How I didn’t choose to write this post

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We know there are parts of the body operating that are not within control of your consciousness. When your heart is pumping blood the process is not dictated by your brain (consciousness). You can move your arm whenever you want, but that motion is commanded by the brain. We understand the brain to be an organ in the same way the heart is an organ. Both serve a purpose in our anatomy and both follow natural processes. The difference is we understand far more about the heart than we do the brain.

If the brain is an organ that we do not fully understand isn’t it suspicious that it is the one organ on which free will depends? Now of course a complex structure (such as the brain) is where we would expect to find free will if it did exist, but keep in mind emotions were once credited to the processes of the heart. Neuroscience reveals more and more about how the brain works and now that we’ve discovered more about the brain it is claimed that instead of total free will we have partial free will. This idea is known as Compatibilism.

To claim there is free will is to claim that consciousness is derived from something outside of natural law. To claim partial free will (Compatibilism) is to claim that the processes of the brain give us some freedom to move around within the confines of natural law. But as our understanding of the brain increases, I predict that these “freedoms” will show to be just as natural and predictable as all the other bodies processes. The adherents of free will have had to admit that we lack free will in some areas. This is irrefutable in the case of the subconscious. We all admit that certain thoughts and actions dictated by the brain are outside your control. It is likely that the rest of consciousness will show itself to be just as lacking in volition.

The only logical conclusion one can make with a naturalist view of the world is that there simply is no free will. It is of course possible that consciousness exists outside of the physical realm but that is a metaphysical claim and cannot be tested. I would refer anyone making that argument to look up the analogy known as Russell’s teapot (or the celestial teapot). Metaphysical claims have no business in this discussion until we have good reasons to believe there are things outside the physical realm. Our reasoning and logic are based on observable patterns we see in the natural world and these patterns reflect a physical world lacking any evidence for metaphysical claims. To claim you have free will is to claim that the molecules which make up your brain matter obey you and not the laws of nature.

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  7 comments for “How I didn’t choose to write this post

  1. May 26, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    A post I agree with

  2. May 26, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Am I the only sane person left who believes that “free will” is nothing more than the mental process of making a choice? If someone forces you to do something, then you don’t do it of your own free will. If you choose to do something without being forced by someone else, then you have done it of your own free will.

    This is not a metaphysical event. It is a mental process carried out in our minds. A new decision comes up that we haven’t resolved before. We begin with some uncertainty about which option to choose. We play around with them mentally, imagining the outcomes of choosing this over choosing that. Finally, we make a decision and choose one. We have each observed this phenomenon in ourselves. We have observed it in others as well, any time that a friend asks for help making a decision. So this is not some “illusion”, but an aspect of the real world in which we exist.

    That has always been the common sense definition of free will. The fact that the mind exists only so long as there is a working brain changes nothing.

    Enter “Cause” and “Effect” stage left. They tip their hats to “Free Will”, recognizing a long-time friend. If we know someone well enough, we can predict what they will choose in many situations. And if we had perfect knowledge of all the relevant personal factors and the parameters of the decision, then we could predict the decision with perfect reliability.

    So we now have a predictor and a decider. Assuming the predictor does not tell the decider in advance (put it in an envelope, seal it, and hand it to them after they announce their choice) the decider still must go through the same mental process to make the choice happen. Only the decider can make the choice happen. The decider is the cause and the choice is the effect. And until you get a reliable predictor, only the decider can cause the choice to happen.

    So there is no conflict between the principle of deterministic cause and effect and the existence of a free will. They work together just fine.

    • May 26, 2014 at 10:46 pm

      I actually agree with your closing statement if we are going by how you defined free will. I was addressing a much more literal definition. Free will in the context of this post is not just the mental process of making a choice, it is the claim that the mental process of making a choice is dictated by something outside of the brain.

      For example when you make a choice it is a brain process, yes? That brain process follows the laws of nature. Your choice is the result of your brain chemistry. Some people try to claim that their choice is the result of something else and not the nature of their brain. Call it what you will but if I put a tumor in a certain part of your brain it will affect the decisions you will make. In the same way if I removed a part of your brain it could affect the decisions you would make. This shows that consciousness, free will, all these terms I was using are so far as we understand confined to the physical world. If you pick A instead of B it is because your brain reacted in a way that it wished to pick A, not because your spirit contemplated the choice and picked what it truly wanted. Your brain contemplated the choice and decided, a physical process.

      Thanks for reading! If you wish to dive into this conversation further I will be happy to respond

      • May 27, 2014 at 12:16 am

        Right. I don’t believe in the supernatural. I believe that “mind” arises within the “brain” and nervous system. When people speak of thinking, they use the term “mind”. When they speak of physiology, they use the term “brain”.

        Since we do not have a vocabulary that discusses “what I’m thinking” in terms of neurons, and we probably never will, we use the “mind” concept to represent the internal experience of “thought”. It is a simpler and more efficient construct for these purposes.

        And, as you point out, different parts of the physical brain play different roles, like managing short-term memory, long-term memory, imagination and dreaming, etc. When something is broken, we would use neuroscience terminology to describe, understand, and hopefully fix it.

        But I believe the vocabulary of “mind” holds up for its area of utility, the subject matter where it is employed, even if we were to imagine the mind outside the body.

        The key concept for free will is that we do “think” and we do “choose”. And our thoughts and choices respond to the experiences we encounter and are influenced by what we learn along the way from the womb to the tomb.

        The fact that everything is “inevitable” (determinism) on the other hand, has limited utility. Yes, it is indeed a fact, but what difference does knowing it make?

        On the other hand, the causes of specific events and illnesses and behaviors are tremendously significant to dealing with the reality we all live in. And this is the science that is valuable.

        If you can use the fact of determinism to destroy the concept of “free will”, then you can also use it to destroy the concept of “person”. And I think we have learned over our evolution that these concepts are highly useful and cannot be thrown out with the bathwater.

      • May 27, 2014 at 3:55 am

        Ah yes, the terms like choose, choice, free will are useful at describing human processes. In most situations I would still use words like choose, but in the context of philosophy I would abandon the term.

        If we acknowledged all philosophical truths in conversation we’d be left with very little time. As long as a supernatural or metaphysical connotation is not attached to the term free will it can be useful and it describes a human process very well.

      • May 27, 2014 at 4:30 am

        Yes. The supernatural and metaphysics can be thrown out. Especially since determinism implies that free will is inevitable. 🙂

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