Do humans have free will?

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Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. That humans have free will means that some of their actions are not predestined, predetermined or governed solely by chance.

Do humans have free will? Is free will even possible?

Humans have free will[edit | edit source]

Arguments for[edit | edit source]

  • Argument for Free will is an emergent property of the brain, meaning that the operation of free will, while indeed generated by neurons, creates a magnetic field like zone of effects which far outstrip the ability of the sum of the neuronal capacity in general.
    • Objection Just because the brain has emergent and complex behaviors does not mean it does not operate deterministically. The Earth's climate has emergent properties, but if you had full knowledge about every molecule in the air, you could predict the weather (with enough computational power). Neurons, like all other matter in the universe, are subject to the physical laws of the universe, which are deterministic in nature. Because of this, it is not possible for us to "choose" among several possible futures.
  • Argument for Lots of people report experiencing free will consciously for at least for some actions.
    • Objection Experiencing something does not make it true. A person who believes they can fly can not automatically fly. Many optical illusions persist even after convincing yourself that your perception is fooled.
      • Objection But by same reasoning, all human experience can be false. Just because people experience reality, doesn't make it real. We don't reject our experience unless we have very strong reason that experience is caused by something else which adequately explain exact experience without free will. So, unless there is adequate explanation for how such powerful delusion occurs which gives rise to free will, no need to assume that free is illusion.
  • Argument for Plausible reasoning will not plausible unless there is free will. It is evident that we are able to choose between two scenario given same evidence based on plausible reasoning. But if all evidence is same, and information is same, how can we decides which scenario likely. We know we don't randomly choose between these scenario. Also we know, we have no apparent constraints on how we decide between these scenario. So, unless we have free will, plausible reasoning will not plausible.

Arguments against[edit | edit source]

  • Argument against Probabilistic behavior of particles at the atomic scale implies similar probabilism at higher scales, which is incompatible with free will.
  • Argument against For every future action, there's a proposition describing it. But by the law of excluded middle, every proposition is either true or false. Therefore, it's already true or false that we will perform any action and we're only discovering which is it, not choosing.
  • Argument against Every human action is ultimately the result of a chain of events that began at the very beginning of the Universe. If actions are determined by such a chain of events, then humans don't have free will.
    • Objection Given the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, it's impossible to determine the current state of the Universe from the initial state of the Universe. Therefore, the argument is unsound.
      • Objection Whether quantum events are truly random is disputed. See Superdeterminism.
  • Argument against To deny that our decisions have a cause is to assert that they come out of nothing. But nothing comes out of nothing.
  • Argument against "Free will" is a social construct, like "personhood" or "voting rights". "Free will" is the mechanism that allows societies to hold individuals responsible for their actions.
  • Argument against The brain can react only to outside influences. The brain can think only of concepts it has learned. The brain can decide only of things that involve concepts it has learned. The self is only neurons, who operate through the above three principles.
    • Objection The brain can act on memories and memories are not an outside influence, so the brain does not only react to outside influences.
      • Objection The brain does not really "react" to memories. Processing of memories can be described as thinking of concepts it has learned.
    • Objection If the brain could think only of things it had already learned, then no new ideas could ever be formed.
      • Objection New ideas are developed by the brain using existing information already in the brain, by combining together different things the brain already knows. These "new" ideas are not actually new.
  • Argument against Humans are made up of particles that behave deterministically, so humans don't have free will.
    • Objection At the atomic scale, particles behave probabilistically, not deterministically. Therefore, the argument is unsound.
      • Objection Even if one were to accept the probabilistic interpretation of particle physics, probabilistic behavior does not entail free will. You have no say in the random behavior of those particles, and if you did, they would not be truly random. Either way, your decisions are either determined or random.
    • Objection A whole may have properties that its parts don't have, or viceversa. For example, human bodies are made up of particles which have charges and spins among other subatomic properties but human bodies don't have these same properties. So humans may have free will even if the particles that compose them behave deterministically.
      • Objection Any system made up entirely of things that are deterministic is itself deterministic.
  • Argument against Free will is necessary for moral responsibility. If one is responsible for what one does in a given situation, then one must be responsible for the way one is in certain mental respects. But it is impossible for one to be responsible for the way one is in any respect. This is because to be responsible in some situation S, one must have been responsible for the way one was at S-1. To be responsible for the way one was at S-1, one must have been responsible for the way one was at S-2, and so on. At some point in the chain, there must have been an act of origination of a new causal chain. But this is impossible. Man cannot create himself or his mental states ex nihilo. This argument entails that free will itself is absurd.
    • Objection Similarly, if man exists at time T, he must exist at time T-1, and T-2 and so on. But man cannot create himself, or his mental state ex nihilo. Therefore man does not exist, which is absurd. This kind of induction doesn't hold, because there may well be a state, maybe S-100, which was indeed the first causal state in the chain, perhaps corresponding to when the brain reached a critical mass of neurons and began to function.
      • Objection Just because inductive arguments do not apply when it comes to the existence of things which exist for a temporary period of time, does not mean inductive arguments never work under any circumstance. In the case of humans, a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell, then the fertilized egg cell develops into a zygote and then a fetus and then is born as a baby... a man does not create himself, but still, we do come into existence, due to outside causes, causes that are not under our own control. The original argument is not about T-1, T-2, etc., of passage of time, but S-1, S-2, etc., different states one is, in a chain of causality. Comparing the 2 is apples and oranges. Your mechanism for the creation of a new causal chain, the brain reaching a critical mass of neurons, is an entirely arbitrary cutoff point, since this "critical mass of neurons" would be some specific, arbitrary number of neurons. And reaching that arbitrary magic number of neurons would cause a new chain of uncaused causality to occur and generate free will? That is nonsensical, if a brain of, say, 100 neurons, if that is your cutoff point, has free will, then why does this property not apply at all to a brain of 99 neurons, just 1 less? I would contend that the logic of induction does indeed hold in this case.
  • Argument against All evidence indicates that the brain operates via chemical processes and that chemical processes are deterministic. Therefore, human decisions are deterministic, and non-deterministic free will is an illusion.
    • Objection Quantum mechanics shows that at the fundamental level, the behavior of subatomic particles is non-deterministic. Non-deterministic quantum effects can carry over to larger-scale measurable effects in our macroscopic world, for instance in the double-slit experiment. Many things in our macroscopic world appear at first glance to operate in a deterministic way; however, if you look at the microscopic level you realize these things are actually non-deterministic. One obvious example is atomic clocks, which in practice are the most accurate clocks in the world, despite relying on non-deterministic radioactive decay to keep time. Whether or not a given chemical reaction takes place between 2 specific molecules within a given timespan is actually something governed by probability and not entirely deterministic, even if, on a larger scale, chemical reactions may appear to be deterministic.
      • Objection Such non-determinism based on quantum mechanics at a microscopic level is random according to the laws of physics, and not governed by free will, which, if it existed, would be macroscopic and encompass the entire brain, well beyond the reach of any specific localized uncollapsed quantum waveform within the brain.
      • Objection Whether quantum events are truly random is disputed. See Superdeterminism.
  • Argument against Freedom is "lack of". If choices are logical then they are not free from logic. If they are not logical then they are random, which means that they're not free from randomness. Freedom from everything is impossible.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]