A stunning tidbit from an interview, in The Telegraph, with neuroscientist Tom Chivers:
[I]f we are part of the universe, and obey its laws, it’s hard to see where free will comes into it. What we think of as freedom, he says, is a product of complexity. “An amoeba has one input, one output. If you touch it with one chemical, it engulfs it; with another, it recoils.
“If you see a light go green, it may mean press the accelerator; but there are lots of situations where it doesn’t mean that: if the car in front hasn’t moved, for example. The same stimulus sometimes makes me press the accelerator, but sometimes the horn. We are not one output-one input beings; we have to cope with a messy world of inputs, an enormous range of outputs. I think the term ‘free will’ refers to the complexity of that arrangement.”
In other words, the complexity of the inputs coming our way, and our reactions to them, mask our determinacy, giving us the (false) impression that what comes out the other end of us in response to stimuli—that is, our actions—might have been otherwise. Though complex, we are really no more free in our reactions to things than are simple amoeba.
Put another way, the below video really is done by a deluded robot:
Tom Chivers’ world-weary and matter-of-fact assessment that we don’t have free will seems wrong to me. It’s a conclusion too decisive. Our contemporary understanding of consciousness, for example, is rudimentary. Until we arrive at a fuller understanding of consciousness’s relation to matter—and we are still very far from this—it’s premature to strongly conclude that what we don’t have free will. Of course, it follows that it’s also premature to conclude that we do.
But how should we then live? Should we live as if we have free will because it pleases us? Or should we live as if we do not have free will because it too might please us (by making us feel hard-nosed, wise-to-the-world’s bleak ways, and scientific)? A cat, for example, is pleased to treat what is an objective pile of socks as something else; that is, a bed for sleeping. Shall we be like the cat, indifferent to the objective truth of the world, but comfy in it (because we suit it to our purposes)?
The objective truth as we experience it in the 21st century is that we don’t know enough about consciousness to say one way or the other whether or not humans have free will. The other objective truth is that we have free will or don’t have free will—and we don’t really know which one is correct.
These two things are the truth.
And here’s a mind-blowing thought to counter the mind-blowing thought of Tom Chivers: what if matter is an epiphenomenon of mind, and not mind of matter? Can we ever really be confident about the free will question before answering the “who’s ‘epiphenomenoning’ who” question? At minimum, quantum physics, with its weird interactions between mind and matter, ought to give us pause before concluding that free will is an illusion.