Free Will

"I" have free will, but at the same time, "I" am totally the result of heredity, environment and many generations of chaotic influences. At every stage of my formation, I am free to do as I "want", and my wants, through my actions, will affect the future. But what I want has already been decided, programmed into me by the universe, or perhaps I should say first it was programmed into the universe. As long as I don't know all the factors leading to my wants, it feels like autonomy. Murphy's General Law says, "Anything that `can' go wrong, `will'". "Robinson's Law" says, "Also, anything that can go right will". Only one scenario of the universe "will" happen. Therefore only one scenario "can" happen.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says that there is a limit beyond which we cannot know the precise conditions of sub-atomic particles. I don't believe it says there are no precise conditions. Some people, (maybe Heisenberg) would say that the only conditions that matter are those we can observe. That seems a bit like some stories of time travel to the past, which imply the only past that can affect the present is that which gets recorded in the history books and newspapers. The statistical and chaotic nature of our observations of particles limits our ability to predict the future, but doesn't diminish the precision of the universal computer, and all its little sub-routines.

Chance is inherent in our environment, because, like with quantum particles, the great majority of natural macro occurrences are only statistically observable. The chaos of many small forces acting on each occurrence makes them not precisely predictable. Some people want to use God as an explanation for the forces of chaos, but the actions of God also are not considered subject to explanation. But chance no more represents ultimate free will than does determinism.

My conscious mind, and what I see in my "mind's eye", may be no more significant than the information I see on my computer screen, while the real information-processing and decision-making goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes the computer stops and asks my permission to take action. When this happens in the human computer, perhaps it means the subconscious mind sees a conflict it needs more time to resolve. It's been shown clinically that the nerve signal for many elective actions has already started on its way to the muscles before we consciously recognize the need or reason for the action.

It's hard for me to see what freedom or determinism has to do with choosing a moral life. In either case, the concept of guilt and blame, which leads to revenge, is not a valid basis for treatment of criminals, social misfits or one's self. Still, a viable society must act in its own best interests. We can't call it true justice, but life is full of compromises. We must take sometimes drastic action to change some people's behavior in order for human society to survive. But the emphasis should be on changing future behavior, not revenge for past behavior. (Individuals will in turn, on the average, act in what they momentarily percieve to be their own best interests and cooperate with society. This begins to sound like Adam Smith, but he leaves out society's non-altruistic role.)


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/