Here is an interesting contribution to the ongoing debate of whether free will exists or not from Scientific American. The article notes that debate began in earnest during the Enlightenment, but was seemingly settled by 20th century neuroscience headlined by the famous Libet Experiment:
Libet found that the unconscious brain activity leading up to the conscious decision by the subject to flick their wrist began approximately half a second before the subject consciously felt that they had decided to move. Libet’s findings suggest that decisions made by a subject are first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward being translated into a “conscious decision”, and that the subject’s belief that it occurred at the behest of their will was only due to their retrospective perspective on the event.
As the Wikipedia article goes on to list; criticisms of Libet’s experiment showed it wasn’t as cut and dried as some (but not Libet himself) tried to make it.
So the SA article draws the contrast between choices that are either determined or not; stating pre-determined is, in fact, tautologous. Then they say that the only undetermined choice is one that must be random:
In this context, a free-willed choice would be an undetermined one. But what is an undetermined choice? It can only be a random one, for anything that isn’t fundamentally random reflects some underlying disposition or necessity that determines it. There is no semantic space between determinism and randomness that could accommodate choices that are neither. This is a simple but important point, for we often think—incoherently—of free-willed choices as neither determined nor random.
But of course, most people’s idea of randomness is ambiguous at best. Most would say something is random if no pattern can be discerned. But as the article says:
However, a truly random process can, in principle, produce any pattern by mere chance. The probability of this happening may be small, but it isn’t zero. So, when we say that a process is random, we are merely acknowledging our ignorance of its potential underlying causal basis. As such, an appeal to randomness doesn’t suffice to define free will.
Then they make the observation that our free choices aren’t erratic, but are the determined choices of our preferences. “A free choice is one determined by my preferences, likes, dislikes, character, etc., as opposed to someone else’s or other external forces.” This becomes their working definition. And here is the money quote:
But if our choices are always determined anyway, what does it mean to talk of free will in the first place? If you think about it carefully, the answer is self-evident: we have free will if our choices are determined by that which we experientially identify with. I identify with my tastes and preferences—as consciously felt by me—in the sense that I regard them as expressions of myself. My choices are thus free insofar as they are determined by these felt tastes and preferences.
They then make the point that I have often tried to make in these discussions: the inadequacy of materialism to account for our consciousness. Materialism must be reductive, and therefore reduces our consciousness to mere neurological activity; the firing of neuron networks in our brain. But the neurological activity, although necessary (if your brain ain’t working you’re dead), is not the be-all and end-all alleged by materialism because an emergent property, something greater than the sum of the parts, has manifested – our consciousness. The article states the key issue:
The key issue here is one that permeates the entire metaphysics of materialism: all we ever truly have are the contents of consciousness, which philosophers call “phenomenality.”’ Our entire life is a stream of felt and perceived phenomenality. That this phenomenality somehow arises from something material, outside consciousness—such as networks of firing neurons—is a theoretical inference, not a lived reality; it’s a narrative we create and buy into on the basis of conceptual reasoning, not something felt. That’s why, for the life of us, we can’t truly identify with it.
The author of the SA article then discusses the philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, and his own recent book, “Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics” He sums up Schopenhauer’s argument as:
Kant considered the world-in-itself unknowable. Schopenhauer, however, argued that we can learn something about it not only through the sense organs, but also through introspection. His argument goes as follows: even in the absence of all self-perception mediated by the sense organs, we would still experience our own endogenous, felt volition…
In Schopenhauer’s illuminating view of reality, the will is indeed free because it is all there ultimately is. Yet, its image is nature’s seemingly deterministic laws, which reflect the instinctual inner consistency of the will. Today, over 200 years after he first published his groundbreaking ideas, Schopenhauer’s work can reconcile our innate intuition of free will with modern scientific determinism.
Well, I certainly hope Pastor Dan Jepsen has time to read this post and chime in. His background in philosophy is far superior to mine. I really don’t know much about Schopenhauer or his works, and to be honest, am not going to take the time to slog through dense Germanic prose. The author of the SA article, Bernardo Kastrup, has a Ph.D. in philosophy (ontology, philosophy of mind) and another Ph.D. in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). As a scientist, he has worked for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the ‘Casimir Effect’ of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). Supposedly, his work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental.
The notion that reality is essentially mental appeals to the nascent panentheist in me. I much prefer it to its opponent; that consciousness is a fiction written by our brains. I still assert the cosmos resembles nothing so much as “Mind” itself. Now I’m a Christian panentheist, so that Mind is God who is a person most completely represented by Jesus himself. Jesus, who said of the Pharisees that they “do not will to come unto me, that you may have life” (John 5:40 YLT). So our wills are a gift to us of God who wishes we come to him but does not coerce it. The traditional definition of free will.
What think you? Does Kastrup make a convincing argument?