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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True Glen, yet we may be in the era of Consciousness explained.

The likes of Robert Sapolsky, V.S. Ramachandran, Oliver Sacks and Sam Harris along with their research teams are getting fairly close to understanding the structures and methods of consciousness.

We may see it solved within the next 50 years or sooner.

It's all about how the structures of the brain communicate organize and iterate information and ideas.  Once this is solved, we may see consciousness in  our iPads and smart phones.

Excuse me Glen, I feel you detect a rudeness or impoliteness to my comment. No, that will be coming a little later in this comment. My tone was not intended to be argumentative. As a matter of fact, after the first couple of sentences, I was not even addressing any of your comments on this thread at all. It is my fault for not making this clear, and having read over what I wrote I see my mistake. Please accept my apologies

I don't even dispute your proposal of the impossibility of true free will. I simply do not know. I might lean slightly away from your view. You obviously feel you have found a facile path to that conclusion. I've got some confusion on this point. I'm curious and like to look under rocks. My dad used to say," Good listening is done with your ears open and your mouth shut." I didn't always take his advice. You can't learn anything until you open your yap to ask the question then be prepared to ask another and another. AHA, I just got it now, It was a diplomatic way to tell me to shut up.

"Consciousness, sense of self, impetus for our thoughts,feelings and sensations is (sic) not well understood."

Okay. No argument there. I in no way am a proponent that there is any possible chance of a physical separation between body and mind (or "soul" as a theist would call it}. In that sense your self is "slave" to your physical existence. There is no chance of liberation,  as your mind is extinguished along with the rest of you when you die. Sometimes your mind is extinguished first, as is what happened to my wife. 

Why I tend toward "the free will does exist" side of the debate is I do not consider the mind's constraint to the body and the body's constraint by its environment to be an impediment to what the mind can conceive and and where it can "go". It would take 4 light years to travel to Alpha Centauri, but the mind can be there in an instant. Fine, the "there"is an illusion, but maybe that mind could work on a way to get its or someone else's body there and back, Hey, what's 8 years to the advancement of space travel, even if you'd be the same age as your grandkid when you got back? To me there comes a point where what drives you leaves off (but never leaves) and you take over the wheel. When you are doing the steering on the level of human thought and action that,to me, is something I would tend to call free will. Even though there is no distinction between the driver and the wheel. 

Glen, I totally agree with you that the theist concept of a independence of body and soul is a concept they came up with, and way, way before the monotheisms hit the scene.

"You" are a single, complete, indivisible unit (surgery and transplants not withstanding), But we humans are capable of complex thought and uniquely capable of theoretical conceptualizing. My personal definition of free will is our ability as a species to act with aforethought and talent and imagination  based on our thoughts no matter their origin, or how many layers removed from the original or primal.

"the dogs infringe and interfere, whereas I impugn your logic".

Impugn away, sir! "my dogs" statement was merely gentle humour. They never impugn, impose, or infringe. They interfere and interrupt, but that's more than okay by me.

Now here comes the rude part I promised:  I don't know why you take umbrage to me calling you mister (considered polite in some circles) or not addressing you by name. What's the matter? This petulance over form I do not understand. Or why you take it upon yourself to school me on this point. Hypocritical upon reading your comments through this thread, Glen. Perhaps I rub you the wrong way? Can't please everybody.

To GOD'aye, You replied smartly to Glen whilst I was writing my comment giving the appearance I was writing to your comment. If i had typed with alacrity mine would have appeared above yours. To that I apologize.


Sorry Christopher, I guess my reply was too brief.

Though on the concepts of Consciousness and complex thought.

I like V.S. Ramachandran's theory that our ability of complex/abstract though stems from swinging on branches (accurate multi-dimensional movement) combined with the mutation of our IPL into the formation of two gyri, with one gyrus giving us the ability to interpret complex concepts like metaphors and the other giving us the capable of three dimensional mapping/mathematical computation and visioning.

These assist and build on the abilities of other structures like the temporal lobes and the limbic system which enables us to iteratively examine our own dimensions and concepts.

He states that through humans, the universe now has the capability of examining itself. 

It's our development of descriptive language that enabled us to communicate concepts and ideas, that without such language, we could not.

It is language that truly separates us from the other primates.

We could not even conceive scientific investigation without the ability to describe in depth what we are investigating, how?, Why? , scope and what we hope to achieve.

None of this would ever be possible without language and the mutation of the IPL that facilitated this ability.

This is known, because damage to these gyri destroys the ability to either interpret metaphors or perform vector mathematics while not affecting other abilities.

Good day, GOD,aye,

My semantics must expose me, to be kind to myself, poorly placed to make any assertions on the subject.

I seek to query and understand how we utilize the talent that evolutionary advantages have allowed us. And us alone.

I need to be enlightened how we reconcile the autonomy we have achieved as individuals in the realm of thought with the solidarity to our own species. A characteristic we share with other creatures.

The electro-mechanical intricacies of how this comes about is way beyond my pay grade. Perhaps I lack formation in my mathematical/mapping gyrus. I'll have to settle for a more socratean approach.

I thought the examination of free will (or not) might help me understand why I feel so lucky and grateful (most days) that the accident of birth (yes, Dr. Dawkins, I know it's not an accident) placed me in the uber-senscient species.To which I apologize to my other uber-senscient brethren! 

To this end I launched this post.

The religious try to tell us that this is perfectly and exquisitely explained through their theology. No it's not. Like we in the production industry like to say: Chicken shit in -> chicken shit out. You can not derive much of anything from a false premise.

From GOD'aye's to today's news it is his will be done....

The following is copied from another discussion on free will. It's in response to a post titled, "Play clearly demonstrates free will".


Hard determinists will (wrongly) claim that if something serves a purpose, there is a reason (cause) and is thus deterministic. Play, for instance, could be (and probably is) instinctive in immature mammals and is thus a genetically preprogrammed activity; causally deterministic. The problem with this is that, while play may be an instinctive impulse in the young, that doesn't mean it can't also be engaged in voluntarily -- much the same way that sex is an instinctive impulse but can also be engaged in voluntarily. Such tendencies, to simplify by claiming one cause or kind is the only possible cause or kind, seems to surface a lot with hard determinists. They apparently like neat packages. And false dichotomies.

One reason hard determinists manufacture false dichotomies is because they fail to recognize causal distinctions between inanimate objects and (intelligent) animate beings. Inanimate objects can be analyzed and understood through their physical properties. They are amenable to material reductionism. They can be broken down to their elements and compounds which, in turn, can be reliably recombined to produce specific results or products. Although animate beings are also physical entities, they are of a different category: they're biological beings. They are not amenable to material reductionsim because, unlike inanimate objects, they DO things. Not only do they do things . . . their constituent parts also do things: like replicate, respirate, digest, communicate, defend themselves, etc. Inanimate objects exist. Animate beings live. It's the difference between linear causality and reciprocal causality.

By applying the physics of the inanimate realm to the biology of the animate realm, hard determinists are completely missing the mark. The differences are so obvious that I can only surmise they ignore them out of sheer dogmatic stubbornness.

Once you acknowledge the differences, you can then see the potentials offered by biology: potentials from evolution, emergent phenomena, feedback systems, etc. that involve interaction (not mere physical reaction) with causality: reciprocal causation instead of mere linear causation.

Animate beings are agents. They DO things. They evolve specialties: abilities and competencies that enable them to survive and reproduce. And it's all about causality -- abilities and competencies evolve to interact with causality. The reason for this is that causality is consistent and persistent. It provides something we can count on not changing, ever.

Linear causality, cause and effect: it's binary. It doesn't get much simpler. Linear causality is the 'machine language' of physical laws. If you want to interact with the world, you have to speak the language. Mother nature is fluent in causality. The biological dialect of causality is evolution. All of life is evolved to interact with causality. Lifeforms exhibit varying degrees of reciprocal causation. Humans are the evolutionary pinnacle of life on Earth in terms of our expertise with reciprocal causation.

Free will? Not a big deal for us. We routinely manipulate events and stamp our own intents on the future. Like the biblical God in the Lord's prayer, our will be done on Earth [if not] as it is in heaven. It's part of our human intelligence . . . part of what makes us human.

Christopher, I disagree with your analysis of free will.

You seem like a nice guy. The comment about using names was for general consumption. When these blogs get legs it gets confusing without names. The mister comment was simply a playful jab against being formal.

Hey Glen, I hope this day finds you hail and hearty. I can see why you would disagree. I haven't really put together a cohesive argument for the motion. I am a newbie in the blogosphere and a rank amateur in this field. As I feel out this topic, I am generally being a seeker. I am throwing stuff out according to what I vibrate to, and seeing what sticks. Seeing if what makes sense to me makes sense to anyone else out there.

Validation however is not my goal. Understanding is. I find I am learning many new things in this forum, and many new references. I am in all of your debt.

I also find comfort in the company of other sceptics and freethinkers. As a life long atheist born of two converted atheist parents, it is with these people I like to run and seek company. That is why I popped up here.

You'll see me soon on other threads. Where I've really sharpened my knife is on debates with theologians and apologists, especially as related to politics. I am looking forward to meeting you and all the wonderful people I've encountered on this website on other posts.

I would say the fact I am an Atheist is an example of how people can achieve free will. I believe some existentialists said freedom is an accomplishment, not a right. Most behaviour is impulsive. Pavlov's dog couldn't help but react to impulses. Most psychologists look for the factors that determine human behaviour. They seem predisposed to only look for how human behaviour is determined. There is a mechanistic model of science they perceive where every event is determined. In this model of human behaviour there is no possibility of free will.

The marshmallow experiment by Walter Mischel is a more interesting psychological model since it represents a model where a person is aware of their impulses and can develop control over them. It is a typical human impulse to indulge in anthropomorphism or romantic idealism. We are conditioned to believe there is a human personality looking out for us since our first experiences include the care of our parents. These anthropomorphic tendencies, at their most abstract, are responsible for our thinking the universe has a human personality.

Becoming aware of our impulses and gaining control over them is how we achieve freedom. We can be so much more than Pavlov's dog. By becoming aware of our impulse to be anthropomorphic we can resist these impulses and make an effort to be empirical. The successful students in Mischel's marshmallow experiment had the ability to control the impulse to take the second marshmallow. They achieved control over their impulses. To me, achieving control over our impulses is the definition of freedom. I consider myself an Atheist (Free Thinker) because I have controlled my impulse to indulge in anthropomorphic idealism. I love being an Atheist. I can't imagine how I could be more free.

Excellent statement, Peter.

Hello Marcela. I agree we are limited in how free we can be. Luckily there is a relationship between an element of our lives we can have choice over and their being important. The things we can exercise control over are the things I choose to identify with. They include how much effort we choose to live our lives with, how much integrity we chose to live our lives with and how much respect we choose to treat others with. 

 They are the only things I think really matter. Things that are determined include your ancestry, your gender, the country you were born in and your sexual orientation. Since these elements are determined they shouldn't matter since they didn't involve any choice or effort. None of them represent any sort of achievement. Why anyone would ever be proud or ashamed of these elements is beyond me.

The elements of our existence we can achieve control over are the elements we should identify with. They are all things where we can justly feel a sense of accomplishment and freedom. I would say this works out rather nicely having things we can have choice over being the things that matter.

What IS free will? People clearly don't agree on what it is. Philosophers have argued in circles over free will for centuries. I think the title of your OP, "Free Will: Do You Have a Choice", frames the minimum requirement for free will. No matter what our opinions of the nature of free will, they all allow for choice.

But in what manner do we have choice? Certainly not the libertarian volition that denies determinism. That's just not workable -- especially for atheists with a knee-jerk reaction against mind-body dualism. And certainly not at the other end of the spectrum: hard determinism. To hard determinists, there is no free will: just the illusion of it. So, if free will really exists, it exists somewhere between these two extremes.

The way I see it, we, as intelligent human beings, have uniquely powerful mental faculties of memory and analysis that sets us apart from all other known entities. We specialize in abstractions. We understand, or can figure out, causal relationships and their effects on us and our environment. Not only are we self-aware: we are time-aware -- something so intrinsic to our intelligence that we're inured to it, taking it for granted. To me, this time-awareness is an important key to the question of free will because it represents a temporal advantage over causality that allows us to anticipate and prepare for the future . . . whether that be 5 seconds or 50 years from now. Whether it's preparing a grocery list; or a career path; or writing a last will and testament: we plot our own paths into the future. And that, to me, is self-determinism: my idea of what free will actually is. Self-determinism means that, within the constraints of causality, we are the architects of our own lives and are thus responsible and accountable for our own actions. To me, this is what it means to have free will.

I'm a compatibilist. I believe free will is compatible with determinism -- but not the absolute determinism of hard determinists. Such absolute determinism is based on absolute causality: that cause and effect is linear, binary and inexorable, unfolding in a highly predictable way. Yes, causality is linear, binary and inexorable. But only with inanimate objects. Everything in the universe was an inanimate object until the advent of life. With the introduction of life the universe now also contains animate beings.

Inanimate objects and animate beings have different modes of response (reactive versus interactive) to causality because animate beings provide new potentials for causality that aren't possible with inanimate objects. For brevity's sake, lets stick with human beings from here on out. Anyway, instead of the linear, reactive, relationship to causality found in the inanimate realm, human beings have a reciprocal, interactive, relationship with causality. It’s the difference between physics and biology. In physics, causality is simple and linear. In biology, causality is complex and reciprocal. We're evolved to recognize, analyze, understand and anticipate causality in highly complex ways.

Think about it for a second. What are the properties of causality that make it so predictable in the inanimate realm? 

1.) It unfolds in lockstep with the unidirectional arrow of time.
2.) It's binary: cause and effect. Nothing is simpler.
3.) It's highly repeatable and consistent. A fact that science relies upon.

Causality underpins all of nature. It's a basic assumption of physics. It's the first thing we need to master in order to understand the world around us. Intelligence can't develop – much less, evolve – without causality as its foundation. Without causality, there is only chaos. The properties of causality are the seeds of intelligence.

So causality is at the core of both determinism and intelligence. And when determinism and intelligence interact, we have self-determinism. The key to that interaction is feedback. How do you have interaction without feedback? Feedback is common to emergent phenomena, including life itself. Inanimate matter is insensate. It has no memory, no intentions, no alternatives. It has no feedback: it is reactive, not interactive.

Although human intelligence endows us with a temporal advantage over causality that allows us to anticipate, prepare for and harness causality for our own purposes, that doesn't mean we’re not subject to great influence from causality. We can do nothing about much of causality’s influence over us. We have no causal control over our own genetics or physiology. We have no control over the weather or natural disasters. In the midst of a car crash, we have no control over the forces that violently toss us around. But we’re not absolutely at the mercy of causality . . . we wear seat belts and have other safety features built into the car. With self-determinism, feedback allows us to recursively modify our own behavior and even guarantee more beneficial consequences than would otherwise occur.

If you consider the myriad external stimuli that constantly stream to our senses, you should recognize that we handle much of it subconsciously, automatically. This is, perhaps, most obvious when we’re driving down the freeway, lost in a daydream, yet negotiating traffic with ease. Well, I think feedback is a lot like that. Analysis can be thought of as recursively subjecting an idea to potential scenarios and letting feedback from those scenarios guide further analysis. Feedback becomes part of the myriad stimuli that influences our behavior. But it’s more than just another influence, it’s self-generated and self-important. It stays with us as we pursue plans. When we learn something new, it may factor into our plans, causing us to adjust them.

We’re very good at making and executing plans. Sometimes we fail but usually, we’re confident in the outcomes. The fact that we can make plans and execute them is proof that we anticipate the future and factor causality into every step along the way. We can engineer moon missions and scramble to avert disasters and land our astronauts back on Earth safe and sound.

If that isn't self-determinism . . . then what is it? I think it’s the only form of free will we really have.




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