I liked your post. I see the problem as one of continuing to express ideas about a system we know very little about in terms which are effectively pre-scientific.
It’s not really interesting to argue that we don’t have freewill, in the same way it’s not interesting to say there are no unicorns. It is simply an assertion of the non-existence of a particular intellectual construct. Meanwhile, our inner lives roll on.
We all have, for instance, the experience of “deciding” to take one course of action instead of another often after some inward “struggle” etc etc on and on like this. What is this about? To say it’s an illusion is a form of hand waving, right? You haven’t accounted for the inner life, you’ve just tried to BF Skinner it away.
What freewill is about goes to the heart of what it is to be a self within a world of stuff that is not-self and what it means to be impinged upon and in turn impinge upon this other not-self stuff.
Freewill assumes there is an independent self that fits the above description (otherwise it makes no sense). So what does determinism have to say about self and other? It seems incumbent upon determinism to address these concepts also.
If determinism also denies the existence of these things, then it has some explaining to do, which is not to say it can’t be done. However, until we can really give a satisfactory and complete explanation of what the self is, what its boundaries are, if it exists at all and in fact what conscious experience is and why it exists at all, then we really haven’t said much about “freewill” in relation to self and consciousness. The assertion of their non-existence is not very interesting.
The *argument* about freewill involves two sides asserting or denying the existence of a thing which both sides at least accept as a coherent idea. Those who say we don’t have freewill also invariably assert what they assume to be its opposite - that billiard ball style determinism is an accurate description of all reality.
But what if THAT is not a coherent idea in the first place either? What if neither freewill nor determinism is an accurate picture of reality and something else, something that fucks with our notions of self and other, of time and causality, of the very boundaries of things - including ourselves- as we normally understand them, is actually the case ? What then?
Freewill and determinism is then an argument like “how many angles can sit on the head of a pin?”. Since the terms of the argument are based on notions which are fundamentally incoherent, who really cares what answer we give or what the arguments are.
To give you a flavor of what I am talking about, what if final full-on shit-fuck reality goes something like this: we are all, each of us, simultaneously individual selves and also every other thing in the universe. As far as unconscious-type matter goes, there is no such thing ultimately; there is no “not-self stuff” in the universe. Only our limited knowledge and a brain that severely prejudices us to think there is prevents us from knowing this. The universe can not *really* be broken into parts; it is one thing and that thing is a kind of conscious self. Or something like that, perhaps even weirder. Perhaps so weird, we will never be able to grasp it.
Suppose also that how the “billiard ball universe” unfurls itself under what we think of as mechanical laws is an expression of our universal self-will and what’s more, you can experience this for yourself as clearly and fundamentally and convincingly as you experience what you call your normal, active decision-making “free” self.
What if when you experience your “true self” in this way, the paradoxical aspects of what I am describing become as self-evidently true as Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” and the paradox of self and not self, of free will and determinism all drop way and are seen as illusions or mistakes in thinking.
Is such a reality subject to freewill or is it deterministic? It’s irrelevant to even talk that way about such a universe.
This is a baseless, just-so type argument, but it’s not presented to prove its own correctness. It’s there to viscerally evoke the sense of “differentness” and strangeness that further knowledge about the universe can bring.
One thing we can take away from the 20th century progress in science is things are so much different than how they appear to the natural untrained mind, say to the mind of a very educated citizen of ancient Greece, that you can’t even conceive of what reality really is if all you have to go on is reality as it presents itself to your ordinary thinking mind.
You need a few thousand years of science and progress to even begin to get at the truth and a few thousand more years of science and progress may fundamentally invalidate the first few thousand years’ concepts NOT SAY TO THOSE YEARS’ EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS which always have to be satisfactorily accounted for in new theories.
As far as psychology and cognitive science goes, the joke is - all the really good experiments are unethical. We’re a million miles away from the theoretical constructs we need to make statements of the kind - “the world is deterministic” or “we have free will” .
We are passionate about these things because it impinges directly upon our ideas of ourselves and goes to the heart of a lot of people’s motivational structures. There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie where he’s a little boy talking to a therapist citing the cause of his depression as the fact that the earth and all our good work is going to incinerate when the sun explodes in a few billion years.
Actually, I myself had that thought when I was a kid. What’s the point of doing anything? It’s all for nothing- we’re doomed .
This thought, the first time you encounter it, can actually strike right at the root of your motivational structure. Implicitly, things were all “going” somewhere and all effort was a part of an ongoing eternal effort to make thing better and better, into perpetuity. Without that , what’s the point?
The arguments about freewill are similarly dynamic and effecting. If we don’t have freewill, what’s the point of struggling with ourselves? If we do X, then it was determined from the time of the big bang that we were going to do X, so it’s not to our fault nor is it to our credit.
Obviously, this kind of thinking can mess with people’s motivational structure, since the belief that we have a self and that we decide things is apparently an inherent part of the human mind. It’s emphasized by society, where emphasized means, amongst other things, is built into the basis of a lot of crime and punishment type law, and is also intricately intertwined with having a conscience.
My advice is- fuck it; believe in your inner experience and don’t let very partial and nascent theories , which themselves inevitably involve more concepts than those theories can cope with and which are themselves doomed, DOOMED, to be replaced by who knows what, undermine what you call your self-knowledge.
Self knowledge is hard to come by and incredibly valuable. Don’t get talked out of it in the name of some misplaced pledge to a kind of scientific purity of mind.
Some people here might see this as opening the door to a kind of religiousosity or a validation of faith based reasoning or introspection over our best scientific knowledge. It’s just not true. Theories of self are special in this way. It’s not just that the objects of discourse are known to us through introspection, although there’s that. . They’re special also because they potentially go straight to the heart of our real lives and our ability to function like nothing else. We shouldn’t take them that seriously, where seriously means: accept them as final or even particularly accurate descriptions of reality.
Theories of mind at this stage of our knowledge just don’t have the power to compel our allegiance. There’s something you know that can’t be told to you or given to you by someone else. Are you really going to let someone talk you out of that knowledge?
We may not know the ultimate epistemological fate of what we call self knowledge, but so what? If you’re sailing by the stars in pre-scientific times, are you going to stop using them as a guide because you’re probably wrong about what stars are?
Just do what I do and enjoy these debates and theories as interesting things worthy of our best thinking and attention but not cauldrons of roiling moral compulsion which we have to pour over ourselves in order to purify ourselves from scientific error and live modern, moral and upright lives.