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I don't understand how the word 'will' is being used posted 30 October 2008 in NeuropathI don't understand how the word 'will' is being used by Tilberian, Commoner

Free will is an illusion in one sense and not in another.

1. Free will as defined by Western philosophy is an illusion. The traditional view is that the soul guides the actions of the body and that the only thing that guides the soul is the basic nature that was breathed into it by God. Later thought added the idea of Mind, and the idea that the mind could corrupt the soul or at least prevent its perfect expression in the actions of an individual. Thence came the idea of a good soul struggling in the body of a weak, evil person - the whole angel on one shoulder, demon on the other thing. Anyway, the whole idea is that the soul operates independently, in accordance with its nature, and that its action is free of interference from God or the world. Thus, a person's actions ultimately point to the quality of his soul and he can be held accountable for them.

We know, today, that there is no such thing as a soul, as defined by the traditional religions. We can account for all the energy and matter in a body, and a dead body (with the soul presumably gone) has just as much energy and matter as a live one (though the energy quickly bleeds off into the environment as cellular processes shut down). There is nowhere for an immortal soul to be and no coherent description of how such a thing might communicate with a brain. We have good models of how the brain can work the way it does using only the substance of this universe. References to the supernatural quickly devolve into incoherence. There is simply no evidence for the existence of souls, and smart people don't believe in things for which there are no evidence.

With only material processes to guide the action of the brain, it is at least theoretically possible to perfectly chart the course of action any brain will take while thinking before it happens. Thoughts are contingent because the universe is contingent. Nothing happens independently of what has happened before. If you think carefully, you can chart in your memory how every thought grows out of a thought before. Thoughts that spring unbidden into our heads are impulses from lower functions or the subconscious, which is always running and processing in the background like an operating system. These processes are following neurological pathways set down by evolution and brain development. We cannot feel or think anything without a long chain of complex causality leading to the event of the thought or feeling. In a very real sense, we are not acting independently at all. It just seems like we are because the factors contributing to our behaviour are too complex for us to analyze. However, a theoretical computer with enough processing power could process all the inputs leading to our behaviour and chart the full history of everything we have done and everything we will do from Big Bang to heat death.

As material beings, our actions are completely deterministic (yes, yes, random at the quantum level but that is irrelevant). There is no free will, everything is proceeding according to the laws of nature as set in motion at the beginning of time.

2. Free will is quite real, as it relates to a person having internal control over his actions in a specific circumstance. We do have feelings and thoughts and they are influenced by, but not controlled by external inputs. Our preexisting mental state has a big role to play. We don't have control over that mental state, maybe, but the point is that we do not simply react to our environments in predictable, programmed ways. A person who has seen a dog before is going to react differently in the presence of a dog than someone who has not. Same input, different output, because of the nature of the person involved. Some people call that free will, but I think the moniker is misplaced. view post


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