Note: This piece was written rather early on. For the latest, greatest, explanation, please see "Free Will Without Dualism".

My position on free will is that there's no logical reason to abandon the empirical
evidence of our experience in favor of the claim that free will is an
illusion. Everybody, everywhere, has empirical evidence of free will.
But nobody, anywhere, has ANY evidence that free will is an illusion.

To my experience, the biggest stumbling block to arguing for
compatibilism is to show how free will is compatible with determinism.
Henceforward, I will be using the term "self determinism" instead of
free will: this should help remind the reader that I claim free will is
limited by and compatible with determinism.

Determinists argue that heredity (genetics), experience, education,
circumstances, evolution, instincts, preferences, morality and/or other
"causal factors" force our choices for us; that choice is an illusion.
They're absolutely correct. That's exactly how it works.

What they neglect to consider is that human intelligence includes the
ability to mentally extrapolate cause and effect into the future to
gauge potential scenarios. In short, people make plans. We anticipate
causality and mentally play out various scenarios. We all do this quite
naturally and effortlessly (with varying degrees of success). Given how
automatically we prognosticate, it appears to be hard wired into the
brain. It's human nature.

And therein lies the key: prognostication is one of those "other causal
factors" thrown into the mix of influences that make our decisions for
us. Of all the causal factors that go into decisions, prognostication
is the one that gives us self determinism.

How? I'm glad you asked. Prognostication, puts us a least a step ahead
of causality because causality can only operate in the present: it must
wait for the future to arrive. For simpler matters, we can often size
up our prospects without much thought at all. Regardless, we mentally
lay out "causal paths" that (usually) lead to our goals. I would
venture to assert that evolution has led to extra significance or
weight assigned to our prognostications when they're part of the mix of
influences that determine our actions.

In this way, even though causality has led to our choices, our
estimates of future potentials leads us down causal paths that are self
determined and purposeful.

No hocus pocus. Nothing unnatural. Determinism still rules. But when
determinism meets human intelligence, it becomes self determinism.

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm fine with self-determinism a more accurate, less baggage ridden term than free will. And, despite my railing against absolutist claims as not being empirical (they aren't) - determinism is well-supported by strong induction.

I have often said that nature of illusion itself is difficult to categorize as 'deterministic' - it gets a little whacky to suggest that the specific ways we misinterpret reality are precisely determined by the variabels in the causal gestalt. Nevertheless, we certainly act on, and therefore, affect the causal gestalt going forward based, in part, on our adherence to illusion. God certainly does not exist - but belief in gods certainly does, and this has a huge effect on the shape of human culture and activity and, therefore, our environment as a whole.

Illusion, imagination, speculation, misinterpretation, delusion, partial comprehension, etc. are all part of the causal gestalt. But will there ever be a way to precisely predict the nature of any of these abstract effects which, in turn, become literal causes?
Hi Howard,

I'm not sure but I think, by "strong induction", you're referring to determinism being a logical conclusion based on causality. That's certainly a strong conclusion. In fact, it's a law of nature. One can hardly go wrong by adhering to a law of nature. Science has done quite well for itself by adhering to nature.

So when faced with pervasive empirical evidence, from experience, of our self determinism, we can toss out the evidence and proclaim self determinism to be an illusion . . . or we can seek to explain how self determinism can coexist with causality.

First we need to define what we mean by free will . . . which is why I've switched to the term "self determinism". It's simply the ability to choose our own paths in life. Self determinism means that we are simultaneously slaves and masters of causality. Slaves, because our choices are confined and defined by causal factors. Masters, because our imagination is one of those factors.

By applying our imaginations to causality and estimating potential futures, our predictions are thrown into the mix of causal factors. Imagination is an effect (reaction) of the brain. It's part of our human intelligence. So when our heredity, experience, education, circumstances, etc., exert their causal influence on the brain, there's another causal influence also exerting it's influence: imagination. Imagination gives us a temporal advantage over causality that allows to keep ahead of it and to be prepared for causality when it arrives. This ongoing process determines the causal paths we take into the future.

So the determinists are right after all: everything IS determined by causality: including our self determinism. However, I doubt that humans will ever be absolutely predictable. We're complex systems, interacting with other complex systems, living in a world that is, itself, a complex system.


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