I know this has been discussed before, but I have read Sam Harris' book Free Will and Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain, and I must say that I agree with both authors. Studies show that our brains make a decision on an unconscious level three tenths of a second and sometimes more before we even consciously know we're going to act. To take a short quote from Shermer's book: "The neural activity that precedes the intention to act is inaccessible to our conscious mind, so we experience a sense of free will. But it is an illusion, caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our intention to act".

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I agree with Sam Harris on this topic. Free will is logically incoherent.

I've written and illustrated my own kindle book on this very topic (started it many years ago and just completed it this year) entitled Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind. In it, I detail out how free will is entirely incompatible in both a deterministic universe (entirely causal) as well as an indeterministic universe (one where some non-causal events take place). I detail why these are the only two possibilities and what makes free will so logically incoherent within both of them.

I also explain what it means that we don't have free will, and why it's important to drop the belief altogether.

These negative conclusions about free will are based on the classical experiments of Benjamin Libet reported in 1983. They may be correct or not, but an enormous amount is missing on the other side of the question: how are decisions made? There is not one single example of a decision traced all the way through the mechanisms of the brain and nervous system. It may be that what Libet's experiments show is not that free will does not exist, but that our notions of what constitutes free will are not correct.

Here's one set of criticisms of Libet's experimental conclusions:


Thanks for the cite, marked to read.

The critique makes the semantic argument (#1) that we shouldn't readily accept the common definition of "free will" requiring consciousness, and the concludes (#2) the possibility of "an overlapping network of causes that may ultimately be controlled by the willpower of the agent". This suggestion that the subject, or agent, is independent of consciousness seems irrelevant since it argues that the willpower of the agent must not necessarily be attributed to conscious actions. Therefore even if "free will" exists by its conception, it says nothing of our conscious sense of responsibility towards our actions.

Arguments #6 and #7 oddly suggests that the lack of responsibility towards direct action does not disprove responsibility since actions are informed by habits and deliberations. This is odd because the act to consciously deliberate (the conscious is normally implied by the deliberate) is itself an action, and habits themselves are formed by actions since birth.

#9 is also extremely odd. Surely, if determinism is true, and if all the relevant variables were known, then it would be possible to predict the influence of any factual expressions towards the fact being expressed. Therefore the opposite seems true, that the future is not "thwarted", but confirmed.

#10, the argument that subjective qualia is authoritative of the empirical reasoning behind it seems to indicate solipsism. It also suggests that if someone is deluded enough to perceive "God", that God must be "objective in the sense that this information would have been there whether we studied it or not", and therefore, since God is then direct experiential knowledge, it must be factually true. This obviously absurd conclusion mistakes the objective fact of the experience of something with the thing itself. For example, that we subjectively experience "red" does not falsify that the sensation is produced by the refractions of a wavelength of light entering our pupils. It would be odd to suggest that "red" actually exists as a metaphysical entity independent of wavelengths of light, and similarly that the sensation of "free will" metaphysically exists, by mere virtue of having been experienced, independent of any neurological implications.

Of course without free will you had no choice but to make these counter arguments, correct?

Even Compatiblism doesn't attempt to take consciousness out of willpower. But there is no, if you will, "regulative control", so you could say that there is no true choice but to make these counter arguments. I hope there is a follow-up to show how this relates to Peter Hardy...

As I understand it, what the compatibilists are trying to say is that whenever people are discussing free will and determinism, they're essentially speaking of the same thing. If you take the two most extreme examples, for instance, that is free will and hard determinism, you could make a case for compatibilism wherein you can choose to entertain an act or choice that derives from an infinite set of predetermined possibilities. So, that whatever you "freely" choose, it is still nevertheless predetermined.

But I think the point is that because you can entertain infinite possibilities, note that this definition of free will does not rely on the truth or falsity of causal or hard determinism. No matter what, will can be in a sense defined as "free," because it's still applicable even if determinism is the case. It's a subtle realization to see that you can have both free will and determinism occurring at once.

I get nervous at your suggestion of 'entertaining infinite possibilities'. Even though there may be infinite possibilities on a quantum level, it doesn't seem to affect the macro level very much, and consciousness has no access to quantum indeterminism. So we can only entertain one possibility.

Well, I suppose what I meant is that we entertain "infinite possibilities" that seem to arise out of a infinite potential of possible actions or thoughts, but yes, we can only choose to act on one possibility that we've drawn out from this "infinite potential."

It's not that we actually scan through the entire infinite spectrum of possibilities, because although there is an infinite potential for action or thought, we usually only entertain a subset of this infinite potential, then act on one of the thoughts within the subset.

I've used this analogy before, but I think it helps to understand this concept. In just the same way that you'd watch a new show on your TV, the TV's potential within the physics of the universe to display the show had always been there, even before this "new show" was filmed. But of course, the TV has no mind to project its own new patterns on its display, it usually requires our own minds as the dipstick into this potential to draw out these possible patterns usually in the form of tv shows, movies, animations, etc.

Coincidentally enough, what happens when you turn on all the RGB signals of the TV? What happens when you display all possible patterns? You get a 'white screen.' I'm not saying that this is an explanation for near-death phenomena, but as an analogy, I think it an be pretty useful. I'm not sure if it's useful enough to assuage your nervousness, however.

Let me try this spin on your analogy. Let's say you, as the audience, turn on the TV to one particular channel. The program that is on that channel is out of your control. You cannot 'will' the pixels in place even if the pixels are seemingly within physics, and although there is a large set of possible pixels, none of it us within your control.
Where this analogy breaks down, though, is quantum mechanics would seem to imply that that, though we may perceive some order through the arrangement of pixels, their determination are random, meaning the production company broadcasting the show has to be using a random pixel generator.

It's said that the salt-and-pepper screen you get on your TV, you know, that static screen that happens when your TV is not getting a signal. Supposedly, that's noise from the  cosmic microwave background radiation, and perhaps this display is randomized. But as for your random pixel generator, it seems that consensus reality would prove that we're watching the same show, perhaps simply at different times.

One might argue that determinism is also an illusion arising out of limited validity observable under quite limited conditions. Ultimately it traces back to Leibniz's principle of sufficient reason—that for everything that happens there must be a reason why it did not happen otherwise.

Consider the problem of decay of a radionuclide. According to quantum theory it is a random process. Individual atoms, undistinguishable except for position, decay in no predictable order, but at a predictable rate. In the case of a particular atom there can be no sufficient reason for its decay. The process is not deterministic, but stochastic.

How, then can determinism be proclaimed to be universally valid for every phenomenon if it fails in any single instance?



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