Dancing with Causality: Purposeful Steps
Free will, in the form of self-determinism, is only a big mystery if you allow your thinking to be governed by the centuries of philosophers who have never managed to figure it out. They've been arguing in circles because they've defined "free will" to fit their premises. This is because they didn't know anything about the brain: not even its electro-chemical characteristics.
But that's changing. Neuroscience has found a host of feedback mechanisms in various modules of the brain. It's feedback, in particular, that has led me to an understanding of free will as self-determinism. In a nutshell, our brains use feedback to interact with the world around us (causality); learn from it; understand it; and anticipate it. Our ability to anticipate causality represents a temporal advantage over causality by enabling us to prepare for it on our own terms.
Intelligent feedback works with causality to extend the potential of humans (and many other animate beings) beyond the fixed and predictable action/reaction of inanimate objects. To deny this fundamental difference between rocks and brains is simply ignoring the obvious: animate beings behave variably . . . inanimate objects react predictably. Intelligent feedback is, perhaps, the single most significant component responsible for this qualitatively more complex and transformative mode of response from animate beings: particularly human beings.
Causality determines the SCOPE of our POTENTIAL -- but not necessarily the minutiae of our thoughts and actions. There is variability and adaptability in our choices. We can make up our minds and change our minds. We can modify our own behavior. This is enough, overall, to produce the only form of "free will" we possess: self-determinism.
Another misconception about causality is that it's a continual process controlling our every move. Causality is not usually domineering: it can be, of course, but is usually just "background noise" that our autonomous and subconscious systems handle automatically (like when we're driving, for instance).
Causality is a physical process of action-reaction. Events lead to other events. A photon traveling through space causes no reaction until it impacts something else, like the surface of an object or another subatomic particle. The majority of its existence is in a state of inertia. So, yes, causality is at work at the beginning and the end of that photon's existence but it has nothing to do in between. In the same way, causality works on us through genetics and the events of our lives but, when causality isn't grabbing our attention, we think about those events and experiences and learn from them, then anticipate causality's next moves and prepare for them accordingly. This intelligent interaction with causality extends determinism to self-determinism. It's all part and parcel of causality. By anticipating causality, we dance with it, and move through life with purposeful steps.