The Most Important Question Ever Askedabracad, · Categories: purpose, science and spirituality
What's the Deal with Free Will?
Whether or not we have free will is (arguably) the most significant question we ask about ourselves and the reality we inhabit. It is synonymous with: is (our) existence meaningful? (or just an accidental curiosity of indifferent fate?)
What is Free Will?
In a deterministic universe every event is the result of its causes, and in turn acts as causes to following events. There is no place for free will.
However, science suggests that at its most fundamental level nature is not deterministic. It is governed by quantum mechanics which, to the best of current knowledge, means that fundamental particles behave randomly. But because there are so many of them, on aggregate they average out to appear deterministic. But randomness is not free will.
Free will is the ability to act as a first cause, ie in some way that is not the result of preceding events. It implies that this will / initial cause is meaningful, acting in accord with some greater purpose (that may change over time and in light of experience). Free will suggests the likelihood of some part of reality beyond the material realm and laws of physics.
Evidence Supporting - and Possible Mechanism of - Free Will
- We are innately certain we possess free will. This is borne out by observation of other individuals and every aspect of human society. Max Planck, a founder of quantum theory and a firm believer in determinism, conceded "...we have our most direct and intimate source of knowledge, which is the human consciousness telling us that in the last resort our thought and volition are not subject to ... causal order", [quoted in New Pathways in Science. Sir Arthur Eddington MA, DSc, LLD, FRS; pub Cambridge University Press 1935].
- Science is incomplete, maybe inevitably so. Not just in refining formulae to the nth decimal place, but in its quest for a grand theory unifying relativity and quantum physics. Lack of explanation for phenomena does not imply its impossibility.
- Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe McFadden (Professor of Molecular Genetics) and Jim Al-Khalili (theoretical physicist) presents evidence for quantum effects in biology. By extension, is it not possible for quantum mechanics to influence brain/mind, and thus provide a doorway for the enactment of 'will'?
- Orchestrated objective reduction is a hypothesis proposed by theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and anaesthesiologist and psychologist Stuart Hameroff stating that quantum processes in the brain structure (microtubules) impact mind and consciousness, ie that these phenomena are non-deterministic.
- Everything is quantum; there is no absolute boundary between the quantum and classical (deterministic) worlds.
- The strength of evidence from parapsychology (eg The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, Dean Radin PhD; Selected Psi Research Publications) along with the wealth of accounts of spontaneous anomalous phenomena suggest there are modes of existence that science cannot begin to explain or comprehend.
Why Believe in Free Will?
Consider a version of Pascal's Wager speculating on the merits / de-merits of belief in free will.
In the case there is no free will, there is nothing to speculate on. I am writing this, and you reading it due to inescapable fate. Similarly for any thoughts passing through your mind, these too are pre-determined and beyond your control. There is no place for belief or action one way or the other.
But in the case that there is free will, and there is a genuine choice of whether to believe and act on it or otherwise, then clearly it is rational to believe free will exists and to act accordingly, ie to seek to optimize your own life / existence in your chosen way. And this is what all human beings and human societies appear to do.
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