Quantum Neurobiology, Subconscious Free Will,
and the Nature of Causeless Events
Neurobiological and Quantum Mechanical implications of Free Will, Consciousness, and Qualia. And additional Metaphysical debate.
The quantum world contains strange particle behaviors with unpredictable outcomes, things that can only be understood through probability. Can we refer to these happenings as ‘causeless events’? How does this chaotic world beneath the surface effect the everyday reality we know and see? What is the link between neurobiology and quantum uncertainty? Can we draw a link from quantum physics to the macroscopic world? Does Hinesburg’s Uncertainty Principal play a role in our brains? Can we be quantum computers? Does quantum mechanics create room for free will in our minds, and if so what is the shape and form of this will? How does this affect the world? Do quantum entangled particles exist in our minds? Could they open the way for free will? What is the role of electrons and quantum-uncertainty influenced particles in our brains?
Are we free? What does it mean to be free, ‘truly’ free? Is free will a reasonable concept to believe in, or is it a logical impossibility that anyone would be foolish to support? To be truly free, is to be free from a deterministic universe where your actions can be predicted, but it is also to be free from a random universe where your actions are chaotic products of random influences, and thus, also outside your control. Therefore, to be ‘truly’ free, is to possess the potential to generate a causeless-event, not a random event, but a different ‘sort’ of causeless event, one that is caused only by the free ‘you’. (Of course proving the existence of this ‘free’ you, is the same dilemma as trying to prove this property of ‘free’.) But is such a causeless event, but not a random event, even possible? Is it a coherent logical concept to say that an event can exist without a cause, but not be a random event? Can something carry purpose and meaning, as we believe our free actions do, but not have a predetermined cause?
We may argue that our actions have causes, but this inner ‘self’ can freely choose what cause it will enact or be influenced by. But what gives us the ability to make that choice? How can we prove this ‘free’ deciding process, what makes it more than just a random variable, randomly choosing one predetermined choice or another, in such a way that only ‘feels’ as if it is in our control when we refuse to accept all the contrary evidence? The argument devolves into an endless regression where we claim to be free, and yet we can’t explain why our decision was our own ‘free’ choice unless we present reasons why ‘we’ chose that decision. And if we don’t present reasons, then our choice was simply random. Free will is certainly something that involves purpose and reason, and yet those reasons become an explanation that can theoretically be used to predict our decision before we even realize we have decided. This is true at least from the logical perspective of the macroscopic, atomic world where everything certainly appears to happen for a clear-cut reason, the world of Newtonian physics where nothing exists without a cause, and nothing can exist without having an effect on something else.
So if this explanation that causeless events as the source of our free will, fails to define free will as more than a mere random event, and thus becoming an incoherent and illogical argument for free will, than can we assume that free will cannot exist? Could free will exist as an incoherent and illogical concept, but still be real all the same? If it can’t be proven by either any logical argument or any means of understanding can we then conclude that it is impossible? My goal hear is to dispel the idea that free will is something we can simply claim to have by basis of logical argument alone without any incorporation of the actual physical and scientific reality that we have abstracted that logic from.
I must confess, everything I have said so far is only in accordance with atomic Newtonian logic. This is the causal, quantifiable, and calculable logic of the macroscopic world we see in our every day lives. But this does not define all of reality. Quantum physics, the laws of the very small, paint an entirely different picture of our reality. Events that seem supernatural and logic defying to us become the norm. For example, electrons can exist in two places at the exact same time, otherwise known as superposition. Particles can become entangled and effect each other instantaneously across any distance in space. And quantum events occur on the basis of probability, where definite and absolute predictions of any outcomes are impossible to calculate because quantum particles are proven by experiment to possess traits that cannot be simultaneously measured. It is not because of our inability to measure them, but because scientific experiment has shown that they behave in such a way where measuring the position of a particle will collapse an energy wave, and this renders it impossible for us to measure the velocity of that same particle (and vice versa). Einstein and others believed that these particles had definable ‘hidden variables’ and the problem was just that we didn’t possess the sufficient ability to measure them, however experiments on quantum entanglement have shown that these particles behave in such a way that they are truly random, the causes for their behaviors are not predictable beyond a range of probability, the exact way in which they will behave is fundamentally unknowable with any complete precision (by our atomic-level means of understanding), and our very attempt to measure these tiny particles changes the way they behave.
The argument that something may be fundamentally unknowable can be hard to accept, but consider what it means to ‘know.’ We can only know by observing the world and storing information somehow in our neurons, but we know very little about this process. What does it mean to observe, to understand something fully and completely? Who is this 'observer'? Our brains record information using atomic level structures, neurons, so can those neurons be fully expected to store and comprehend information that is smaller then the neurons themselves are, information that behaves by an entirely different set of rules then the observers themselves do? Are we trying to measure information by a standard of logical causality that simply does not apply at the quantum level, it is just an abstraction we have generated based on the way our world appears to be at the macroscopic level? Could it be said that the very idea that the universe as finite, measurable, and quantifiable, is simply an abstraction we have created at the atomic scale because we cannot perceive the true nature of the reality underneath? Are our fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality based simply on an incomplete approximation we make at this surface level?
This fundamental unknowablitiy of quantum mechanics makes it impossible to predict the future with absolute precision even at the macroscopic level where quantum effects do influence our reality. This renders hard determinism false. Randomness is not proof of free will, but quantum events such as entanglement aren’t exactly ‘random’ either, and yet they also can’t be determined with any high degree of precision. Entangled particles affect each other in a comprehendible (after the fact), yet unpredictable way.
We can postulate that free will has many nonsensical properties by our current standard of logic, but it is difficult for our human brains, neurologically wired to see from the standpoint of classic physics, to understand the strange and bazaar events of the sub atomic world. A quantum world that is the hidden background influence behind the daily and normal life we think we know.
So, Is free will solely and primarily a biological delusion necessary to instill a sense of meaning and purpose within us humans? Or is it a deep and profound force within the universe, possessing mysterious and perhaps ineffable properties. A force capable of bending the logic of the macroscopic, or even microscopic world to the will of some mysterious yet unknown ‘me’ that is both the source of this will and the will itself. Or is there a reason why it can’t in a way, be both a delusion and a reality. What I mean to say is that, some aspects of free will in the least are certainly shrouded in human misconception, we know this simply because we all have varying beliefs and yet we can’t all be right. But within this wide spectrum of beliefs and opinions on the free will debate, who is to say that some of it can’t be true? For example, we may not have absolute free will, certainly many things in our reality are determined by causation, we must eat when we are hungry, we must sleep when we are tired. But there is a wide variance of opinions between free will believers on ‘how much’ free will we have. Understanding these ‘traits’ or properties of free will, in a hypothetical sense, can help us to learn a little more about what kind of effect a potential 'free will' factor may be able to have on our world. The kind of ‘free will’ we turn out to have may be entirely different and yet equally as mysterious as the free will we supposed.
So, if free will is real, does it have properties? Even if it is un-measurable in some aspects, in order to exist, free will must have some kind of influence on our world. (If free will exists but does not influence our world, that is surely the same as saying that we are not free.) So if this will does exist, then what kind of influence does it have? Where should we start our search?
NEUROBIOLOGY AND QUANTUM MECHANICS
The human brain can be considered as a vehicle for the intelligent expression of such a free will. Free will supporters can all agree that free will is the ability to choose freely, to make a free decision about a matter or event. From the scientific stand point the decision making process happens in the brain, the complex reasoning that we consider a important component of our free choice is unquestionably a function of the brain. So if free will exists, can we see it in the brain? Or in the case that we can’t see the free will itself, or measure it by our standers of physical analysis, can we instead see it by the effect it creates?
How might free will exist in the brain? Quantum physics, because it constitutes the tiny building blocks of reality, it certainly has an influence on the everyday reality we know. And in addition quantum laws must certainly influence the workings of our mind as well on some level, because all physical matter is only made of quantum substance. However the influence quantum physics has on the larger world is a very little understood subject. It is difficult for us to draw solid conclusions about how quantum laws such as indeterminacy, might effect our every day reality, because the equations of relativity, and Newtonian physics, which describes our familiar reality, do not at all add up with the logic and mathematics of quantum physics. It’s as if we have two completely different descriptions of a single reality. But we know that the two must have an influence on each other.
The quantum world affects the macroscopic world; its effects are small but can cumulate massively overtime. “The laws of quantum mechanics are responsible for the emergence of detail and structure in the universe” (Seth Lloyd, Programming the Universe, kindle location 775, my kindle ate my page number) The early universe was uniform and logical, it may have turned out a plain expanse of space and evenly distributed matter, however quantum probability combined with the effects of gravity slowly changed that. Gravity is also a bazaar and obscure phenomenon not completely accounted for in our current understanding of space and time. We can measure gravity’s effect, but we cannot explain why it has that effect, where it comes from, why it is weaker in comparison to the other forces in the universe.
Quantum probability fluctuation, over long periods of time, is responsible for the vast and dynamic patterns of the stars, planets, and galaxies we can see throughout space. (Seth Lloyd, paraphrased.) If quantum mechanics can effect the macroscopic so greatly, there clearly must be an effect at the brain level.
Quantum indeterminacy effects the positions of electrons in the orbitals of atoms. What kind of influence do these electrons have on the particles in the human brain? Is it merely a random background static, or does it play a role in the brains thinking. How do these particles affect the electrical firing in neurons that form the basis for our thought? Out of the trillions of neurons the brain possesses, and the countless synapses and chemicals that carry information between them, somewhere in this vast and little understood network, is there room for quantum effect?
What kind of role do these quantum influences play in our higher-level thinking? You could argue that the role they play could be no more than a random static of meaningless probability. However quantum particles have other mind boggling properties such as superpositions and entanglement that defy our standard concepts of matter, time, and space. In Q-Mech we see particles that can exist in two places at the same time, and particles that can affect each other across any distance of space. This is not mere randomness, but something more that is equally as logic defying as quantum probability. This could present the potentiality for a causeless-event, that is also not a random event within the brain. It can be argued that all particles are quantumly entangled on some level with each other, because any two particles that collide may become entangled, and all particles were at some point one during the time of the big bang. So can this entanglement affect our thought process? We understand very little about how the brain thinks and encodes information. What if the brain could use the behavior of quantum particles in it’s decision making processes, perhaps even using them to store some form of information? Could we, on some level, be quantum computers? I highly doubt that evolution has created us to have brains that can fully utilized the potential within quantum mechanics, and our brains may not even utilize quantum phenomena very well or frequently at all; but could quantum mechanics still, on some small level, play a small, but meaningful role in our higher level thinking?
An interesting theory that connects quantum physics and neurobiology together is something that Professor of Philosophy, John R. Searle, calls “Quantum Neural Indeterminism”, in his book / debate series “Freedom and Neurobiology”.
A review on Serle’s book Freedom and Neurobiology quotes him saying, "In our time explanations of the mind must be naturalistic", by which I believe that he means, naturalistic as not-supernatural. We cannot continue to consider the mind as some metaphysical entity that is separate from the brain. So if free will exists in the mind, it is subject to the minds physical constraints.
To quote Zygon’s Journal of Science and Religion in their review of Serle’s book, “For Searle, consciousness is a higher-level systemic property realized by the instantiation of lower-level neural properties. (He espouses naturalism, after all.) At the higher level there is intentionality, rationality, and freedom; at the lower level there are just neural firings and synapse formations.” In light of this, Serle makes the argument, “1. All indeterminism in nature is quantum indeterminism. 2. Consciousness is a feature of nature that manifests indeterminism. 3. Thus, consciousness manifests quantum indeterminism.” (pp. 74-75). These low level synaptic formations in this view become a vehicle for quantum indeterminism to be integrated into higher-level thought. The low-level functions are not insignificant because they are ‘low-level’. Quantum laws influence the brain on the small level less associated with the higher reasoning that we would like to consider ‘free choice’. But our brain chemicals and mental processes could harness these influences, and thus the quantum influence could be carried to the larger level of neural networks and complex thought. ((It could even be said that quantum indeterminacy plays a role in the paradox of Drew McDermott’s robot that becomes stuck in an infinite loop when it tries to analyze itself. In this view the robot cannot analyze itself without creating another self within that self as it attempts to fully and perfectly represent itself. It get stuck in an infinite loop and eventually can’t keep up… perhaps the robot could utilize quantum indeterminacy in the creation of a ‘stop function’ that would be capable of analyzing a self within a self without being caught in such a loop. Quantum logic may open the way for this kind of self aware A.I. But it’s speculative.))
However as Searle then points out, “accepting (consciousness manifests quantum indeterminism) does not mean that the macro- psychological level is filled with randomness, for ‘randomness at the micro-level does not imply randomness at the systems level’ (p. 76, Searle)” (Zygon, 1002). There is not a guarantee that even a quantum mechanical ‘freedom’ can lead to a macro-psychological level ‘free will’, there is not sufficient proof one way or the other. However "since determinism at the neuro-level entails determinism at the psychological level), non-determinism at the psychological level entails non-determinism at the neuro-level." (Zygon, 1002, quoting Searle). Just as our world has causal (cause-effect) underpinnings indicated by Newtonian physics that can imply determinism at the macro-level, our world also contains non-deterministic events at the micro level that can equally, by the same reasoning, imply non-determinism at the macro level. This puts the two arguments on a very equal footing. Even if the large scale events of our world are ruled by predictable, calculable laws of Newtonian Physics; even if quantum physics only may have a subtle, slow paced effect on this larger world; this non-deterministic influence is still just as valid an argument as the deterministic view.
NEURO RESPONSE TIME
In the end the debate on quantum neural indeterminism, or the effects of quantum mechanics on the brain, is still out, but lets now look at the brain from a different perspective, the perspective of neural response time.
Benjamin Libet, researcher in physiology, and scientist in the field of human consciousness, conducted experiments on neural response time within the brain. His results yield that when performing certain basic hand motions, people felt as if they were moving there hands by their own free choice, when in fact, neural imaging could predict the participants actions up to a few hundred milliseconds before they became consciously aware of them. The neurological precursors in the brain indicated that the action, the final decision, had already been ‘decided’ before the subject felt that they consciously made the free choice. And thus neural imaging, in these situations could predict such human behaviors before they became conscious.
"Researchers recorded mounting brain activity related to the resultant action as many as three hundred milliseconds before subjects reported the first awareness of conscious will to act (....) Conscious decisions to act were preceded by an unconscious buildup of electrical charge within the brain - this buildup came to be called Bereitschafts potential or readiness potential. As of 2008, the upcoming outcome of a decision could be found in study of the brain activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 7 seconds before the subject was aware of their decision." (Wikipedia, Benjamin Libet)
So are even our most free and spontaneous actions predictable up to 7 seconds before we actually become aware of them? To challenge this, many people are quick to point out that we cannot measure the workings of all of the brain, especially inner thought, we can only measure the readiness potential of these basic bodily motions. They argue that the rest of the brain is probably much less deterministic, or pre-determinable, and they argue that since we don't know what goes on in those areas of the brain there still is room for free will. Reflexive and simple human action is without a doubt, more predictable than more complex human thought. Complex thought is certainly much harder to predict ahead of time, so there is reason to argue that free will could be involved. In fact there is probably highly little to no free will involved in the more reflexive human responses. If free will does exist as a rational but causeless entity, it has to do with this more complex thought. Free will in this sense could be considered as the ability of macroscopic neural rationality to utilize the effects of quantum phenomenon. Free will becomes the neural utilization of quantum indeterminate factors, even though those factors do not constitute the full process of free will itself.
However, one thing I must point out is that of course everything that exists in the atomic world, including our brains is subject to physical laws, and it is safe to say that many of the things we do in life, including complex thought, are subject to many strict deterministic principals. I believe that as neuro feedback technology improves we may find ways to predict and predetermine much of even of what we would call complex thought before the thought actually manifests into action, and even before the person becomes consciously aware of that thought. HOWEVER, there is one big thing still being left out in all of this, IS FREE WILL CONSCIOUS?
UNCONSCIOUS/ SUBCONSCIOUS FREE WILL
Does free will only happen when we become consciously aware of something or can the actual free will be happening even before we are conscious of it? What if the moment when the initial response occurs is the actual manifestation of free will, even if our higher brains have not yet fully realized why our sub-conscious self made that ‘free’ choice. What if often times we don't actually become consciously aware of our ‘free thought processes’ until after they have already been forming for a long time within us?
This is highly counterintuitive, that is probably the reason most people wouldn’t even consider it nor would it occur to them, however that does not make it false. In fact many truths in reality are counterintuitive, because our intuition is just an estimative fuzzy logic ability based on summaries of information we have already gathered, and our interpretations of that information (that form this intuitional basis). And those interpretations may or may not be true (this is one of my views on intuition at least).
In contrast I do believe that it is equally likely to consider that there are also times when we are consciously aware of our free will in the moment that it is manifesting. That is to say that I believe there are times when free will is conscious and there are times when it is unconscious, or subconscious, though I believe that we should consider that free will may actually be subconscious, more often than we are consciously free.
An article reviewing Paula Droege’s response to Leberts views on conscious free will within the brain explains, "Generally experiments like Libet’s famous ones, which seemed to show that decisions are made well before the decider is consciously aware of them, are considered fatal to free will.
"Libet himself, for example, considered there was a power of last-minute veto which he called ‘free won’t’" (this is an idea consistent with my belief that free will's power to veto, is also the freedom to choose our attitude, the power and freedom of human determination). "But then (Droege) argues “However, this view implies a narrow conception of the self in which unconscious processes are not really part of me and I only really consist of that entity that does all the talking. Yet in other contexts, notably in psychoanalysis, don’t we take the un- or sub-conscious to be more essential to our personality than the fleeting surface of consciousness, to represent more accurately what we ‘really’ want and feel?"
Our conscious self is hardly our full self. The processes in the brain that are conscious hardly encompass the deeper thought and inner values that we consider to be involved in the full picture of ourselves as complex and philosophical beings. Some may prefer the idea that our free will is a conscious decider that can bring subconscious thoughts into the forefront and choose between them. But I urge the idea that even subconsciously there can still be a meaningful free will factor at work. Free will from the past is stored in our subconscious values that later influence our conscious decisions, we are thus acting out our past free will, but it is still free in the sense that the factors that shaped those values originally can’t be determined with absolute precision. This is what I refer to as 'slow action free will'.
It becomes difficult to debate the existence of things like unconscious free will and slow action free will when many do not support the existence of free will in the first place. But I believe that if you assume hypothetical free will for now and bear with me, considering such a perspective can yield beneficial results.
SLOW ACTION FREE WILL
There may be two notable forms of this type of free will. There is a more immediate form, in which quantum processes lead to the emergence of free choice in the brain. But even this, in my opinion, is not really an instantaneous manifestation. Even though this free will could travel on a more direct path to the conscious, much of it would often travel instead to the unconscious and remain there. However our conscious values, desires, motivations, and passions, significantly shape this unconscious and subconscious over time. So this unconscious free will is just an extension of our conscious self. So could conscious thought have involvement as the true origin of free will more than we think, perhaps? But either way, the sub-conscious is an extension of the values that we consider meaningful, and even if these processes generate an unconscious free will process, that free will is still very much enacting the values of our conscious self.
The second type of slow action free will would be the slower kind. Free thought that stays in the subconscious and affects our actions only in the long term. However those actions are still the result of an initial free spark that is in accordance with our collective conscious and subconscious will (accept of course in cases where we have subconscious desires that we have absolutely no conscious awareness of). This is also similar to the case of conscious free will playing out in the long term, where the quantum mechanically influenced choices we are aware of slowly build up to something over time. We develop a trend of logic that can be followed with some deterministic precision, however our ideas are still based on an initial ‘free’ spark, that we keep returning to.
If I’m free what does it matter if it was the freedom from five minutes ago, a few seconds ago, two weeks ago, or the freedom from now? (Granted this type of free will can extend back from its starting point nearly as long as we are old. This slow action free will influence can extend back as long a duration as our conscious or subconscious memories can hold on to and recall the imprint that our ‘free inner processes’ made at that particular past moment.) To clarify: sometimes, in this view, free will may only take a few hundred milliseconds or less to manifest, and other times it may take days, weeks, or years. From a subjective point of view, we often feel sensations, ineffable experiences that we may spend months, many years, or even as long as a lifetime attempting to fully 'express' in the real world. These sensations can be described by the term 'Qualia'.
What is qualia and what kind of effect might it have on our human free thinking process? Qualia is the ineffable nature of subjective experience. Things we see, feel and perceive, yet can't fully communicate to others. Examples of qualia are the color red, the taste of food, or the subjective ‘feeling’ of an emotion. A physical explanation of a qualia, such as a scientific explanation of wave lengths of light, does not, as qualia supporters believe, provide a complete explanation of the qualia experience of the color red.
Qualia is the idea that we have these experiences where we definitely perceive or ‘feel’ something and yet are unable to put it into words or any type of description. We can make analogies, and describe parts of the process, but that does not provide a complete description of the 'true' experience. Qualia can only be felt or understood through first hand experience.
Of course emotions like love are part of our biological, evolutionary programming, that explains why we need them to aid our survival, but that does not explain the subjective feeling of the experience it self. It explains the need for the experience, but not why these perceptions, terms like love, passion, despair, sorrow, the things we feel, seem to so many of us to transcend our abilities of verbal explanation.
As for the implications on free will and quantum mechanics I hesitate to say that the factors responsible for the way an emotion subjectively 'feels' to us, have significant quantum roots, but I pose the idea that quantum effect may certainly be a possibility given how little we know about the human mind. A mind involving many chemical interactions that may have quantum influence.
Verbal descriptions such as "depression is when you can't get out of bed." or "love sucks." or "love is the invisible connection that flows between people and powers the universe…" certainly can't describe the full subjective experience of how that particular emotion or sensation 'feels' to us. Such descriptions certainly do not prepare someone for the emotion when they themselves have not felt it first hand. Could any such description fully prepare someone for the subjective experience of an emotion? Is this just a failing of our descriptive abilities, a gap in an understanding that, underneath it all, may actually be simple and straightforward? But even when subject to intense scientific analysis, measurements and detailed description of wavelengths fail to describe what it's like to see the color red to a person who is color-blind.
Is this a failing, not in the understanding of physics and the external world, but instead in our understanding of our minds? There is a good probability of that considering how little we know about the brain. But there's more to the question, it's not just that we can't offer a detailed explanation, it’s that our perception of logic doesn't even seem to offer any vague way of communicating the experience of the color blue, the true feel and perception (and though it's always open to endless debate, many people strongly feel the same way about many of their emotions such as love, or despair, or the feeling of experiencing another's compassion). We literally can't even begin to put words to some of these sensations. And these ineffable experiences often become the force that drives writers to write, artists to create, and thinkers to become committed to something they feel is greater then themselves.
So why is it that we can't even begin to put words to the sound of music when explaining it to a deaf person, or the color or the setting sun to someone who is color-blind. Does it reflect a fundamental gap in our understanding. Could it even be not just a statement of what we know, but a statement about what we can know. Does this parallel quantum mechanics? Does the quantum logic that differs intensely from our larger reality provide some explanation? Could quantum phenomena influence our subjective perceptions, the things we know but can't put into words?
Could qualia and free will reflect two contrasting but related types of 'causeless' events. Qualia is something we feel, but can't describe, an event that does not effect the external world, a 'cause without an effect'. And conversely, 'free will' is an act of spontaneous free choice, without absolute pre-determinable factors, an 'event without a cause'. (Or rather an event without an absolute cause). So, do 'causeless events' and 'eventless causes' have some unified role to play? The debate becomes highly speculative, but it's worth pursuing nonetheless.
Could these two types of causeless events and ‘eventless’ causes, form a loop that mends the broken link in causality that free will presents? And yet this new link, this connection has a hazy gap in-between so that there is room that a meaningful yet causeless intentionality can emerge in that gap. This is to say that a more 'complete' free will could emerge in the gap between inexpressible qualia, events that have no result (they can’t be subsequently explained), and the un-predetermined, causeless free will? In this view free will becomes a vehicle for the expression of the otherwise inexpressible qualia.
This theory is not something easily explained and I don't have time to do it. But this fuzzy causality link argument could potentially become a way to rationalize free will with higher clarity from the point of view of basic human reasoning. It would provide a way to understand free will from a point of view more refined than simply accepting that there are just some things that we can’t ‘know’ about the subatomic world.
THE IMPRINT OF FREE WILL
Many people conceive of free will in the wrong ways. They desperately attempt to fight for strong proof of free will in ways that directly contradict the physical Newtonian laws of our universe. In my belief these laws are a definite limiter on the degree to which we can be truly free. To be defined by laws, to exist, is also to be limited, to be subject to rules and regulations. But that does not by any means cancel out the existence of free will completely. My view of free will is of a highly subtle force limited in it's effect on our immediate reality, however this does not in any way diminish the level of meaning and profundity this mysterious force holds. It is a freedom subject to physical limit. Complete true freedom is a paradox (because to exist means to have definition, and to have definition means to have limitation, to exist without limitation, is to exist in a blank world of nothingness) Free will, devoid of physical limit, may be a force of infinite extent. However in our world, even though we likely cannot define free will with absolute precision (to do that becomes a paradox of putting limits on a true infinity, if true freedom is infinity), we can still subtly define and measure the effect that free will has on the physical world, because the physical world is always measurable on the atomic level.
If free will does exist, in order to exist it must have some kind of effect on our physical world, no matter how subtle or small the nature of that effect. If free will leaves such an imprint on our reality, then we can measure that imprint in order to gain an understanding of the nature of our free will, even if we cannot understand the free will itself. So what might this imprint look like? It is hard to say at our current level of scientific understanding. Based on my theories on Quantum Mechanics and Neurobiology I would argue that causeless events could one day be observed in the brain. These causeless events would appear in the form of neural patterns that are unpredictable no matter how complex our understanding of them, yet they would yield meaningful thought that is used by the higher brain.
But what does this mean, what would it look like? I find myself more interested by the imprint, such a free will, when outputted through us, would leave on the external world. And additionally, how is it that we express this free will, what is it that we do when we are expressing it? In my view, the deterministic physical world can influence and lead us down nearly any path in ways that are often outside our control. But even in circumstances where we are given very little free choice, there is one aspect we still have within our power. This is the ability to have persistence, determination. We have the choice to either give up or to persist onwards. Will power and determination are often thought of as going hand in hand. But there may be a deeper link between regular old human determination and free will. This can also be understood as the power to change our attitude. No matter how difficult or oppressive the situation, we somehow always possess the power to detach from the pain of that reality. And once we are detached, we can change our attitude of the situation, as long as we are consciously aware that we have that power.
This is similar to Libet’s idea that no matter what the causal universe is directing us to do, we always have the power to ‘veto’ that action. If anger tells us to fight, we can ‘veto’ that influence. By simply choosing what we do and don’t do, when we are given the choice, we can slowly over time, shape our reality in a meaningful way by the force of our own free will. This determination, this quantity of effort we put into things that is powered by our free will, it can also be described as ‘passion’. Passionately dedicating ourselves to something can be the result of our ‘free will powered’ determination. Dedication may become passion when we feel deeply influenced by Qualia sensations in our lives to seek out the means of self expression of something that is ineffable to us. To express something that is ineffable, isn’t that the same as saying, to express something that does not have a true definition, to express an event that is devoid of a real measurable cause, a causeless event?
Creativity can also be considered to be a phenomena influenced by a free will factor. Creativity is a complex process of the mind, and although it involves processes of mimicking, copying, and replicating inspirational forces from the surrounding reality, there may also be a certain human ‘weirdness’ factor that plays a role in our creativity. Something that is spontaneous and free. There is a drive behind our creativity, this drive may come from a need to express qualia.
Compassion may be a higher level expression of free will, because it relies on a person possessing and building up a certain logical understanding of themselves and other people. Fundamentally it requires a kind of selfless dedication, and a sharing of subjective qualia experiences between individuals. Attempting to communicate these experiences probably serves to strengthen them, to strengthen our ability to manifest our expression of qualia in the world. And this intern, serves to strengthen us. Human interaction helps us feel that our qualia experiences are understood, that we are not alone, and this strengthens our ability to express our qualia. And if free will is the vehicle for expression of qualia, then strengthening this expression is the same as strengthening and expressing our free will.
I believe that free will may likely have a role to play in these basic human traits. Free will becomes the ability to detach from whatever path or decision the world of mass information is trying to pull us towards. When we detach from these options given to us by the macroscopic causal reality, our brain may have the ability to utilize quantum indeterminacy as it makes it’s decision. (Even if we have this freedom, we will still often likely choose the decision that is most beneficial to us, and thus our decision becomes predictable in that way, but nonetheless that does not deny that we may still possess this freedom). This sort of free will starts off small in its effect but that effect could potentially grow significantly over time; such is the slow effect of free will.
I believe that if free will does exist is has moral significance in that we can change and open our logical and social ways of thinking in such a way that leaves more choices and openings for people to express themselves. This may reduce the amount of negative influences in the world and open the way for people to express their free will unimpeded by factors too greatly outside their control. This would not largely involve changes in the external world, and it may not even involve significant changes in the legal system any time soon. For me, the way to open the way for free will, is in many ways, about making a change within the mind. But it's a change that has to be made and accepted and shared by many people in order to make a greater impact. This change significantly involves changes in mental components of society, the way we think, socialize, and view each other. I argue for a more open society where we feel less ashamed and afraid to express our true views and qualia perceptions out of fear that those perceptions will be misinterpreted and held against us. Even things we disagree with should not be things we personally penalize or despise people for. We should not hold personal grudges and hateful blame against people; even when they need to be taught a lesson so they can avoid the crime or mistake in the future. We should never hate people for things that they were led into doing by forces and influences outside their control.
The problem is that this requires an in-depth deterministic understanding of the causal forces that lead people to commit crimes, or fall into despair and hate. In a sense, by better understanding what is deterministic in our universe, by accepting and understanding the situations where we are not free, we can learn how to open the way to create more choices, and create a greater frequency of situations where people can be free. We are opening the lines between deterministic laws to create space for free will.
By letting go of this fear we can learn to express our qualia and inner opinions more freely without the fear that those opinions will offend others even when our true intention was not to be offensive. Withholding information out of fear often hurts both sides involved. Sometimes it is necessary to conceal a hurtful truth. But fundamentally, if we do withhold information we should deeply reflect on ourselves and understand our reasons for keeping that truth hidden. This also means learning to cultivate positive intentions, but as long as our motives our good we should express ourselves. And if our motives our not good we should reflect on what influences have created these negative feelings within us, instead of just suppressing them. Because if we don't express our views, there may be people who significantly misinterpret our beliefs, or we may ourselves not realize that we are harboring significantly misguided ideas. Expressing our well-intended opinions not only helps insure that they are not misguided, but it will also strengthen us, because sharing our experiences, and our subjective qualia perceptions is a joyful experience that lets us know that we are not alone. This kind of compassionate interaction strengthens our ability to express our subjective opinions and feelings and to form a stronger and more clear picture of reality where we are also empowered with a stronger (less limited by fear and hate) free will.
Such compassion, thinking outside ourselves, and the act of constantly sharing in our experiences, may even be the initial factor that triggered humans to first form societies. It may even be the original triggering factor for human intelligence. In a way, this change in our thinking may involve a going back to our roots. By understanding why it is that our evolved sense of compassion sets us apart from other animals, we may learn how to further cultivate that compassion to a point where our actions become motivated by positively intended free expression, and not by our lesser animalistic, self isolating, competitive natures and the fear of being hurt, our lower survival instincts.
To quote Searle’s again, “The problem with the problem of freedom is how intractable that problem really is. (Zygon, 1002)” The bottom line is that free will is not an easy debate. And I personally believe that hard determinists and free will supporters alike who persistently argue that free will does or does not exist beyond any fraction of a doubt, are most likely, not opening their minds to see a complete view of the real problem. They are simply attacking arguments weaker than there own, but knocking down straw men won’t get us anywhere. That said, it is ok to support a belief without arguing that it is an absolute fact beyond question, how else can we begin to learn anything new and uncertain? I have philosophical reasons to believe that infinite and immeasurable factors exist that influence our universe, but I cannot say with certainty that these factors do exist in a way that influences the human mind enough to constitute a definition of free will.
So is my argument: "Quantum randomness is weird, and free will is also weird, so the two must be connected?" No, that doesn’t sum up my point. Too vaguely lump everything together as ‘weird’ is an opinion from a biased standpoint of Newtonian physics. Causal logic is certainly highly necessary in understanding our universe, but we must also consider that everything in our universe may not be as quantifiable and measurable as we think it is. My argument is not that free will and quantum mechanics are both weird, so the two are connected, but rather my argument is that because of findings in quantum mechanics our perspective on reality as quantifiable, finite, and causal may not offer a complete description of the more subtle events in our universe. I am not saying that quantum mechanical events are weird, but rather that they may question our understanding of reality entirely. There may be fundamental inadequacies in our conception of physical reality. Not only might there be forces in our reality that are immeasurable, or extend on to actual infinite value, but our understanding of causality may also have exceptions. There may be situations where events can precede a cause. Such as the faster than light, 'backwards in time', tachyon particle. As Brian Greene says we still barely know what time itself even is. Physicists cannot find a way to differentiate logically between the past, the present, and the future, and the reasons for the direction of times arrow, the reason why time appears to flow in one direction and not the other. And yet a vast amount of what we understand relies on this concept of time that we know nothing about. We also don't understand what it means for an event to happen without a predictable, measurable cause. Because we cannot measure quantum states beyond a certain degree of 'error', we conclude that there is a sort of 'random' probability that effects the way they behave. But what does 'random' truly mean? Is it in fact solely a meaningless random chaos, or could it be that it is in fact influenced by some true physical infinity, a value that is immeasurable without absolute and definite influence by preceding events or external causes? Could free will be an immeasurable causeless event that is also an immeasurable but meaningful infinite value? Something that is not random, something we can understand as a meaningful occurrence from even our human perspective, and yet we cannot understand it as such until after it has occurred. We cannot analyze it until after it has happened, because it has no preceding and absolute influence to determine it by in advance with any absolute certainty. An event that only becomes meaningful from our atomic logic perspective until after the fact. So how does 'meaning' come out of nowhere? Well, how did time begin? Even if the first cause of time was not something that would appear ‘meaningful’ from our current perspective, maybe just a brief flickering of energy, or a dull blob of formless substance, but this very act of something from nothingness is itself a mind-boggling occurrence. In the laws of physics you can never get something from nothing. That's why free will would have to be the expression of a factor that can defy this. But it is also subtle enough in its expression not to upset the balance of reality. We are so highly bound buy the laws of physics to the point that it becomes hard for us to imagine such an imbalance occurring. Free will in its existence, asserts an imbalance into reality, but the physical world is far to stable and structured to be upset by this subtle imbalance, or logical inconsistency, that 'free will' asserts.
Perhaps it's better to say that the first cause is 'no-cause'. It is simply what is left in the absence of everything else, it is the one thing that is truly eternal, it is the empty void. But what is this void, what is nothingness, is it also in a sense, 'something-ness'? Reality springs from the void, from quantum fluctuations in empty space. So why the void? what is the void. Is the void eternity, infinity. Is the void a source of free will?
I am inclined to believe that there are things in reality that can transcend science, truths that remain ineffable and can be described but never fully and completely captured by analytic and scientific reasoning. I believe the idea that all existence has a beginning makes just about as much sense as the idea that all existence will have an end. For me, reality is infinite. Why should reality have an end? Because the universe is destined to collapse, or to expand out forever and freeze at absolute zero, or because the stars will eventually all burn out? But even in the complete and empty void, quantum laws, quantum fluctuation contains the potentiality to set reality back into motion. I believe that the only thing that is truly infinite, the only thing that is truly immeasurable is reality itself. Even if we humans have 'free will powered' spirits or souls, those spirits too may come to an end, or a return from whence they came, because they are not the infinite itself, they only share in an aspect of that eternal infinity.
Again, reality, for me, is infinite. Given the analogy of a particle of light, it is something we can infinitely encroach upon, but never quite reach or speed past. Reality is always one step a head of us, because in a sense this reality, this infinity at the metaphysical core of existence, before the beginning and beyond the end, transcended of space and time, may be the source of the free phenomenon that becomes ‘us’, our free choice. It is an all-pervasive force, an indeterminacy field that we humans can utilize in conjunction with our higher reasoning to form and shape our free choice.
If we are indeed connected to this infinity, then in order to surpass it, we could be surpassing ourselves. It becomes a paradox. Having free will may not be a paradox. Even understanding and measuring the effects of such a will may be possible. The real paradox at the heart of everything may be the idea that we can ever fully and completely understand the nature of all reality, without surpassing that reality itself, and thus bringing that reality to an end (defining it as something limited, finite, and measurable). This becomes impossible because once we attempt to surpass reality a new larger reality forms around us. Once we try to understand ourselves, that understanding itself becomes part of the very self that we are trying to understand. Another layer is added to the loop which encroaches endlessly on infinity.
I believe that quantum laws suggest that nothing is impossible. Of course even in accordance with such a belief, the laws of physics would take a vastly lengthy amount of time to undergo a shift either induced by us humans (by acquiring some kind of mastery over and ability to alter the laws of physics) or by the laws of quantum physics influencing a fundamental change through a circumstance where the laws interfere too greatly with each other to remain in a stable state as they are. Or, a third way the laws of physics may be changed is by waiting around for other potential universes to generate themselves (they already may be) with varying alternate laws of physics. But nonetheless I believe that quantum physics implies an unstable nature to the foundations of our reality. So in light of this, nothing, even the core laws of physics, are absolute, nor do they possess the ability to continue on forever. Anything that can be measured and understood, any physical piece of matter, or even physical law, can be broken down and dismantled, in my belief, even if it takes lengths of time much vaster then our human brains can quantitate. All things have their roots in this quantum indeterministic nature where nothing can occur with absolute certainty. There is always a chance, no matter how infinitesimally small, that something truly unknown and unexpected can happen at any time that defies our sense of logical reality and astonishes us completely.
Weather or not our human minds can utilize the effects of quantum indeterminacy, the debate is still out. But in our analysis of neurobiology and the effects of quantum mechanics it may become possible to pursue the free will debate with actual scientific evidence. Though from my standpoint of an act of free will as a causeless event influenced by logic surpassing infinities that exist within quantum mechanics and smaller levels still; from this standpoint free will comes from those logic surpassing infinities, and therefore if free will exists in connection to this, it is something that can never be fully understood. It is tied to a logical infinity. So in the end it can never be fully and completely reached. However because this type of free will would influence our physical reality, these influences would be measurable by scientific experiment. Therefore even if we cannot fully and completely grasp the nature of free will itself, we can measure it by the imprint it leaves in the physical world. And understanding this imprint can tell us about what role free will plays in morality, qualia sensations, reasoning, reflection, love, emotion, compassion, and on to perhaps just about anything we humans choose to touch and bring into our reality.
Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power. By John R. Searle.Full Text Available By: Bielfeldt, Dennis. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, Dec2009, Vol. 44 Issue 4, p999-1002, 4p; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.2009.01048.x
Subjects: BOOKS -- Reviews; NEUROBIOLOGY; NONFICTION; FREEDOM & Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language & Political Power (Book); SEARLE, John R.
Brian Greene. The Fabric of the Cosmos: space, time, and the texture of reality. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2004.
Seth Lloyd. Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos, Knopf, March 14, 2006, 240 p., ISBN 1-4000-4092-2
www.wikipidea.com, articles: Benjamin Libet, Quantum entanglement, Uncertainty principle, Qualia, Primum Movens, Indeterminism, Black Hole, Quantum Mechanics, Infinity (math, physics), Metaphysics, Neuroscience, Hawking Radiation, Almost Surely (on quantum probability), Compatibilism, Dark Matter, Philosophy of Mind, The Fabric of Reality, Hard Determinism, Determinism, Incompatibilism.
1. ^ Keim, Brandon (April 13, 2008). "Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them". Wired News (CondéNet).
Drew V. McDermott. Mind and Mechanism. Mit Press, 2001. ISBN:026213392X