical causes as the motion of billiard balls. Quantum effects are extremely unlikely due to the scales involved.

If, however, consciousness is in part due to some quantum physical effect despite the sizes of components involved, it doesn’t help, because quantum effects are purely probabilistic, which means that they no more lead to a coherent sense of “choice” than pure determinism does. Wave function collapse is an uncontrollable consequence of two quantum systems interacting, and where it collapses to is random within the probability function of the wave.

So physics leads to absolute determinism or absolute indeterminism, depending on where the effects that create consciousness “live”. The proposed solution from metaphysicians and theologians since this problem was first described has been to assume the intercession of a non-physical something which is situated in the consciousness itself and is capable of either nudging macro objects in some way or controlling the collapse of a quantum wave-function in some way. The problem there is a pure lack of evidence; regardless of the proposed mechanism, the result would show up as either objects not behaving purely like billiard balls–and that never happens–or would show up as a detectable deflection from the expectations of Bell’s inequalities–and that never happens either.

And then there is the biology problem, which is that there is metric ton of evidence which suggests that whatever the mechanisms that control human behavior, event-by-event they are not guided by the conscious mind at all. Instead what seems to happen is that human beings act unconsciously and then the brain reports to the conscious mind what your chose and your conscious mind chooses to tell itself that it chose that. Libet et al.’s famous button-pressing experiments showed that the delay is substantial–sometimes as great as a half-second–between when you take an action and when your conscious mind becomes aware of it and fools itself into thinking it made a prior choice.

>>>Choices are still made in life.

Of course there are. It just turns out that there is not a lot of room for those choices to be, in any physical or logical sense, “free”. We experience them as choices, and we can imagine counterfactual realities in which a different option was chosen, but they only ever are projections and models of what-might-have-been had we been different.

The only real area in which some sense of freedom is preserved is when a person is not acting. When the brain is acting on nothing substantial but itself, then there is a sense in which you can make choices; when you think over your life, or what you’ve done, or what you plan to do, in those moments of contemplation there is the possibility of gaining self-knowledge (and so understanding why you act as you do) and then perhaps making changes through top-level effort. In a sense, we only really make choices when nothing is happening; once things are happening, and once we act, we’re merely executing a program we wrote for ourselves in the quiet moments whether we know it or not.

Well said.

I wrote a book on free will [UK] (my first ever book that needs a whole lot of rewriting this next year!) that pretty much says this but with a lot more words.


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