Do humans have free will?

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That humans have free will means that some of their actions are not predestined, predetermined or governed solely by chance.

Arguments for[edit]

  • Free will is an emergent property of the brain.
    • A statement is not an argument. How is free will an emergent property?
      • I think what the original poster meant by emergent in this case is 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.
        • Please clarify and then remove this objection.
  • "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.
    • This is the compatibilist's definition of free will, which is not the definition provided at the onset of this debate. This debate is about non deterministic free will, and the compatibilist accepts that human decisions are deterministic, but they still label it free will.
      • If human decisions (deterministic or otherwise) are routinely labelled as "Free Will", then where is the confusion? Clear "Free Will" exists. In a blackmail situation, a victim is coerced into taking actions they would not choose to make of their own volition. If a victim is drugged by a third party, they are no longer responsible for their actions. If an assailant holds you at gunpoint at a bank machine to withdraw funds, then your insurance will make a payout to make you whole. In these and many other situations, the individual is unable to exercise free will, and society will make allowances for their behavior in these times of duress. To attempt to redefine Free Will as something different misses the utility of the current meaning.
        • In a situation where someone makes a choice of their own "free will", as you are defining it, even though they are not coerced by another person, their decision is always made based on prior experiences and external factors present at the time of the decision. When someone is drugged, their experience is changed by that drug and their decisions are affected by it. When someone is not drugged, they still have experiences stored in their brain that are used to make the decision. Yes, people call a choice without coercion "free will" because there is a lack of visible external coercion, but that's not the definition of free will that this debate is about. There are multiple definitions of free will, this debate references one, and you're referencing the other.
  • I experience free will consciously. My mind has the sense of being free–not for every possible decision that I make or could make but at least for some of them.
    • 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.
      • But there is no way in principle for me to experience your consciousness. The only thing we have to go on is others' testimony.
        • Others' testimony could easily be testimony of an illusion of free will, an illusion that, like optical illusions and other types of illusions, could be hard-wired into the brain.

Arguments against[edit]

  • Every human action is ultimately the result of a chain of events that began at the very beginning of the Universe (the Big Bang or Creation). If actions are determined by such a chain of events, then humans don't have free will.
    • 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.
      • That is an argument in favor of the Universe being governed by chance, rather than free will.
        • So? The objection still implies that there's no determinism, so the original argument is unsound.
  • The brain can only react to outside influences. The brain can only think of concepts it has learned. The brain can only decide of things that involve concepts he has learned. The self is only neurons, who operate through the above three principles.
    • The brain can act upon memories and memories are not an 'outside influence', so the brain does not only react to outside influences.
      • The brain does not really "react" to memories. Processing of memories can be described as thinking of concepts it has learned.
    • If the brain could only think of things it had already learned, then no new ideas could ever be formed.
      • 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, but only build upon existing things the brain already knows about.
  • Humans are made up of particles that behave deterministically, so humans don't have free will.
    • A whole may have properties that its parts don't have, so humans may have free will even if the particles that compose them behave deterministically.
      • Any system made up entirely of things that are deterministic is itself deterministic.
    • Particles behave probabilistically at the atomic scale and nothing can be said of any one of its instantaneous states.
      • Random behavior of particles at the atomic scale, governed by the laws of physics would imply similar randomness at higher scales, rather than free will. Anything that appears to be free will arising out of such randomness would just be a strange attractor according to chaos theory, and not an actual new chain of causality able to impose its will. If our lives are governed solely by chance as this would imply, that is not free will.
    • Human bodies are made up of particles which have charges and spins amongst other subatomic properties but human bodies don't have these same properties.
      • This is a red herring argument. The existence of other properties is entirely irrelevant to the question at hand, namely, something made up entirely of deterministic particles would itself be deterministic.
  • 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.
    • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
      • 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.

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