Christopher Hitchens once averred that you don't.  Religionists claim that it is divinely endowed. Others claim that all are freelancers subject to subornation by others. Your thoughts?

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If there is any "constraint," it's that whatever you choose, you could have not chose otherwise. If things are truly "predetermined," then that means despite the degree of freedom you can seemingly entertain, whatever outcome occurs is inevitable.

That is the conclusion you're lead to if you think only in terms of classical mechanics and simple, fixed, linear, causality. However, with quantum mechanics, nothing is absolutely certain. Quantum mechanics doesn't validate free will but --as the substrate of reality -- it does seriously call determinism into question. And with the reciprocal causation of self-determinism, real decisions are being made based on internal mental processes looping with external stimuli. We choose in light of circumstances and our experience, preferences, abilities and goals: so it's begging the question to claim that we couldn't have chosen otherwise. If we choose for our own reasons why should we do otherwise unless those reasons change? That would be illogical or mindless.

This scientifically unfalsifiable "couldn't have done otherwise" refrain reminds of the following quote:

"An argument which proves too much, proves nothing." ~M.M. Mangasarian

Which further begs the questions:

  • How deterministic is Heisenberg Uncertainty
  • Same notation regarding Brownian motion
  • And while we're at it, how about Chaos Theory?

And on a completely unrelated note, I am reminded of that great philosopher and middle linebacker, late of the book, Semi-Tough, who once said:

What could have happened, DID.  That's what I know, baby.
-- Obert Kimberly "Dreamer" Tatum

Yes, Loren, I think hard determinists are behind the curve where free will is concerned. Yet many physicists are hard determinists. I really believe this is a result of their penchant for material reductionism. Physics is the "root science" and physicists apply the fixed, linear, causality of physics to everything, everywhere . . . including where it doesn't belong -- like biology. Physical sciences and life sciences are fundamentally divergent because of their differing modes (reactive versus interactive) of causality.

This is the biggest mistake hard determinists make.

I follow a lot of what Michio Kaku says on You Tube. He makes sense to me.

I'm not sure how one could make the argument with quantum mechanics that "nothing is absolutely certain." I've never really understood that, and I'm not sure many people do. Are you trying to say that  biology is a strategy, a chemical strategy, for amplifying quantum mechanical indeterminacy into macro-physical systems,i.e. living organisms? And that living organisms somehow work their magic by opening a doorway to the quantum realm through which indeterminacy can come? How big of a role does quantum mechanics actually play on our "sense of agency"?

This scientifically unfalsifiable "couldn't have done otherwise" refrain reminds of the following quote:

"An argument which proves too much, proves nothing." ~M.M. Mangasarian

Well, even if "free will" was the case, the statement "could not have done otherwise," still holds true because the universe at that point would have played out in that specific way. The same could be said of the future just as Laura quoted Dennett in an earlier post, "Nobody can change the future.  That's because the future is, by definition, what will happen.  Changing the future is a contradiction in terms."

It reminds me of that ol' song that Doris Day sang in one of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

"Che sarà, sarà! Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see. Che sarà, sarà."

No Matt,

The reason quantum mechanics undermines determinism is because QM is inherently indeterministic: random and chaotic. This is, apparently, the real nature of the quantum realm and not just a human inability to predict quantum states. But the quantum realm isn't as unruly as all that: it's probabilistic. Statistically, QM can predict the probability of specific states or events with unparalleled accuracy.

Contrast this to the classical realm where causality is fixed and linear. Supposedly, if we could reverse cause and effect, the universe would implode exactly as it expanded but in reverse. In contrast to this alleged absolutely predictable classical realm is the quantum realm. It's only virtually predictable. Statistically, those predictions will be wrong on rare occasions. Nothing is really absolute or certain. Close, but no cigar.

This is more problematic for determinism in specific cases than in general ones. In general, we can predict the universe will dissipate trillions of years from now but we can't predict, with certainty, when a particular photon will be emitted from an electron or where it will go.

We can largely ignore the influence of the quantum realm on determinism without real consequence but the fact remains that determinism isn't absolute with the quantum realm as the physical substrate of the universe.

My take on Dennett, though I am by no means an expert on his philosophy, is that he chose to build his theory on the only truly deterministic version of evolutionary theory, that of fellow atheist Richard Dawkins.   Dawkins focuses on the evolution of genes, and genes do not have free will.   Few evolutionary theorists today accept Dawkins' perspective, so Dennett unnecessarily painted himself into a corner in trying to make a point similar to that of Atheist Exile, that our evolved human intelligence gives us free will.  Only because he accepted absolute, hard determinism did Dennett have to argue that it was compatible with free will.

My own view (and I know a bit more about evolution than about philosophy) is that humans have been so damned successful in overpopulating and overdeveloping the planet precisely because we have the intelligence and free will--that is, technological creativity--to adapt to any environment.   And we evolved to be more and more intelligent because the smartest and most creative among us were so good at providing for and protecting their own offspring that they outpopulated the dumber humans.  So in a sense we, more godlike than god, created ourselves through our free will.  We then created god to explain how we got here, not remembering that we made ourselves.

Here's a brief video about what Michio Kaku has to say about QM and free will.

Why Quantum Physics Ends the Free Will Debate.

I disagree with his conclusion that quantum physics ends the free will debate. But it definitely wreaks havoc on determinism. Having free will and not being able to predict the future are 2 different things and is relevant to determinism, NOT free will.

I'm not certain that quantum uncertainty is the key to answering the question of free will, but there are a few points to be made in this discussion that might reduce difficulties.

1. Heisenberg uncertainty is a mathematical property of wave mechanics, not the result of an observer effect (observation disturbing measurement) nor the result of technical limitations on accuracy of measurement.

2. Quantum uncertainty places limitations on what we can observe, and what we can observe is all we can know about the material world.

In general it is a good thing to limit claims to what you have actually observed and recognize that extrapolations beyond that are conjectural, not factual. Once you learn to limit your statements to what has been observed, they are less open to misinterpretation.

Sam Harris bases his book Free Will on experiments of Benjamin Libet, but he goes far beyond statements of what Libet observed in the laboratory in controlled experiments to the definite conclusion that free will is an illusion. For example in comparing himself to the psychopathic murderer Komisarjevsky Harris says

if I had his genes and life experience and an identical brain (or soul) in an identical state—I would have acted exactly as he did

Now I have no problem whatsoever with the conclusion that Sam Harris is capable of murder, even vicious murder, but the problem with his statement is that we have no way of observing complete brain states, and no way of placing a brain into a given state, so that his claim is not scientific in any sense. It might be true, it might be false, it might be meaningless—but as far as we know, it is cannot be an observable fact—in short it's an illusion. Harris's claims go far beyond Libet's experiments.

However, as we learn from reading Harris's book, he cannot be held responsible for its illusions or for the manner in which he has expressed them. The book was written by his unconscious mind. I have no problem believing that.

I can only applaud your statement, Dr. Clark.

I entirely agree with Allan's statement, especially with the portion concerning Harris' rumination on the "murderer."

Robert Anton Wilson once said, "Any description of the universe which leaves you out is inaccurate, because any description of the universe is a description of the instrument that you used to take your reading of the universe. And if the only instrument you used was your own nervous system, you got to include your own nervous system in your description of the universe. Ergo, any model we make does not describe the universe, it describes what our brains are capable of saying at this time. Relativity and quantum mechanics have demonstrated clearly that what you find out with instruments is true relative only to the instrument you're using, and where that instrument is located in space-time."

@Atheist Exile: I believe I posted that very same video on page 9 of this thread. I've read a lot of Kaku's material, I've seen a lot of his lectures, I've heard plenty of interviews, but he's quite vague when in what he means by "Ends Free Will debate," because he basically doesn't say anything beyond, "Well, hey, get used to it, God does play dice. There's uncertainty with regards to the position of the electron." He doesn't really explain how this is so. And he's the guy that's appointed himself to explain this in layman's terms for us, you know.

I'm not really sure how quantum indeterminacy could undermine any one of these stances, whether it be free will, determinism, hard determinism, compatibilism, incompatibilism, etc. 

For all we know, it may be that the movie is already in the can. 


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