Agents of Change

We should not forget that the “free will versus hard (absolute) determinism” question is an age-old debate hindered by a lack of understanding of the human brain. Nothing conclusive has been proven either way. It’s a matter of opinion. Libertarian views of free will have fallen out of favor; leaving us, primarily, with compatibilism (soft determinism) versus hard determinism.

The problem, as I see it, with hard determinism is that it asserts an unnecessary dilemma: namely, that causality strictly precludes the possibility of free will because free will would constitute a cause unto itself — which violates the law of causality (“every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause”). That’s a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or. There are other possibilities, such has intelligent interaction with causality (as opposed to simple physical reaction to causality).

I’m not saying self-determinism is necessarily the reality of life as we know it. I’m saying it can explain how human endeavor demonstrates purpose. Self-determinism is a compatibilist worldview that asserts a limited form of free will stemming from human intelligence evolved with just the right properties to take advantage of the properties of causality itself.

• Causality unfolds with time. This means that, like time, it has a strictly unidirectional sequence from past to present to future.
• Outside the quantum realm, causality is highly predictable where inanimate matter/objects are concerned. Any event (cause) has one — and only one — possible result (effect).
• Causality is less predictable where animate beings are concerned. Living things are not simple objects but are, rather, complex systems. Animate beings have a distinctly different mode of response to causality than does inanimate objects. It’s the difference between a rock and a brain.
• Because most of the classical universe, including Earth, consists almost entirely of inanimate matter/objects, causality is, generally speaking, highly predictable.

Mental feedback is the neurological mechanism that makes the properties of human intelligence possible. Some key properties (per self-determinism) of human intelligence are:
• Memory. Events and experiences stored in the brain. Recallable on demand or subconsciously.
• Imagination. The mental ability to virtually play out a scenario.
• Self-awareness. Accounting for oneself.
• Temporal Awareness. Accounting for time.

Cause and effect is unidirectional; forward to the future. Causes create effects but effects have no influence on their causes. What’s done is done. Causality has no plan, no purpose, no intent. It’s not monolithic. It’s discrete and repeats (or is replicable): a fact that scientific experimentation relies on. It’s a simple and fundamental process. When we interact with the world around us (causality), the properties of human intelligence adds unique abilities to this process which can alter the future in ways that nothing else can or does.

The fact that we observe, learn from, anticipate and use causality to modify the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality to pursue our own goals: our own plans, purposes and intentions. Skyscrapers, dams, dikes, highways, vehicles, Mars rovers . . . ALL technology serve human purposes — NOT causality’s (because causality has none). They are products of human intelligence interacting with causality.

Our self-aware, time-aware, memory and imagination compliments the sequential and predictable nature of causality. That’s not a coincidence. Our intelligence has evolved to take advantage of the properties of causality. Cause and effect is unidirectionally linear. So our memory and imagination combine to render causality virtually (mentally) bidirectional. This provides us an evolutionary advantage that mitigates causality by anticipating and preparing for it. The process is transformative. With our interaction, the future need not unfold as it ordinarily would because we can learn from the past to change the future. We are not free agents so much as we are intelligent agents; agents of change.

It’s pretty simple if you compare the properties of human intelligence with the properties of causality. They mesh to enable human interaction with causality. The result is unique in the universe . . . but that doesn’t mean there must be some sort of unnatural conflict. Life is also unique in the universe (as far as we know) but nobody thinks it’s unnatural. Self-determinism is no more unnatural — and no less phenomenal — than life itself.

© Copyright 2011

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