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A science writer offers some interesting thoughts on free will

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Philip Ball “argues that ‘free will’ is not ruled out by physics – because it doesn’t stem from physics in the first place:

Long-standing disputes about free will and physical law, with their philosophical jargon of compatibilism and libertarianism, have not really advanced our understanding of the problem of determinism since Pierre-Simon Laplace supposed in the early 19th century that he could predict the entire future from total microscopic knowledge of the present. But this rather sterile debate can be and at last is being replaced with a “neuroscience of free will” that examines how brains, with their particular architectures and dispositions, arrive at decisions on the basis of past and present experience. That’s the way to pose worthwhile, testable questions about choice and behaviour. Those who say that free will, and attendant moral responsibility, don’t exist but we should go on acting as if they do rather prove that their position is empty because it neither illuminates nor changes anything about how we do and should behave. The worry that free will must be salvaged somehow from physical determinism because otherwise responsibility for our actions will vanish is then revealed to be groundless. Moral responsibility is not a physical principle but a construct of human psychology and society. It expresses the view that we must strive to choose some behaviours and reject others. Some find that harder than others. Some can be encouraged to do so, perhaps by social sanctions. This is what we see in the world. To say that it only looks that way is to add nothing significant.

Philip Ball, “Why free will is beyond physics” at PhysicsWorld

It’s interesting that a science writer sees through the most fundamental materialist rot. Unfortunately, it sounds as though he hopes to replace it with a different one.

See also: How can we believe in naturalism if we have no choice?

Mind Matters News offers a number of articles on free will bu neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor including

Can physics prove there is no free will? No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will. It’s hilarious. Sabine Hossenfelder misses the irony that she insists that people “change their minds” by accepting her assertion that they… can’t change their minds.

Does “alien hand syndrome” show that we don’t really have free will? One woman’s left hand seemed to have a mind of its own. Did it? Alien hand syndrome doesn’t mean that free will is not real. In fact, it clarifies exactly what free will is and what it isn’t.

But is determinism true? Does science show that we fated to want whatever we want? Modern science—both theoretical and experimental—strongly supports the reality of free will.

How can mere products of nature have free will? Materialists don’t like the outcome of their philosophy but twisting logic won’t change it

Does brain stimulation research challenge free will? If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free?

Is free will a dangerous myth? The denial of free will is a much more dangerous myth

Also: Do quasars provide evidence for free will? Possibly. They certainly rule out experimenter interference.

and

Can free will even be an illusion? Michael Egnor reiterates the freeing implications of quantum indeterminacy

Also, by Baylor University’s Robert J. Marks: Quantum randomness gives nature free will Whether or not quantum randomness explains how our brains work, it may help us create unbreakable encryption codes

5 Replies to “A science writer offers some interesting thoughts on free will

  1. 1
    Belfast says:

    Don’t knock Philip Ball.
    While at Nature, he followed up on an otherwise obscure finding relating to certain chemicals that should have been on the Shroud of Turin, and were not, that clearly suggested that the C14 dating got it wrong.
    Admittedly he wrote here “ If we recognize, as we should, that the origins of volitional decision-making lie in evolutionary biology,..”
    Here he is stepping outside his field to accept the unbelievable ‘pure luck’ basis of Darwin. But give him time – he thinks!

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    I don’t understand why people continue to discuss this intrinsically undiscussable question.

  3. 3

    I find this piece ironic. The whole shift to Enlightenment thinking was to replace Metaphysics with Epistemology. Now we are being told to replace Epistemology by Metaphysics, minus the baggage of theism. Let me explain.

    The 16th century “Wars of Religion” said that a man’s eternal destiny was more important than his physical discomfort or death. Hence torturing people to get them to convert was merciful, as was killing apostates who led the faithful astray. The Enlightenment thinkers argued that God was above all “Rational”, and that it was irrational to think that “good” people would go to Hell simply because they grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Conversely killing people was “bad” no matter what side of the tracks you grew up. As the privations of all the war all the time ravaged Europe, more and more people sided with the Enlightenment thinkers. After all, what was important was not what you did, but whether you had a “free choice” to do otherwise. Being born in the wrong place took away your free choice, and therefore you were not responsible for actions done while living “on the wrong side of the tracks.”

    When the Enlightenment crossed the pond to Boston, Jonathan Edwards was appalled to see all the big Puritan churches of Boston converting to the more rational “Unitarianism”. He could not see the appeal of “free will” and wrote long articles explaining that it divided up the mental states of the brain in a schizophrenic way that divorced responsibility from actions. God holds you responsible for your actions whether or not you had free will, he argued, because God sets the standards for morality, not us. His tracts gained no traction, and soon the whole world was chasing after this ephemeral “free will”.

    Three centuries later, Edwards would be appalled to see where this emphasis on “Free Will” has gone. Evidently one can unbridle his will from his body, and use it to “identify” as just about anything including gender and specie, though of course, free will cannot be used to identify as a minority, that would be racist.

    So here is Philip Ball, admitting that you can’t get there from here, you can’t get free will from materialism. But that’s okay, says Philip, because we don’t need free will to assign responsibility. You are responsible for things that morality says, independent of whether you had any free will in the process. So don’t worry, said Philip, because we can pick the morality we need to make the world better (greener, less racist, etc.) Curious, that’s just what Jonathan said, except that he thought it was God who picked the morality.

    We’ve come full circle, but in the process, made ourselves God.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Another problem exposed by quantum mechanics is that what we decide to observe determines whether matter “exists” or whether a wavefunction continues as a mathematical probability wave. This concept was articulated by Professor and Senior Phyicist, Anton Zeilinger as follows:

    What we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure, which is a very, very deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.

    If consciousness were deterministic, then no real decision would ever be involved and wavefunctions would not collapse when observed or measured. Our observations and measurements would simply be one element in an enormous Von Neumann chain (or web).

    So, yes. physics provides strong evidence for free will.

    -Q

  5. 5
    Eugene says:

    +1 to Querius @4

    The “free will” discussion starts with assuming a mechanical universe. Yet, the universe is most certainly not “mechanical”, but rather it is mathematical, entangled and ultimately probabilistic, where reality is “created” out of the probabilities by conscious “beings” (or maybe even “entities”? Could bacteria be conscious?) in the process of observing the entangled mathematical universe.

    We have no idea what consciousness ultimately is.

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