Project 313 – Post No. 026

I mentioned Sam Harris in Post No. 025. 

Another area of thinking where Harris and I are a bit at odds is the notion of Free Will. Now, there are many definitions of Free Will and if you want to spend a number of hours exploring all the nuances of those two simple words, just click on that link. 

As it turns out, I discussed and thought about Free Will long before I ever heard of Harris. In fact, for them who don’t have a life, you can go read my thoughts on the matter HERE and HERE

Those posts are from 2012 but the original content is from 2009 and I reference stuff I was reading in the early 1980s . . . and here we are, many years later and not much has changed as far as the arguments, counterarguments, etc. etc. 

So, here’s the thing . . . as part of trying to understand the issue, I’m at the point where I could argue both sides of the issue. That’s what you do if you want to discuss/debate someone who holds a different point of view; you must learn enough about the other side to be able to argue their point as well as they. 

BUT . . . I’m not in the contra-causal free will camp.  

Meaning, I do believe we have a certain amount of agency, a version of free will that allows us to make decisions unconstrained by past events, or at least reasonably so. 

The reason I’m hedging my words is that “free will” has broad interpretations and also severe limits as a notion. I’m “free” to decide anything I want at any given time but those decisions may be limited by physical, emotional, and societal constraints. 

Then you’re not free . . . someone might say. 

The argument goes like this: you did not choose your parents, where you are born, the schooling and upbringing you received. Nothing about you is really your choice. You think you’re smart? That’s obviously a mix of genetic and environmental influence, neither of which you controlled. Who you marry, the job you have, your habits, preferences, everything about you is the direct result of things you had no control over and that even now direct your thoughts and actions. You cannot help but do what you do and be who you are. You cannot deviate from the path of past events any more than you could decide to fly. 

Obviously, this goes against our sense of agency. We “feel” like we make decisions, opt for one thing or another, and do so without constraints or coercion, but some maintain that is all an illusion. 

To be fair, they can marshal pretty convincing arguments. And believe me, you start going down that rabbit hole, and you can easily get lost in labyrinths of arguments and counterarguments. 

I generally wave my hand and decide (freely or not) that the reality we have is good enough. We live with the assumption of free will and for broad matters that is close enough to be true, and it’s close enough for me to accept as a working thesis.

You can read THIS (pretty good) summary of the arguments that we don’t have free will. 

Central to the argument against free will is the fact that particles obey the laws of physics and we are made up of particles, and as such, we have no example of emergent properties that arise independently of the constraints physics puts on particles and their behavior. This sounds highfalutin, so let me rephrase it (and cheat a bit). 

We know there is a lot of empty space in atoms. Atoms combine to form molecules and those combine to eventually form objects . . . which are basically 99.999% empty space. 

Now, a physicist will tell you that the forces that bind and repel atoms and molecules are what give objects the appearance of being solid. Repulsive forces are what enable us to sit in a chair as opposed to passing right through it. Basically, you don’t have enough energy to displace electrons in a stable configuration around a single atom, let alone electrons in the many atoms comprising the chair, so you can sit.

If you did have enough energy to displace electrons, you’d break the atom and BOOM! . . . a nuclear explosion and devastation whenever you sat down. Sort of like Grampa after eating beans, only even more powerful.  

Think of “solid” as an emergent property of the material. A lot of atoms together in particular configurations will give rise to the property of being “solid” even though the individual atoms are mostly empty space. This emergent property is a direct result of the underlying particles obeying the laws of physics. No emergent property can violate the laws of physics governing the individual behavior of particles.  

Free will has no mechanism that explains it as an emergent property of the individual particles that make up a person. I mean, our consciousness (whatever that is) obviously comes from the brain and the brain is a physical thing and hence subject to the laws of physics. But, we can’t explain consciousness, either. 

To review, the movement of each particle and its interaction with its surroundings is predicated on existing conditions . . . a particle cannot behave in a manner that is not consistent with the laws of physics and independently from the conditions of its environment.

Thus, simply put, you are born into a world you don’t control, and every subsequent action is predicted by your genetic makeup and situations you have no control over. Essentially, you cannot help being who you are and do what you do because the basis for each action can be traced back to before you were born.

Many explain free will by tying it to something non-physical; for example, a soul.

If, like me, you don’t believe in a soul, you’re stuck without a good explanation for free will. Even if you believe in souls, you’re stuck without a good explanation of free will because if you believe in god (and souls) there are all manners of contradictions relating to free will. 

So, what do I do? 

Like I said, I don’t care. We live in a world where our brains (be they free will brains or not) give us the illusion of free will, and that’s how we live. For the most part, with a few annoying exceptions, be it an illusion or not, it works fairly well.  

At some point, we’ll figure it out, but it’s not going to be today and likely not tomorrow either. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the day after. Beyond that, I’ll not worry about it because it’s not in my nature to do so.

And now, the photo:

Project 313 026

I keep being impressed by the P900 . . . as often as I’m disappointed. In the case above? Impressed.

I can relate to today’s cartoon as I struggle with coming up with titles to my doodles. Also, for titles to my fiction, although that a little easier as my fiction is seldom abstract in nature.

I am so going to draw a straight line, a box, and a circle and title it The Emotions of Reality in Time and Space!

However, meantime, something I drew on my Note 8. I call it I’m Melting!

I’m Melting!

And . . . that’s it

Some of these posts will likely be longer as the mood hits me, but most will be thus; short, uninteresting, bland, and relentless.

You can read about Project 313 HERE.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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