In response to Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb denying free will and all that, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor points out, “Logic and reason aren’t laws of physics and therefore they transcend physical properties”:
Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, has recently written an essay in which he considers whether human beings have free will and how long the human race will survive. Loeb is a prolific and often quite thoughtful scientist who has a refreshing propensity to think outside the mainstream. However, his recent essay in Scientific American, titled “How Much Time Does Humanity Have Left?”, is well off the mark. I think he profoundly misunderstands human nature and human destiny.Michael Egnor, “Leading astronomer gets it all wrong about free will and destiny” at Mind Matters News
Loeb opines on the question of human free will:
The Standard Modelof physics presumes that we are all made of elementary particles with no additional constituents. As such composite systems, we do not possess freedom at a fundamental level, because all particles and their interactions follow the laws of physics. Given that perspective, what we interpret as “free will” merely encapsulates uncertainties associated with the complex set of circumstances that affect human actions. These uncertainties are substantial on the scale of an individual but average out when dealing with a large sample. Humans and their complex interactions evade a sense of predictability at the personal level, but perhaps the destiny of our civilization as a whole is shaped by our past in an inevitable statistical sense.Avi Loeb, “How Much Time Does Humanity Have Left?” at Scientific American (May 12, 2021)
The Standard Model, of course, in no way presumes that we are made only of elementary particles and it relates in no way whatsoever to human freedom. It is a model of elementary physical forces and particles, and of course the human mind and human destiny transcend the elementary laws of physics. Very little about human behavior or thought, either on an individual basis or a collective basis, is described in any way by elementary physical laws. For example, Loeb’s argument that we have no free will is a proposition, a statement that can be either true or false. There is no state of matter — brain matter or otherwise — that is propositional, which means that no brain state can be a propositional mind state.
What Loeb is saying is that each of us is an aggregate of molecules and nothing more. If that is true, then our minds (if we have minds) are governed entirely by the laws of physics and not by the laws of logic, reason, and rhetoric. If we are meat, and only meat, then we have mass, temperature, and chemistry but we have no rationality, opinions, propositions or logic.
It follows that, if Loeb is right, there’s no reason to pay attention to what he says, any more than one would pay attention to the noise made by the wind or the sea. Loeb’s metaphysics is self-refuting nonsense. Logic and reason aren’t laws of physics and therefore they transcend physical properties.
Takehome: Our human freedom, purpose, and foresight is a reflection in miniature of the freedom, purpose and foresight evident in the creation of our universe.
You may also wish to read:
Mind Matters News offers a number of articles on free will by neurosurgeon 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.
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