There are many that will state free will is an oxymoron or logical impossibility. They might utter phrases like “if it’s free it’s not will, if it’s will it’s not free”
The problematic nature of comments like this, is they take the meaning from individual words and not the concept itself.
Having addressed various of free will theories in Free Will and Determinism, my goal isn’t to rehash old work. Nor will I repeat how my opinion changed after this video and subsequent article Is Compatibilist Free Will Free or Will?
Instead, my goal is to describe how a form of free will could exist in a deterministic universe. How moral agency and responsibilities do not disappear.
First I would like to briefly cover off the issue with the statement “Free Will is a logical impossibility”
“Free Will is a Logical Impossibility”
There’s various types of free will, so you have to understand what is meant there first of all… And logical impossibility is to do with the structure of the sentence… Like a square circle is logically impossible.. a 3 sided shape having 10 sides is logically impossible.
But even if you use a reductionist version of free will to mean someone who is free to will what they desire (excluding the fact that this isn’t what’s meant by those who believe in free will in the first place) there’s nothing logically impossible about this…
There’s not even necessarily anything metaphysically possible about this…
But I would agree for humans (or any other biological life I’m aware of), at least as we understand humans(or biology), it is nomologically impossible.
- Logical possibility just deals with the sentence structure.
- Metaphysical possibility deals with some possible world.
- Nomological possibility deals with things as they are right now. Think of it as Actual Possibility Right Now.
Humans have free will still isn’t a logical impossibility.
To make it a logical impossibility we have to phrase it like this:
If free will = the ability to choose what you desire with no causal influences
And humans are creatures that do not have the ability to choose what they desire or act without causal influences
Then humans have free will is a logical impossibility.
The term “logical” is thrown round far too glibly, often meaning “agrees with my position” but even those that do understand logical impossibility, for example, forget to include the IF AND/OR statements and just present something where they assume everyone has filled in the same blanks.
There are different forms of free will, and there are those that would argue that the causal influences can be internal and so on.
Free will is often more of a misnomer than the big bang, so it’s important to clear up what one means by free will when discussing it.
It’s the end of Free Will as We Know It
From the most extreme version of Libertarian Free Will (LFW) through other forms of non-causal free will, science seems to show that we don’t have this kind of free will.
The evidence isn’t definitive nor absolutely conclusive but there seems to be a growing consensus from physicist’s, biologists and neuroscientists that LFW is impossible. I specify LFW here because the scientists in question tend not to address the various forms of free will. They’re generally talking about LFW/Non-causal Free Will, though some who might have looked into the various forms of compatibilism might reject those too.
Problem of knowledge
The problem, they note in these articles and videos, is when people learn they don’t have this kind of free will they either give up or start acting poorly, perhaps cheating in tests, or stealing and so on.
The present findings raise the genuine concern that wide spread encouragement of a deterministic worldview may have the inadvertent consequence of encouraging cheating behavior.
Consistent with this view are recent trends suggesting both a decrease in beliefs in personal control and an increase in cheating.https://assets.csom.umn.edu/assets/91974.pdf
The Value of Believing in Free Will
Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating
Kathleen D. Vohs and Jonathan W. Schooler
The Perception Is Beneficial
It seems our experience of, and perception of, free will have an impact on the way we behave. Perhaps, evolutionarily speaking, this perception and experience of free will is something that encouraged us to be collaborative and cohesive people and consider things like morality and being good to each other. This helped us survive and so the majority of us have moral intuitions and experience the sensations of free will.
Some people don’t have these intuitions, and maybe some don’t experience control over their lives at all. Perhaps this is why the prison system is littered with people who suffer with problems with “impulse control” they are more consciously aware of their lack of control.
Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19141628
When errors do not matter: Weakening belief in intentional control impairs cognitive reaction to errors
Anyway, we see that people who have read about the evidence against non-causal free will have a change in their attitudes. They might become complacent and/or lazy, they might be more inclined to like, chest and steal and so on.
“Those who push the idea that we are nothing but deterministic biochemical puppets are responsible for enhancing psychological suffering and hopelessness in this world,”Peter U. Tse, a Dartmouth neuroscientist
It likes in a game where a piece of DLC has been corrupted or deleted and that part works differently or not at all anymore. Kristyn and I had a good chat about DLC for the human machine on a podcast many years ago, and I’ve been meaning to write an article around it for years.
With a few recent videos and articles I’ve read further solidifying the idea in my mind that non-causal free will is just a biological trick our minds play on us, and the knowledge that the perception of free will is something that is beneficial to society, as well as slopsky says:
“It is logically indefensible, ludicrous, meaningless to believe that something ‘good’ can happen to a machine,” he writes. “Nonetheless, I am certain that it is good if people feel less pain and more happiness.”https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2023-10-17/stanford-scientist-robert-sapolskys-decades-of-study-led-him-to-conclude-we-dont-have-free-will-determined-book
Stanford scientist, after decades of study, concludes: We don’t have free will
CORINNE PURTILL on Robert Sapolsky
So how should we think about free will?
Regardless of how you think about the universe and free will, let’s accept for the moment (tentatively or otherwise) that the universe is mostly deterministic, and probabilistic/random at the quantum level. Let’s also exclude non-causal free will even as an emergent property of consciousness.
If we are just meat machines like these physicist’s, neuroscientists and other hard determinists think, how should we think about free will?
Ghost in the shell
In the first instance we have to consider that we are all machines that think and feel. We can cause pleasure and pain in others and ourselves. We can word towards a better society or we can work to destroy it.
You can let the notion we have no free will be an excuse to act poorly or you can realise that it’s still you in there thinking, feeling, experiencing and even if there is only one choice you will ever make in any given situation, you are still responsible for that choice.
You are reflecting on all your knowledge and experience, your biology and these other causal factors are what lead you to a decision.
The choice is still yours. An external influence is not forcing this choice, yes there may be causal factors beyond your control but ultimately it comes from within you.
DLC – The Free Will Expansion Pack
I mentioned DLC before.
Consider how DLC or expensing packs work in games. You might unlock a new character class, new abilities and so on. I’ll refer to both as DLC from here on.
Everything we read or are taught is a form of DLC. Some DLC, like studying medicine at university, unlocks the ability to be a Doctor, other DLC like studying Ethics, gives you new ways to think about what it means to be good, Studying logic and epistemology gives you better ways to reason, learning proper forms and enacting them in exercise upgrades your physical stats and so on.
Whether we consider the idea that we don’t have free will DLC or something that corrupts existing programming is less important than the underlying meaning.
Another thing to consider is people’s base stats greatly differ too. The stats of humans go far beyond that of what we would see in a DnD like game, but things like our starting economic state greatly alters the path you are on. Your location, race, the time and area you were born and live in greatly affect your access to DLC. Your genetics might prevent some DLC from installing correctly.
Well, we can let the knowledge affect us in a negative way, cause us to become depressed or act poorly towards others, or we can carry on with the understanding that even if we are not free of causal factors we still the ones making the choice and bear some responsibility, and the way we act can be beneficial or detrimental to ourselves or others.
You can still give up, and you can say you can’t control what you do and use it as an excuse, but we will end up in a reductive loop of me suggesting you download the idea that you are still responsible for your one and only choice.
Deterministic Free Will – A digital approach for a modern era of Compatibilism.
Free Will as it is commonly thought of in the non-causal sense is most likely an illusion so we should think of it in a more compatabilistic way. We have the experience of free will and the self still actively reflects on our knowledge and experience and makes the final choice.
Even if we are just biological machines, our experience, emotions, and senses are what set us apart from mechanical ones.
If one computer was programmed to blow up another, they have not harmed each other in the way murder, rape, and other forms of violence harms a biological creature. There is no physical or emotional pain felt by the computerise victim. There’s no family mourning for them.
There IS a quantifiable difference between biological machines and mechanical ones.
So here’s the DLC I give you today. The old Free Will programming and definition has not been deleted, it has been updated.
We haven’t lost our moral agency and life isn’t pointless.
Our purpose is to gain enough DLC to create a purpose for ourselves.
- spend time looking in to various metaethical and normative ethical theories to broaden our horizons on what it means to be good.
- look into logic, epistemology, forms of scepticism and so on so we can upgrade our abilities to reason.
- investigate nutrition and health to ensure we can look after our machines and minds better.
- take the time to understand neurological conditions, diseases and divergences to understand that some machines don’t operate the same way we do. Their programming makes certain things harder and other things easier. They may react differently to us and it’s not an overreaction or an underreaction, it’s the way someone with their brain reacts.
- openly and honestly consider our privilege, and not simply whine about others who start with millions and have a free ride but consider those that have been dealt a bad hand from birth due to a worse economic state than us, or born to a location where there is prejudice against their race or skin colour.
This DLC gives you the ability to do all that and more. Once we reach equitability, maybe we will truly flourish and beat the game.
You might not have totally free choice, but you do have the choice to install this, will you accept?
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
This is one of many things I hope to do with Answers In Reason.
I run our Twitter and IG accounts, as well as share responsibility for our FB group and page, and maintain the site, whilst writing articles, DJing, Podcasting (and producing), keeping fit and more.
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