In terms of free will, I don’t think we have contra-causal free will (free will that actually interferes with and pushes around determinate matter). I think our brains are modular, governed by often contending impulses, and that sometimes–or even characteristically in some people–one part of the brain predominates over the other.
And so a person who is, by temperament, hyper-religious, may find in herself (when she introspects) a powerful will to override the sexual siren coming from the same brain. She imagines herself, in the narrative of herself, being quite righteous–and this very thought motivates her still more to hold down her sexual siren–but, as Blake, says, “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” So one part of the modular brain dominating another part is hardly evidence of free will (let alone contra-causal free will).
I like something the novelist Don DeLillo writes in his novel White Noise:
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.
I would add to DeLillo’s notion of desire driven by brain chemistry the notion of imagination driven by brain chemistry (another part of our modular brains): 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 imagined 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.
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 absent chemistry, 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.
And in the biggest picture, I think we have to think about the multiverse. There’s little doubt among physicists that our universe is essentially infinite in an inflationary sense–and it may also be infinite in the quantum sense as well (splitting in each moment into different possible futures ala Schrodinger’s Cat).
It’s also plausible that we live in a big bang cosmos that got its laws and physical constants out of a random quantum flux from a larger multiverse. But whatever is going on exactly, 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 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. Lucretius intuited this well two millennia ago:
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).
That’s my thesis. What’s yours?