Determinism vs Free Will
The denial of the existence of a free will attacks the fundamental concept of human moral
responsibility. If actions are not freely chosen, there can be no
judgments of praise, guilt, or sin. If all decisions of the mind are predetermined, advice, persuasion, deliberation
and prohibition are meaningless. Much of scientific research does reveal the existence of deterministic controls over the choices of the mind. Consider the
When you begin to talk, your nervous system has already
assigned control of your speech to a feeling. It has articulated an
idea around the emotion, chosen apt words, arranged them in lexical
and grammatical order and adjusted the pitch of your voice. You have
no conscious inkling of what words you will use. If you do not even
know what words you are going to use the next moment, you are
evidently not in control. That can be interpreted as the lack of a free will. But, imagine that, while nature has set safety limits on your behavior, it empowers you with vast wisdom to discover new and creative solutions to the problems you face. That is true freedom.
- A denial of a free will attacks the fundamental concept of moral
- Causal, logical and theological determinists deny the existence of
a free will.
- Christianity, Islam, Hunduism and Buddhism hold varying views on
- Sam Harris suggests that because human decisions are unconscious,
there is no free will.
- Life broke the cause and effect chain by introducing purpose
through a hierarchy of decision making systems.
- The claustrum contains the conscious intelligence.
- Benjamin Libet's experiments suggest that consciousness does not
- Nature granted you a powerful intelligence with many components.
You become truly free, when you empower the most powerful one among
Over 2 Million Page Views - How Did It Happen?
I am not a physician, but an engineer. Way back in 1989, I noticed the unique speed of an AI algorithm for disease recognition and pieced together the implications of that phenomenon. The same algorithm could be applied by the nervous system for the management of its stored knowledge! The axon hillocks of neurons could store and retrieve memories of trillions of links between symptoms and known diseases. Neurons respond to received impulses in 5 milliseconds. The axon hillocks of neurons could use an elimination algorithm to eliminate (inhibit) unrelated relationships. Since its symptoms were not linked in memory to any other known disease, a doctor could locate one disease in milliseconds.
Functional regions could use precise combinatorial codes in feedback and feed forward links with incalculable eloquence. The axon hillocks of the neurons could store and retrieve memories of ancient jungle encounters and herd struggles. They could carry memories of the indications of danger, of strategies for survival and of motor control responses. One region could link sensory signals to potential trouble from people and things. That could cause other neural organs to trigger anger, or fear. In turn, these emotion signals could make a person flee, or fight. An insult could trigger stress in a split second. On the other hand, the self awareness tool could inhibit stress and still the mind.
Not metaphysical theories, but millisecond pattern recognition could explain human brilliance and folly. It could also offer the means for its control. Several years after my fortunate insight, a Nobel Prize acknowledged the astonishing power of combinatorial pattern recognition. Over 30 years, I have assembled much evidence supporting neural pattern recognition and published three books about artificial intelligence and the nervous system.
VS Free Will
What are the Historic Views of Determinism/Free Will?
hold that everything, including our choices, are the necessary
results of a sequence of causes. Chrysippus said “Everything that
happens is followed by something else which depends on it by causal
necessity. Likewise, everything that happens is preceded by something
with which it is causally connected. For nothing exists or has come
into being in the cosmos without a cause. The universe will be
disrupted and disintegrate into pieces and cease to be a unity
functioning as a single system, if any uncaused movement is
introduced into it.”
determinists propose the Laplace's demon thought experiment. Imagine
an entity, which knows all the laws of nature and all past and
present facts. Such an entity will theoretically predict exactly how
you will act. Logical determinists suggest that since a future event
is either true, or false, your action tomorrow can only be the
action, which is one of two possible true predictions today. For
theological determinists, an omnipotent entity has decided and knows
your action tomorrow. In all three cases, a free will is impossible.
But, there are compatibilists, who believe that a free will can
coexist with determinism.
vs Free Will -
What are the Religious Views?
generally support the concept of a free will, while believing in an
omnipotent creator. The primary approach of Christian belief makes
free choice logically impossible. But, the philosopher Kierkegaard
suggested that divine omnipotence cannot be separated from divine
goodness. A good God could create beings with true freedom over God,
because "the greatest good ... which can be done for a being,
greater than anything else that one can do for it, is to be truly
to Islamic doctrine free will is the main factor for man's
accountability. All actions taken by man's free will are said to be
counted on the Day of Judgment, because they are his own and not
God's. The concept of karma in Hinduism is generally linked to the
determination of a person's destiny in future lives.
Buddhism, the idea that a person has complete freedom of choice is
foolish, because it denies the reality of one's physical needs and
circumstances. Equally incorrect is the idea that we have no choice
in life or that our lives are predetermined. To deny freedom would be
to undermine the efforts of Buddhists to make moral progress, freely
choosing compassionate action.
According to Sam Harris, the thoughts and intentions of people
emerge from causes of which they are unaware. They exert no
conscious control over them. Every choice they make is made as a
result of preceding causes and is therefore not really a choice at
all. Essentially biochemical puppets, humans lack a free will.
Effects have followed causes from the beginning of time. Science
suggests that a ten billion degree sea of particles existed just one
second after the big bang. The patterns of their interactions were
precisely ordered and stable across billions of years. When life did
not exist, there was just a relentless chain of mindless causes and
effects. Such determinism pointed finally to eternal darkness.
vs Free Will
Does Choice Determinism Exist?
Determinism means causal determinism. But, imagine the possibility of choice determinism, which has been valid since the beginning of life. In a living environment, purposive choices move relentlessly towards intended goals. This axiom also has been validated by the abundance of life. Consider the flagellum, present in virtually all
living cells. It is driven by proton motive force, with a rotor,
which rotates at up to 1,00,000 rpm. With a clutch and a brake, it
can reverse directions in a 1/4 turn. This microscopic water cooled
engine powers the purposeful movement of living cells. An astonishing collection of such molecules proved that choice determinism could achieve an incredible variety of goals.
vs Free Will
How Does The Mind Decide?
Choice determinism was the driving force of life. Instead of a cause-effect response, a living thing had many available options for responses. With purposeful choice, an event that follows one choice out of many moves towards the intended outcome. Nature made that choice using
knowledge. Nature created intelligent systems, which store memories of trillions of causes and effects. Each of those
intelligent entities selects the most appropriate of all its possible
choices to meet its goal. You are such a choice deterministic system, with a
complex array of supporting intelligences. They include the raw
drives of a reptilian brain, the social restrictions of a mammalian
brain, the rational common sense of the prefrontal regions (PFR) and
consciousness, a conscious intelligence.
vs Free Will
Do Emotions Overrule The Individual's Decisions?
Determinism is not the problem if, sometimes, you are limited to
one choice among many. 2 + 2 = 4. If you face a deadly predator,
run away. Even a consequentialist approach to criminal justice
suggests that, at the deepest levels, consequences can control your
decisions. The wisdom of your mind tries to limit you to those
logical choices. A slew of such options switch in to assist you
without your request.
Emotions are an example. Paul Eckman said
"We become aware a quarter, or half second after the emotion
begins. I do not choose to have an emotion, to become afraid, or to
become angry. I am suddenly angry. I can usually figure out later
what someone did that caused the emotion." Knee jerk responses
are not appropriate expressions of free will. But, those emotional
supporting systems are not compelling you to decide. Nature has given you the
power to control emotions. If you take the time and effort, you can shut down the knee-jerk mechanisms and have a truly free will.
vs Free Will
Does Consciousness Have Neural Links?
People tend to confuse nature's suggestions with compulsions.
Science has managed to capture the mechanisms at the critical point
where nerve impulses enter conscious awareness. Objects or events in
the real world have many attributes, including color, shape,
distance, velocity, smell, sound and feel. A PET study by Hadjikhani
revealed the involvement of the claustrum in cross-model matching, in
tasks that require the simultaneous evaluation of information from
more than one sensory domain.
Without this structure, the subject may
still be able to respond to simple, isolated or to highly familiar
stimuli, but not to complex or unfamiliar ones. The claustrum
perceives objects and events in an integrated manner and not as
isolated attributes. This region, your conscious intelligence,
routinely lets a bewildering array of fears and resentments to enter
your consciousness. The claustrum may compel you to choose, if you
vs Free Will
Does Consciousness Make Mental Decisions?
Benjamin Libet discoverd that consciousness is just a belated
observer of the activities of your mind. He studied subjects who
voluntarily pressed a button, while noting the position of a dot on a
computer screen, which shifted its position every 43 milliseconds.
The noted moment of depressing the button was the moment of conscious
awareness; the exact instant the subject thought the button was
pressed. Each time, Libet had also timed the beginning of motor
neuron activity in the brains of his subjects. He discovered that
awareness occurred 350 milliseconds AFTER the beginning of motor
activity. When you strike out in anger, the system has already taken
charge. You are not consciously making your decisions.
this thought experiment. Can your will raise your hand? Yes, when
you are sitting quietly in your room. But, suppose you are in an
elevator with other passengers. Then, it is improper for you to raise
your arms. If you consciously will this action in that situation, it
will not happen. The wise system has over ruled your conscious will,
because the action is not appropriate. The exercise of your will is
subject to clear restrictions. Your conscious will can initiate an
action only if it is worthwhile, appropriate, safe and practical. In
an airliner, you will not be permitted to take unsafe actions that will crash the machine, when its autopilot is on. When you raised your hand in your room, your will controlled the system. Subject to fail safe systems, you are the pilot, the entity in charge of your nervous system.
Determinism vs Free Will -
Is there a "Real I"?
Manufacturing lines apply automated decision making. A machine
identifies a component, picks it up from a conveyor and drops it into
an appropriate bin. The machine is designed to make choices and act,
when switched on. Imagine that free will is also an automatic
mechanism which triggers the next highest priority activity of the
system, while the system is awake. The brain is designed to
recognize situations, identify strategies, and act decisively.
Decision making is at the core of the system. Human consciousness
has a delayed view of the cause and the effect. Libet's experiments
showed that the conscious view occurred a few hundred milliseconds
after the the actual event.
While just an observer,
consciousness has a three dimensional view of the world, appears to
make decisions and experiences life. The brain recognizes that
observer as "I." It positions the observer at the focal
point of vision - behind our eyes, just below the top of our heads.
Proprioceptors confirm the location of "I" with a "feel" for the position of our arms and legs. To the brain, "I" is a physical
presence, with an uncanny perception of the world. A ghost in the
machine. But, an independent "I" in the brain is as real
as an "I" in a thermostat. "I" is a confused
mental construct. The brain is the real "I."
vs Free Will
Does A True Free Will Exist?
The philosopher Rudolf Steiner suggested that true freedom of action existed only “when conscious awareness was integrated with moral imagination in making decisions.” The goal of the moral person is to choose a course of action
without external coercion in accordance with his ideals or moral
outlook. Life introduced
the phenomenon of purposeful choice into the cause and effect chain. The choice determinism of life achieves goals. The goal of the moral person is to decide independently to act with a moral conscience. Moral choices are
the right choices. Such choices are impossible if your action is
impractical, irrational, or ruled by negative emotions. The choice determinism of moral purpose is that its actions move relentlessly towards moral results. PFR decisions are free, practical and unemotional. But, such free will is also deterministic. The right choice is your only available choice.
Nature has endowed you with the most
powerful intelligence in the known universe. It has many components.
Several of them will prevent you from acting suicidally. One (your
consciousness) makes you aware of your current state of mind. Many
others (your emotional drives) use the experience of millions of
years to recommend that you fight, or flee. Still another, (your
PFR) takes the experiences of millions of years and those of a
lifetime to offer you the best possible options. When your PFR makes decisions, your will is free and you will be judged guilty or be praised for your actions. You are open to advice, persuasion, deliberation and prohibition by society. When your PFR is in control, you are not a puppet driven by the system. You have the power
to enable the component you will use. The wisdom of your mind makes the right choice considering all the knowledge available to it. It is a totally logical pattern recognition process.
Centuries ago, the Buddhists had
discovered that emotions could be stilled. Self awareness was the key to quieting emotions and empowering the PFR. While the beneficial results of self awareness are soothing, the changes in your viewpoints
happen slowly. You have to keep exploring the strange thought
patterns, which float up into your consciousness. As you scrutinize
them, your system grasps its own irrationalities and begins to
rewrite miles of code. The process sets you free. You occupy a
simple observation mode, which effortlessly stills the attacks of
fear, resentment or anger. Then, your consciousness will confirm to
you that you are truly free. A truly free intelligence does live within your mind. But you have to empower it.
This page was last updated on 20-Sep-2019.