I have written about free will twice on this blog. In my first post about free will, I argue that regardless of where you stand on the debate, you must concede that the most important things in your life hinge on your inability to control it. My last post on free will was probably my most popular post to this point, especially on Google+. In my last post on free will, I have a much more in depth approach on my views on free will. I base a lot of my points by arguing against Daniel Dennet’s critique of Sam Harris’ book Free Will.
For this post, I have found a few videos on YouTube from Big Think which touch on some common errors that I believe many people make when discussing this topic. Most importantly, the last video I will show I believe is the strongest argument I have ever heard in support of free will, yet I still believe it is missing the point.
Free Will is a Term That Distinguishes Intentional Actions From Unintentional Actions
Now I will first start off easy because this is something I can basically agree with. It is useful, in some sense to have a term that differentiates the two behaviors, one being the iris closing when a light is shined in your eye, and the other being the decision to invest in a type of stock or where to move the next chess piece (Though we already have less misleading ways to distinguish the intentional from reactionary, etc.). And I believe almost anyone that argues against free will would probably concede that if we are to define free will in that way, then I will agree with it.
The only problem that occurs is that a great majority of people do not look at free will in this way. Similarly, they may explain it in an elegant way such as Steven Pinker and yet hold deeper, illogical, and incorrect implications of free will. In a lot of ways it seems that people who argue for free will in intellectual circles will explain it in a similar way as the video above yet as the conversation continues, it becomes more and more clear that they have smuggled more into their definition than they originally advertised. And it is usually the smuggled information that we disagree on. And it is because so many people either believe or continue to smuggle the bullshit, that we can appear hyper-critical at times or stubborn. I argue however that this is us merely trying to look at the core of the issue rather than spar in a game of semantics. For the record, I do not believe Steven Pinker is doing any smuggling here.
Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
This is a common argument that I have heard again and again. My response is pretty quick and concise. Randomness is not free will and it is certainly not the free will that anyone is trying to hold on to. That is, if you are arguing that you have free will because there is randomness to the decisions that you make, then you are still not making the choice. To have free will to any level worth caring about is to claim that you are the author of your thoughts and actions, not that you are the recipient of random emotions.
A Strong Argument for Free Will
In this video, Alfred Mele makes many good points and says a lot of things that I agree with. For instance, as he defines it, I would agree that we all have this “regular” free will. At least us sane folk. That is, when we do something, we were aware of what we were doing, we probably understood the consequences, and no one was forcing us to do what we did. Yes, we can all behave in this way. Similarly, he makes a good point about the mid-grade free will. There isn’t really any evidence to suggest that the brain, or the universe, works in that way, but there also isn’t a lot of evidence that it doesn’t. So he’s right, from a scientific perspective, this is still empirically open.
He goes on to talk about the experiments that have been done to “show” that we don’t have free will, and here is where I believe he makes his strongest point. That is, that we can’t really correlate, clearly, decision making with the spike we see in the data. He also makes a point about how the muscle motion triggers the computer to log the data whereas the other data very well may have been useful. Now he may be completely wrong, but I am willing to give him the point.
There are two issues that still remain. First, this is still missing the point that those opposing free will are making. We are acknowledging that many people, even the intellectuals, are using free will as a means to place a conscious author in the mind. Something that is solely responsible for it’s actions and is not really affected by the laws of physics. This seems to come from a desire to want to hold people ultimately responsible for their actions. This justifies many negative emotions, such as hate and vengeance. I have already argued how we can still be civil people even with a view that no one is ultimately responsible for there actions, and I have shown that we are still justified in having prisons and other means of “punishment” which you can read in my earlier posts on free will. If it becomes clear that I wasn’t clear enough, I will touch on that specifically in another post.
The second point that I want to make is that I don’t really need the science to back me up on my view. Now this is not to say that I won’t listen to what the science reveals. If it is discovered that free will exists and it is proven, I would not hesitate in changing my view. But for now, in the science realm, this is still empirically open. So when I say I don’t need the science to back me up, this is because a lot of experiments on free will can be done through introspection.
What has become clear to me is that thoughts merely arise in consciousness. These thoughts have a causal affect on emotions which lead to other thoughts which cause other emotions and so the causal string goes. Again, I believe I have gone into further detail in the past and will reserve deeper discussion on this unless prompted by others, or if I later decide to devote a post to the point.
In many ways, we probably all agree and this argument is really a lot of semantics. But I do believe that at the core, far too many are smuggling too much into this term which leads to what I am currently convinced are views that simply aren’t true.