Some philosophers such as Alfred Mele think that people are jumping the gun on suggesting that the neuroscientific evidence against free will is sufficient for the conclusion that free will doesn’t exist. What they don’t seem to understand is that the neuroscientific evidence is just empirical supporting evidence that free will doesn’t exist. It is hardly the whole story. The larger story around free will stems not to empirical evidence against it, but rather it’s logical incoherence.
Some people point to indeterminism or non-caused (acausal) events as their free will savior. Point ’em to this infographic to help explain why such events do not allow for free will:
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There are so many words used to label certain philosophical concepts that I truly hate with a passion! I don’t hate the actual concepts themself, just what was, somewhere down the philosophical line, used to label such concepts. Often the labels I hate are the ones that use words that have ambiguous meanings elsewhere. This offers so much confusion to so many people.
When getting into the topic of free will, one must deal with the concept of causality. Within that one concept, there are many labels I disdain. Today I’m going to address “sufficient” and “necessary” causality, as the understanding of these are important. The words “necessary” and “sufficient”, however, are anything but helpful. There are other ideas surrounding causality that have horrible labels as well, for example, “accidental” vs “essential” causality. And no, such words do not imply that a cause happens by accident or that one happens to be less essential to the output.
A common misconception surrounding the free will debate is the idea that if we can’t predict the future, that free will somehow resides or has the possibility of residing in the fact that we can’t know such. That somehow our lack of being able to know all of the variables is the savior of free will.
This misconception is often grounded by the ways words such as “determinism” are not used for the free will debate. People tend to look at such words and assume what is being suggested by the word is that “we” can determine what we will do in the future. And when they hear about things such as the uncertainty principle, or about a measurement problem (there are different ones), or even chaos theory, they note that we can’t “determine” the future in any absolute way, and so (they believe) such “determinism” doesn’t apply.
It’s surprising how many people try to suggest that we could have done otherwise (sometimes abbreviated as CHDO online) in an entirely causal (deterministic) universe, when discussing the free will debate. And it’s always surprising how many people don’t recognize the contradiction of such. In my book I point this out with numerous demonstrations, but for this article I just want to get to the vegan-meat and potatoes. First let’s address what we mean by “could have done otherwise”. This statement is not an “after the fact” statement, as obviously once something has been done that is the thing that was done. We are addressing that if we were to somehow bring the moment back to before the decision or action, that such a decision or action doesn’t have to take the same path (it could lead elsewhere). So let’s get into the contradictory nature of such an idea.
The free will debate can get into a lot of philosophical discussions on determinism, indeterminism, causality, acausality, and can get into some pretty heavy topics such as quantum mechanics, theories of time, and a bunch of other really complex discussions. For this article I’m going to move away from all of this high level stuff and take things to a more intuitive level. If you are looking for some insight on how quantum mechanics can’t help free will (which it can’t by the way), this is not the article for that, but do subscribe for articles that get into some of these more complex topics as well! For this article, lets just try to analyze our own decisions just a bit.
Imagine what it would mean for you to have, of your own accord, been able to have decided otherwise than what you did. Just picture this for a second and then imagine what it implies. Or better yet, think of any example of a decision, and ask yourself if there was a reason why you made the decision you did. And if there was, how could you have gone against that reason? And if there wasn’t, how could you have, of your own accord, stopped the decision from happening?
A common occurrence that happens in the free will debate is the conflation between what “is” or what “exists” with what we can or cannot “know”. In philosophical terms such is the conflation between an ontic understanding and an epistemic understanding. In case the philosophical terms arise in a discussion, all you really need to know is that ontology is the study of what exists, is real, or the nature and properties of “being”, while epistemology is the study of what we can know and how we can know things. In philosophy these words are very broad fields of study. For example, ones epistemological standard (standard of knowledge) might play into their ontological understandings (what they think exists or doesn’t exist).
If you are unfamiliar with the philosophical jargon, don’t be too concerned. For the free will debate, just know that one addresses existence claims and the other addresses knowledge claims. And the distinction between these two things are of great importance.
In this article I want to get people thinking about the types of things that justify inequality. And when I say “inequality” I mean inequality of anything at all, but for the most part let’s address inequality of well-being (e.g. wealth, health, etc.). What are the reasons one might justify their own well-being at the expense of another, with such justification being rational if we were to accept the reason?
From what I can tell, most, if not all, entitlement of well-being over another’s lesser well-being depends on if a person deserves their better well-being over the other or if the other deserves their lesser well-being. It’s the idea that one is “more or less deserving” than another that allows most, if not all, justifications of inequality to take place.
According to a study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, random fluctuations in the brain’s “background electrical noise” might have a say in our decisions. An article on the ucdavis.edu website suggests that this could possibly be labeled “free will“. In other words, it opens the free will door.
Take a look at the article here:
Does ‘free will’ stem from brain noise?
The article is brief, but has some conclusions that simply do no follow from what is explained in the study. It first says this, in order to prep you for the really bad thinking to come:
“How do we behave independently of cause and effect?” said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. “This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions.”