Or at least I think I have. And I solved it strictly within the bounds of naturalism (a material and closed system multiverse), without any resort to supernaturalism (ghosts entering machines).
And I think I can explain it super concisely.
Ready? Here goes: We live in a big bang cosmos that got its laws and physical constants from a random quantum flux of the larger multiverse. From all the logically possible ways that our known cosmos could have banged at the big bang, it banged in just one way. It’s how the cookie crumbled.
And no, we humans, as part of this atomic flux, aren’t in any way disrupting the swerve of atoms from the big bang. Indeed, we are part of the determinate, 13.7 billion year, swerve. (Yes, I’m using the Roman atomist and poet Lucretius’s word swerve to characterize what atoms do.) Here’s Lucretius on the swerve of atoms (from On the Nature of Things, II 217-19, translated by Frank Copley):
Though atoms fall straight downward through the void
by their own weight, yet at certain times
and at certain points, they swerve [clinamen] a bit […]
In other words (to bring Lucretius into the 21st century), each new big bang cosmos produced by the multiverse is a fresh swerve of atoms blasting forth to cool and impact one another in a novel, yet determinate, manner. Here’s a bit more from Lucretius (just because he’s so good):
For myriad atoms sped such myriad ways
from the All forever, pounded, pushed, propelled
by weight of their own, launched and speeding along,
joining all possible ways, trying all forms,
whatever their meeting in congress could create,
that it’s no wonder if they all tumbled
into such patterns and entered on such orbits
as those that govern our cosmos and its changes. (V 187-194)
And, again, we aren’t in any way disrupting these material atoms in their determinate courses. Each of us consists of some of those atoms, and we’re all along for the ride. There is no such thing as contra-causal free will (minds disrupting the course of causally determined atoms).
But, then, why do we feel like we have free will? And this is my (perhaps unique) insight: The illusion of free will is caused by our ability to imagine logically possible futures, and to imagine how we might choose one of those futures over the others. We then notice in ourselves a desire to choose one of those futures. We follow that desire. But at no point in the process have we actually violated the deterministic cosmos; the swerve of atoms. We just imagine that we have.
Now I realize that philosophy has a name for this: compatibilism (the idea that determinism and free will are compatible). So maybe I’ve just restated compatibilism in a way that makes sense to me. But the two step process is what struck me as perhaps novel (or at least a fresh way of saying it):
- first, we imagine logically possible alternative futures; then
- we feel in ourselves the desire for following one of those futures, which we do.
We therefore confuse the tight coupling of imagination, desire, and action with free will. Our lives, in other words, run on a huge correlation-causation fallacy. Imagination, desire, and action seem to be in a causal relation to one another, but they aren’t. They’re only coincident. We make a narrative of them. We think we’re pushing the world around–making it break our way, in accordance with our purposes. We think we’re disturbing the universe, collapsing the wave function of logically possible worlds down to our single world–the world of our choosing. Actually, we’re just being puppeted by the swerve of atoms as we dream (as we run tapes in our heads of mental images of the future) and act on the desires that come to us. In short, we’ve got going a great narrative of ourselves as existential actors because we can imagine alternative futures. But that’s all it is. A story. In terms of the actual causal processes at work, we’ve got them completely backwards.
Perhaps the novelist Don DeLillo, in his novel White Noise, says this more clearly than I am:
Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I don’t want to go to Montana.
That’s the ballgame. You don’t really have free will. You imagine that you could go to Montana (it’s logically possible). You become aware of a desire to go to Montana. You go to Montana. Among the logically possible options you had before you, you imagine you chose to go to Montana. But it’s all an illusion. You were never really in an existential situation where the future was open. It was always closed. Closed by the big bang. The shrew of your little self didn’t really choose Montana. The Big Self–the Atomic Swerve–chose Montana. It chose you. It’s the real you. No atoms were harmed or disrupted in their courses because you went to Montana. They brought you there.
If you want to put God behind the Atomic Swerve and call Her the Big You, go ahead. But you are owned. You are mine, says the Atomic Swerve (or God). You feel free; you think you’ve chosen things. You haven’t.
Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that absurd?
So feel free to relax on a mushroom with the hookah caterpillar. You’re in the know now. You can’t really change anything. You’re belated. Everything was decided long before you got here. Smile. Stop with the uh oh and the oh no. Go with the flow. Say ah so. What else are you going to do?