3 False Conundrums of Free Will


I’ve grown disappointed with philosophers on the subject of free will. The great philosophers of the past knew nothing about the brain. Modern philosophers contradict each other. What I’ve been trying to do is to stick with the knowledge we have and avoid philosophical entanglements and conjecture as much as possible. However, certain philosophical conundrums must be addressed, such as: (1) the false dichotomy of free will versus causality; (2) mind-brain dualism; and (3) deliberation versus illusion of choice. Perhaps the greatest obstacle is unlearning the impossible notions of what, exactly, free will is. I claim that we don’t have free will. We have limited choice, intent and purpose constrained by the influence of causality. I call this, “self-determinism”. There’s a lot of overlap with these issues, which makes it hard to lay out a clear and concise argument. But I’ll try . . .

(1) The False Dichotomy of Free Will Versus Causality:

The assertion that free will MUST violate causality is simply false. The underlying assumption is that cause and effect is inexorably interwoven into all events and thus all events are inevitable: including our thoughts and actions. The conclusion is that, if causality determines all events, free will is an illusion.

If you define free will to mean doing anything, at any time, within the physical and mental constraints of human ability . . . well then, yes, free will is an illusion. Causality burdens us with a genetic “endowment” that defines our individual biological limits. Beyond that, causality also accrues within us the conceptual limits of experience. We can’t act beyond our physical and mental limits, so a completely libertine notion of free will is impossible and must be discarded.

So if causality limits us physically and mentally, what’s to stop it from controlling us completely?

Intelligent interaction with causality. That’s what. We don’t just react to causality; we interact with it. We take advantage of the key properties of causality — unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability — to innately understand, anticipate and use causality for our own purposes. We can do this because of 2 key properties of our intelligence: memory and imagination. We learn from the past to imagine a future of our own choosing. Then, with clear intent and purpose, we pursue our plans. The successful execution of our plans is empirical proof of our intent and purpose and our ability to interact intelligently with causality.

(2) Mind-Brain Dualism:

The mind can not be separated from the brain. It is a product of the brain. Any assertion that the mind is some sort of abstract, independent, construct is unsupportable. But the mind is also a product of the external world and of our sensory apparatus (biological sense organs). Just as the mind is inseparable from the brain, it is also inseparable from our senses and the world around us. If we never possessed any of these 3 components: brain, senses, or external world (stimuli), the mind could not exist. The mind is NOT just the brain. It’s the brain interacting with the external world (causality) via our sensory apparatus.

The brain does more than merely interact with causality . . . it also remembers those interactions (events) and learns from the experiences of others. Experience is our unique memories of events in our lives. Education is learning through the experiences of others. Knowledge is the combination of experience and education. Humans demonstrate higher levels of brain function, by far, than any other known life form. Is it unreasonable to think that with more advanced functions comes more advanced abilities?

Hard (absolute) determinists refuse to acknowledge the difference between a rock and a brain. They’re both just collections of atoms; or so they would have us believe. Good luck trying to understand complex phenomena, like consciousness, using such reductionist mindsets! Life is the difference between inanimate objects and animate beings. Reductionist denial doesn’t change that fact . . . it can’t even recognize it. Inanimate objects have a purely passive, predictable, mode of response to causality. Animate beings have an interactive, unpredictable, mode of response to causality. Inanimate objects have specific, predictable, reactions (effects) to specific events (causes). Animate beings have variable, unpredictable, reactions to specific events. Mathematically speaking, inanimate objects have a fixed set of 1 specific reaction to any event: animate beings have a variable range or scope of potential reactions to any event. To me, it is intransigent denial to equate brains with rocks.

(3) Deliberation versus Illusion of Choice:

The brain deliberates. That what it does (among other things). I think, therefore I am. We make choices all the time. But hard determinists insist that choice is an illusion: that causal factors are pulling the strings, like a puppeteer, at all times.

If we were inanimate objects, then yes, it would be pretty cut-and-dry: a fixed, predictable reaction to any specific event. But we’re animate beings. More precisely, we’re intelligent human beings. We have a range or scope of potential reactions to any specific event. And therein lies choice. Causality, via biology and experience, delimit the scope of our response and thus influence our decisions. Causality influences our decisions but it doesn’t control them.

How do I know this? Because causality is indiscriminate; it doesn’t remember; it doesn’t think; it has no intent; it has no plan. Therefore, if causality absolutely controlled us (versus influenced us) we would, like causality, act indiscriminately; without benefit of memory or thinking or intent or a plan.

But we don’t. We act with purpose. We are goal-oriented. We make elaborate plans and execute them; adjusting our plans if necessary. Clearly, choice is not an illusion. It takes choice to do what we do. The brain deliberates. That what it does.


As the great historian, Danial J. Boorstin, pointed out: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” The claim that free will (a.k.a. intent, purpose, self-determinism) contradicts or violates causality is a false dichotomy. It’s not a choice of one or the other: causality or free will. There are other possibilities. Hard determinism is an “illusion of knowledge”.
Self-determinism is a compatibilist worldview which asserts that we interact with causality intelligently and that this is made possible by key properties of causality itself (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) combined with key properties of human intelligence (memory and imagination). We recognize, understand, anticipate and use causality to pursue our goals and plans. This demonstrates choice: intent and purpose. Our intent and purpose is made manifest in our accomplishments and progress — none of which can come from a causality that absolutely controls our every thought and move.  Our accomplishments can only come from our intelligent interaction with causality. The limited scope of our choices might seem meager but it’s enough to fly men to the moon, control rovers on Mars and probes beyond the solar system.

That’s self-determinism. No mind-brain dualism. No violation of causality. No false dichotomies. No infinite regress. No philosophical conundrums. Just the natural properties of human intelligence interacting with the natural properties of causality.

© Copyright 2011 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s