There is a nice recent review of the state of play with regard to ‘free will’ (here). I must say that the comments on this blog were very frustrating. They seem to bypass important questions and facts.
- Almost everyone seems to believe that determinism and free will are opposites. There are compatibilists who say the free will can be defined so that it is not in opposition to determinism. Fine, but why do this? I don’t like the phrase, ‘free will’; I don’t want it saved; I want to be rid of the phrase and its baggage. We do not have to accept determinism either. They are not one right and one wrong, not both right, but they are both wrong, in my opinion.
- What is wrong with free will is the insistence that we make conscious decisions. We make decisions, freely in the sense that they cannot be predicted before we make them. But that does not mean they are in any sense conscious at that point. They (at least some times) rise into conscious awareness, but that does not mean that they were ‘made consciously’; they were made and then entered consciousness. The decision is ours whether we are aware of it or not, and if we are aware of it, that awareness is after the decision is made.
- Our conscious awareness of the justifications for a decision – that is not necessarily the real reasons. It is an illusion that we know our actual reasons. We guess, usually correctly but sometimes very incorrectly. Our justification mechanism can be fooled.
- Our conscious awareness takes responsibility for any action that appears to be ours, even if it is not. In a situation where we never made a decision or moved a muscle, we can be fooled into being mistakenly aware of doing both.
- In order to learn we need not only to remember actions and their outcomes, but also whether we caused the actions or not. We learn by making causal hypotheses. In episodic memory, we remember only the events that reach consciousness. It is important that the fact that we did something involved in an event is remembered along with the event. So we remember decisions as appropriate, but those decisions are not ‘made in memory’ any more than they are ‘made in consciousness’. Without this information about causes, we could not learn from experience.
- We are of course responsible for every single thing we do. But we are responsible to an extra degree (some would say morally responsible) if we have taken ownership of that action by labeling it with a ‘decision tag’. Again, we can fool ourselves, and some people are very good at not taking responsibility, or taking responsibility but fudging the justifications. People can also through false memory, take responsibility for an action they were not involved in.
- Absolutely nothing has been lost. These effects are noticable though carefully planned experimental set ups, that are most unnatural. But the experiments can fool this system and bring to light the picture of all thought being unconscious in its construction. This does not mean that we cannot continue to function normally.
- Calling what we have ‘free will’ is dangerous. It carries implications that are false. Forgetting ‘free will’ and just talking about decisions is a much better way to go. And given what we know about quantum mechanics (not to mention the practical impossibility of predicting as complex a system as the brain and all that might go into a decision) we should jettison ‘determinism’ too.
- The really important change in viewpoint is about the nature of consciousness. Simple consciousness is not an illusion – we have that stream of awareness and we know it. The idea that consciousness is more than an awareness-attention-memory sort of thing is the illusion; conscious mind as opposed to consciousness is an illusion; introspection is an illusion; conscious decision is an illusion; conscious thought is an illusion; a self watching consciousness is an illusion. We do our thinking unconsciously and then, not before, we may or may not be consciously aware of our thoughts. Even in the step-wise linear thinking that appears to be conscious, the creation of each step is still unconscious.