Thursday, 21 February 2008

Free will is deciding to have it

Free will seems to be paradox because it is an achievement of mind and mind is a function of the brain and the brain is a complex system of nerves and nerves consist of molecules and these of atoms whose behaviour is determined by chemical and physical processes. These processes are fully determined by the conditions of the environment, that is, by temperature, pressure, gravitational forces, electrical forces, presence and absence of other substances. All is determined on the level of physics and chemistry, leaving no room for such a thing as free will.

This is paradox because we feel inside of us that we have a free will. Whoever wants to keep this feeling alive and well must solve the paradox. And this can be done without resorting to a mind outside of matter idea. An extremely narrow view leads to paradoxes even in the material world.

Zeno's arrow paradox

The ancient Greek philosopher Zeno has tried to "prove" that a flying arrow is not in motion. Look at the arrow at a given moment of time. Just before this moment, the arrow has been in a different place, and the difference seems to show that it is moving. But the moment before is no longer reality, it has passed away. The arrow is only existing in the present, at this very moment. Just after this moment, the arrow will be in a different place but this moment has not yet arrived, it is not real. Thus, the present is a point of time without any dimension, and without dimension, there can be no movement. Thus, the arrow is not moving.

The refutation needs some basic math. Speed can be calculated by dividing distance by time, and it is not allowed to divide by zero.

But can this analogy be used to refute the free will paradox? The common fallacy may be this one: Looking at infinitely small dimensions and trying to use them to figure out the behaviour of larger systems. You cannot predict the shape of ice flowers by looking at single water molecules. You cannot predict singing dunes by looking at single grains of sand. And you cannot predict the behaviour of mind by looking at single brain cells. One of the reasons may be the butterfly effect that is responsible for sudden changes in the system - changes that cannot be predicted.

Two directions of view

But I don't think that the narrow view fallacy as described above can solve the free will paradox. It may be part of the solution, but the dichotomy of subjective versus objective view may be even more important.
  • The objective view: Looking at the brain, its nerve cells and molecules, or at the behaviour of persons.

  • The subjective view: Looking at one's own sensual impressions, feelings, and thoughts.
There is no doubt that both views are directed to the very same things, yet they are fundamentally different. My joy of life, my pleasure, my sensual and intellectual experiences, my good feelings when reached a goal, and much more of this kind is what counts most for me. I am aware that all this is only possible with a complex biological machine called brain, and that every thought of mine is somehow caused or made possible by bio-chemical processes.

So what?

As long as the machine works well, I do not care. I'll try to keep it in good shape, by enjoying life, reading, blogging, playing chess, discussing with friends, and much more. But I don't feel that I am just the machine and nothing else.

Nor do I feel that I am a mix of drives, compulsions, desires, cravings and the like that completely guide me, up to my moral decisions. Again, such a narrow view on single mind elements may be as fallacious as doing the same in the material world, see above.

It is up to me

It is up to me whether I want to see myself as a person with a free will or as a sort of bio-robot. I freely decide to have a free will. Nobody can take this away from me.

You may challenge this by stating that this decision has been caused by some constellations of molecules in my brain. Feel free to do so. Your direction of view is from outside, looking at me as an object. My view is from inside, looking at me as a subject. There is no contradiction in both views. I accept both as equally true, but I think living with a free will is more fun.

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