“My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”– William James
I’ve been thinking about the free-will this morning, the last few days, I’ve been using my free-will to get to the bottom of what I think of as the free-will. Which seems like there is one, a free will. Or not.
I finally agree that it does look very much so like a fine-tuned illusion/chimera/make-do-fabrication of my own mind. Maybe yours too. I believe there are a few basic aspects to be taken into account considering the free will. Repeated immemorially by thinkers and philosophers along time to right now:
A) The logical problem – even if you do want something [according to your own free will], how can you then want what you want? That would be a volitional meta-level. Even if you had access to this first volitional meta-level, how could you then want what you want what you want? There would be or appear to be an infinite regression with no ultimate will, no terminal volitional meta-level, no bottom free will turtle. But perhaps this idea/concept is purely an artifact of faulty human logic like the turtle which is never caught up with. In reality it is, which would translate as: in reality I want what I want and the ghost of meta-levels past never arises. Maybe… [as DeLillo rightly put it: the weakest word in the English language.]
B) We have arrived at the present configuration of time and space, the now, the ever-moving now, yes, we are already at the next moment and past that one too. And again and again and again. To think about the restlessness of the now gives me spatio-temporal vertigo.
But how do we move from one moment to the next, from the past to the future? I am one of many people who subscribes to the conceptual sensibility of cause and effect, A caused B and B caused C, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, de infinitum. Even if there are an almost infinity of As and Bs and Cs, I think it reasonable to assume that [at least one of] the basic logic[s] of our pro/regression through space-time could be cause-and-effect. [For now, hold any thoughts on quantum theory and the like, bear with me, lynx with me, thinks with me, be game.] As I mentally bundle together gayzillion filaments of cause-and-effect, I quickly realize that this rope or fabric or web must stretch [a] – temporally way back to before the commencement of my petty existence [b] – laterally way outside to all those other contemporaneous existences. Even if my spiderishly weaving contributions to a few of these filaments might be chosen freely, they are so immensely co-dependent on the encompassing web that the concept of free-will is a comically narrowed-down interpretation of my position within that rope or web or fabric. With other metaphors, I have all the freedom of a lab-rat in a maze.
“Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more.” – Martin Luther
And, to reanimate an old argument, what about causality itself? A 2 B 2 C. Certainly this is likely to also apply to my own blood and bones and brains. In that case, so the ancient line, there will be no point where the brains get to intercede and say “Hmmm, no, sorry, I don’t like this effect to result from that cause. I’d rather have that effect over there”.
Indeed, given the near infinity of causes it, le brain, would not even be sensibly in a position to sort the whole matter out, neither in terms of time nor in terms of firepower: too much to consider. We can get an inkling of this when we have a tough decision to make and we decide to juxtapose the good and the bad in a double-columned pro-contra table; if we think about the issue at hand hard and long enough, the table simply runs on down and down and down, as more causes to consider keep popping up. Eventually I say “Stop, enough, let me consider what I have thus far, NOW.” To me this run-on looks familiar.
C) The logical regression of volition and the material regression of causation are, to my lmtd fire-power, significantly iso-form: filaments winding back to the big inflation. Each taken per se could be a cognitive artifact of koprocognizing [shitty-thinking] but considered one beside the other, regressing without end, their coincidence seems to point to…. the possibility of describing reality.
The exception? The game-changer? The spoilsport? To put it in my layman’s terms: all that quantum stuff. Perhaps the brain [yes, we humans always like to think of ourselves as grand exceptions] does not follow cause-and-effect but rather is based on the esoteric workings of quantum-theory: both S and K could result from A and we don’t know which until it actually happens – there are only spaces of probability. But, little as I [and hopefully many others] understand about these theories what is the case is that things move along [in space-time] and they do so in a definitive direction, given this quantum scenario, the spaces of probability A, B, T, M, R, B or etc.
There is a direction and the direction must somehow be determined. Both with C&E and QT, the direction is rule-based and it is the very power of this rule that seems to deny or absolutely confine the power of our [imagined] free will. However, should there be no rule for our motion through space-time, we’d be in a situation we describe as chance, coincidence, blind luck, bad luck, etc. In that case, I think, it would be impossible to constitute or recognize anything resembling a free will: one thing would happen [A] and then, disengaged from causality, completely randomly, X would take place. At most, it would be a faceless will.
D) There is a possibility that the sanalogical illusion of “free-will” is self-medication against what has to be the greatest existential cognitive dissonance of all times: that we have an ego/self while existence is totally pre-determined. The future is a land as total as the fourth reich would’ve been. Everything happens exactly as it must, there is no open play of possibility, past, present and future might as well be an unified moment if it weren’t for our sensory human incompetence.
The point is this: we don’t know the shape of the future, at least we haven’t a scintilla of empirical evidence [do we?]. However, we do know what the past looks like: everything happened as it had to, in retrospect what seemed like long deliberation [of the free will] was only the logical outcome of what causes had come before. Nothing can be changed now. Or as some nostalgic, insight-resistant people like to say: “I’d do everything exactly the same again.” That’s a quantum-slip of the tongue, meaning: why, you silly creature, are you unwilling to apply insight about the nature of the past to the future?
Seems we’d rather keep walking forwards backwards.
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