The Internet is amazing. It hosts media of all kinds. Anybody can communicate with anybody. And you can find out anything you want to know. It’s huge and complex but we don’t need to understand how it works to know that it does. In the same way, we don’t need to understand how the brain works to know that it does. Its electro-chemical machinations, while interesting, aren’t necessary to understand in order to know that the brain deliberates. That’s what it does.
Neuroscience can’t yet explain how the brain does what it does but it has made some intriguing discoveries. One such discovery is numerous feedback mechanisms in various modules of the brain. It’s this mental (intelligent) feedback that has led me to an interpretation of (the ill-named) “free will” that explains human purpose: I call it “self-determinism”.
The philosophical conundrum with “free will” has always been the notion that it necessarily violates a fundamental law of nature: cause and effect (causality).That’s a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or. There are other possibilities. I hope to convince you that, because of intelligent feedback, self-determinism can explain our ability to manipulate events (purpose): not despite causality but, rather, because of, and in concert with, causality. The challenge is in overcoming philosophical objections. I hope, this time, my explanation succeeds.
By the way, I get the impression that some people think it’s “arrogant” of me to attempt an explanation of “free will”. That’s ridiculous. Everybody’s got an opinion. This one’s mine. If that disturbs you, I suggest you look within for the reason.
Causes aren’t monolithic: they’re discrete. Normally, cause and effect are constantly repeated (or repeatable) with predictable results. Scientific experiments rely on this fact. Outside the quantum realm, causality is universal. You can’t cite an effect without a cause. Like time, causality is unidirectional; flowing from the past, through the present, to the future. Cause comes first, then its effect: the sequence is invariable. This means effects have no influence on their causes. But with intelligent feedback, effects can have an influence on future instances of their causes if we learn from them and prepare for those future instances. If we succeed, we’ve altered the path causality would have otherwise taken. And that takes purpose: self-determinism.
Because of these properties of causality (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) intelligent feedback gives us a virtual, temporal, advantage over causality when we interact with it. With intelligent feedback we can examine events and tie their effects to their causes and deduce the preceding sequence of events. We understand consequences. But the real empowerment of self-determinism comes from our mental ability to extrapolate cause and effect into the future to manipulate anticipated events to suit our own purpose(s). That is self-determinism. We use our intelligence to prepare for — or even control — cause and effect. Cause and effect are not violated. But because of our preparations, we manipulate how it unfolds.
Take Amsterdam, for instance. It is below sea level. Causality would normally dictate that it be under water. But it’s not. Because of our intelligent, proactive, interaction with causality, Amsterdam remains dry. Did we violate causality to accomplish this? Of course not. We intelligently used causality to accomplish it. Causality does not have purpose(s). It doesn’t think. It doesn’t care if Amsterdam exists or not. But we do. We served our own purposes and altered future events (causality) accordingly.
We find this easiest to do with materials and phenomena we readily understand. And what we readily understand are materials and phenomena with consistent, persistent, properties. We can reliably manipulate sand and gravel, wood and metals, air and water, elements and chemical compounds but reliably manipulating people is a different matter. I believe the difficulty boils down to the two different modes of causal response between inanimate matter and animate beings. The inanimate mode of response to causality is passive and predictable. The animate mode of response to causality is interactive and unpredictable. It’s the difference between a rock and a brain. Inanimate matter is easier to manipulate because it’s easier to predict. Animate beings are more difficult to predict because they’re more complex and possess properties, such as intelligence, motility, respiration, digestion, etc. that inanimate matter does not.
As human beings, we interact with the external world intelligently. In other words, we interact with causality intelligently. That means we learn from it, understand it and use it for our own purposes. Feedback is the key. It empowers us by mentally rendering causality bi-directional. We learn from the past to manipulate the future. It’s really just that simple. We can understand consequences and act accordingly. There’s no advanced philosophy needed to explain away man-in-the-machine, mind-brain, dualism because there is none. Just simple facts that anybody can understand.
Self-determinism requires no violation of causality because it’s the properties of causality (unidirectional sequence and repeatable predictability) that facilitate our intelligent interaction with it. Causality gives us a fundamental means by which to understand the world around us. The fact that we use this understanding to manipulate the world around us is empirical proof that we interact with causality intelligently and with purpose. And that means we really do make choices that serve our own purposes — because causality has no purpose. We don’t progress arbitrarily . . . we progress with purpose. That much seems transparently obvious and undeniable. You can claim it’s an illusion, if you like, but you can’t substantiate your claim. The fact is that, in actual practice, civilization takes “free will” for granted and pursues its goals as needed. We all act as if we have “free will”. We take credit for our achievements. Everything we do presumes purpose. In contrast to human purpose, nothing causality does presumes or indicates purpose in any way whatsoever. It’s pretty cut-and-dry when put in the proper perspective.
So I’ll ask: “How does our manipulation of the world around us NOT demonstrate purpose?” Were we really scripted, since the beginning of time, to fly jets into the Twin Towers? Are we really automatons programmed, somehow, at the moment of the Big Bang? That’s what you’re asking us to believe if you insist causality is necessarily violated by “free will”. I say we are what we appear to be and that any assertion that self-determinism is an illusion is based on the erroneous assumption that it must violate causality. That is a false dichotomy which hastily and unnecessarily rules out other possibilities like deliberate, proactive, interaction with causality: self-determinism.
If human brains deliberate and if causality is a law of nature, then they are obviously compatible. Self-determinism explains how. Intelligent feedback extends determinism to self-determinism. It is a compatibilist explanation of what “free will” really is. It is compatible with causality and is, in fact, an extension of it: extended, primarily, by intelligent feedback.
Intelligent feedback makes us self-aware, future-aware, manipulators of events . . . and events are what causality is all about. This manipulation of events gives us a modest power over causality: the power of purpose. That is self-determinism. The only kind of “free will” we have. And the only kind we need.