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Wed. Jul 8th, 2020

Digital Valhalla

Desert of the real

Free Will

3 min read

That free will is in question at all is itself puzzling. The argument against free will reads something to the effect of one’s synapses firing before one is even conscious of having made the decision, and thus it is not “you” who are making the decision, but rather your synapses. Carried to its natural conclusion, this line of reasoning is nothing short of a case for annata: that the self is nowhere found in synapses, brain, and body and thus there is no self in the first place. If there is no self, then there is nothing to possess or lack free will in the first place. The whole argument becomes moot.

The argument, generally, takes the form of affirming a self – a sort of atman, or res cogitans – completely alien and separate from res extensa – its synapses, brain, and body that it inhabits and from which volitional impulses arise. Cartesian dualism, which is itself a new spin on the old heresy of gnostic dualism, is the entirety of what the argument against free will hinges. In reality, man is his body and his mind. This includes all of that which self is not conscious of. Consciousness is but a faculty of self – and a limited one at that. It is not the self or even the seat of self. The self is the emergent whole. One’s will, most aptly characterized by one’s will to live, is almost exclusively carried-out via automatic (and hence unconscious) neurological activity. That one does not consciously choose to carry out each and every metabolic action required to sustain life is hardly a case for anything at all.

Speaking of bodily functions, that we are or can be trained to use the bathroom is itself one of the more obvious everyday examples of free will in action – of one’s will or volition reigning over the bodily impulses. This does not come naturally at all. It comes with training. A weak will, or a will not possessed of freedom of action, or even a weak bladder does not make the case against free will. One may act at their own discretion or volition, and indeed, one may and on occasion does fail.

Additionally, there are arguments that free will breaks causality somehow. The case for a clock-work deterministic universe is nothing short of a case for fatalism, or at best an implicit nod to a first cause – a cause of all causes and thus a god of sorts for which all things in the universe owe their being and may blame their doings. All evidence in matters of both quantum and classical physics point-to a probabilistic and uncertain universe as per the relationship between information, entropy, and the arrow of time. One’s future choices are precisely as they phenomenologically appear probable actions with various likelihoods among what one might do. Of course, one might be surprised. Such is entropy.

Strangest of all, really, is how the argument against free will is most often toted most loudly by the least religious of minds while carrying with it conspicuously religious-sounding reasoning: the self is not the body, and everything is in god’s hands.

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