I know and understand full well that this will be a divisive and controversial possibility to suggest. I assure you that I am at times deeply
disturbed and frightened by the prospect that I, as an apparently free-thinking rational agent with apparent free agency and free will, might actually
be somehow deluded into thinking that is the case. I respect (and even intermittently agree with!) those who hold the view that there is no question
that we possess free agency and free will. Nevertheless, I frequently find myself wondering. In the end I always seem to come back to the notion that
it is at least possible
that we actually do not posses free will, at least as we have traditionally conceived of it.
Philosophers have debated throughout human history whether determinism, indeterminism (which does not necessarily preclude a lack of free will, owing
to the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of quantum mechanics,) or some combination thereof dictate human behavior and, most relevant to this
discussion, choices. This first occurred to me one day when thinking about the choice between two beverages: orange juice and cranberry juice. I have
been known to like and drink both, and so I began to wonder what might cause me to choose one over the other in any given instance. Was it because I
was really making a conscious choice, or because some combination of recalled experiences (flavors,) neurological states (mood,) biological states
(cravings,) psychological states (mood, emotional relationship to the time of day, and innumerable other possible factors) and other factors
inescapably led me to choose one rather than the other at that particular moment?
I then decided to conduct a thought experiment. I would attempt to decide
to think of something. I decided upon a red balloon. However the
question then occurred to me: why did I choose a red balloon? Why those parameters? So then I changed the parameters of the experiment. I would
attempt to decide
to think of something that did not exist in reality (as far as I know.) I decided to imagine a green, fuzzy pumpkin. However,
again, the question occurred to me: why did I choose those
parameters? Where did they originate from? They seemed to come out of nowhere,
popping into my head at random. So, finally, I laid out the final parameters of the experiment: I would attempt to decide
to imagine something,
without the parameters thereof randomly popping into my head. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I was incapable of coming up with parameters
that did not simply pop into my head without me specifically prompting it to do so.
Any parameters I was able to "decide" to think up literally
seemed to be cropping up from the ether of my unconscious mind.
At this point I was quite alarmed to say the least, as it was at least somewhat clear to me that this strongly resembled what we now think of as
Emergent behavior is essentially an organized system or behavior which
arises unpredictably from the interaction of other systems with one another. The question I was forced to reluctantly ask myself reared its head like
an unwanted house guest: Could my very consciousness - indeed, my every thought - be an illusion created by emergence from the interactions of the
systems functioning in my brain, and my physiology as a whole?
When prompted to read about this possibility online (as you will see below) I found one quote from Wikipedia which most aptly describes the
possibility I refer to:
In generative philosophy of cognitive sciences and evolutionary psychology, free will is assumed not to exist. However, an illusion of free
will is created, within this theoretical context, due to the generation of infinite or computationally complex behaviour from the interaction of a
finite set of rules and parameters. Thus, the unpredictability of the emerging behaviour from deterministic processes leads to a perception of free
will, even though free will as an ontological entity is assumed not to exist. In this picture, even if the behavior could be computed ahead
of time, no way of doing so will be simpler than just observing the outcome of the brain's own computations.
As an illustration, some strategy board games have rigorous rules in which no information (such as cards' face values) is hidden from either player
and no random events (such as dice rolling) occur in the game. Nevertheless, strategy games like chess and especially Go, with its simple
deterministic rules, can have an extremely large number of unpredictable moves. By analogy, "emergentists" suggest that the experience of free will
emerges from the interaction of finite rules and deterministic parameters that generate infinite and unpredictable behaviour. Yet, if all these events
were accounted for, and there were a known way to evaluate these events, the seemingly unpredictable behavior would become
You must understand that as a spiritual person (though I am rationally skeptical, I do adhere to personal spiritual beliefs
which I distinguish
from facts, with the latter requiring empirical proof in my view) who believes strongly above all else in love and humanism, this is an
outright terrifying thought. So before you dismiss this out of hand or attack the premise, please consider that I do not want this to be the case
any more than you do.
Having now been confronted with this thought which I could not simply dismiss or wish away (in part because
it was so frightening,) I embarked
on some reading (I couldn't rightly call it research really) hoping to find some evidence of inexplicable phenomena or functions within the science
and philosophy of human behavior and choices that might leave legitimate room for free will. What I found was both at times reassuring, and at others
even more disturbing.
In western philosophy there are several schools of thought.
is the philosophical stance that everything which occurs is causally determined by
what has occured before the present moment, and that the future is thus likewise already determined. In essence, everything can, could, and will, only
play out one way. This would suggest that free will as we traditionally conceive of it does not exist.
is the philosophical stance that events are not deterministic, and that the chance
for many different possible causes, effects, and thus scenarios exists at any given moment in time. This would appear to guarantee free will if true,
however there are forms of indeterminism which actually preclude free will as we traditionally conceive of it. For example, quantum mechanics
postulates an inherent unpredictability - and therefore indeterminism - yet since we cannot control or even be aware of the quantum behavior
theoretically governing the matter comprising our neurology, we still could not technically exercise consciously free will in such a universe.
is the philosophical stance that determinism and
indeterminism are not mutually exclusive. For example, someone may make a choice and that choice is still a decision or selection being made, even if
what that choice or selection ends up being is determined by conditions prior to it being made. Or, for instance, perhaps quantum mechanics are by
nature indeterministic, but once processes reach the macro-scale of our brains, psychology, neurology etc. they (and thus our choices) have become
is the philosophical stance that determinism
and indeterminism are completely incompatible. There are at least two varieties of incompatibilism. One holds that the universe is utterly
deterministic, and that indeterminism is therefore impossible. The other holds that the universe is wholly indeterministic and unpredictable,
predicated on free will and/or physical indeterminism.
holds that everything is governed entirely by its physical properties and nothing
beyond that. This has implications for free will because it suggests that if
the universe is deterministic, or if quantum mechanical
compatibilists are correct, then in the absence of a soul free will is not possible. However, so-called "Token physicalism" (essentially
) allows for the possibility that there may exist mental properties distinct
from or emerging as a consequence of purely physical properties, thus avoiding the strict physical limitations. For example, if consciousness is an
emergent property in a sense distinct from the physical processes from which it emerged, then that consciousness may or may not be capable of
self-determinism. Property dualism can be thought of as a form of dualism, while strict physicalism is sometimes thought of as a form of
[edit on 5/1/2010 by AceWombat04]