Free Will

If you are old enough, or you took college statistics, you probably remember this game show involving contestants making choices. Surprisingly, merely making a choice between different options circumstantially changes the likelihood of the different options. So the act of choosing seems to actually affect the nature of reality. This is called the Monty Hall Problem, after the host of the show. Source: I claim Fair Use for the educational discussion of philosophy and science in the post below. I am not using this to generate any income.

Free will is said by many to not exist (e.g. Sam Harris, Sabine Hossenfelder). The idea is that nature, the entire universe, is governed by deterministic laws that have been discovered by scientists. Every action is the result of something that came before, and your decisions are no exception. All of the particles that make up all the atoms of your brain were subject to these physical laws in a chain of causality going back to the Big Bang, so everything it does is also a calculable outcome of that chain.

Since everything that exists is a result of what came before, we can therefore conclude that decisions are an illusion. The illusion is created because we are continually in the process of making our way through time directionally and our perception is tied to that progression. It looks like a decision to us but the outcome of the decision making process was actually inevitable. Our brains are simply arriving at the unavoidable conclusion and we are observing it get to that point.

I have quite a bit of science education myself, but I do not believe this. I used to, but the more I've learned about the universe, the less sense it makes. There are many topics in science that are not intuitive until you have enough information, but once you have enough information they can be understood intuitively. Logic and intuition are in lockstep when the theory is correct. The idea that we have no free will is the opposite of this. You can step through logic to come to the conclusion that free will can't exist, but this defies intuition. This is unlike other scientific problems. Therefore I think it is wrong.

As to the details of the science, it's obvious to me (and a lot of other people), that there is much more that we do not understand about the universe than we do understand. If we find ourselves logically arriving at a counter-intuitive conclusion that defies the pattern of the rest of human knowledge and understanding, then we should first suspect that we don't have enough information yet.

This should not be a new idea for scientists. The history of science is filled with discredited theories that were once widely accepted. Other theories weren't precisely wrong, but were incomplete, like we see with Newton vs. Einstein. We can't possibly draw such a large conclusion that free will doesn't exist based upon our clearly inadequate understanding of nature.

You may believe free will doesn't exist, but I still think my decisions are real, not illusory.

There is an obvious analogy between the belief in a deterministic explanation of spacetime and the religious concept of preordination. It amazes me that scientists, who generally lean heavily in the direction of atheism, manage to come up with hypotheses that look quite a bit like religion when pressed with difficult and profound questions. There are many such conjectures: free will doesn't exist, the universe as a simulation, panspermia, etc. I've written about these things elsewhere.


Popular posts from this blog

Van Halen vs. Van Hagar

Why I Am not an Atheist

The Necessity of Precision