Alan thanks so much for your comment and for linking to your thoughts. I agree with you that so much of this discussion revolves around working with definitions clearly defined. If I am reading your article correctly, I sense that we agree more than disagree. You write:

“This definition views Free Will as being composed of material entities interacting in chains of causality. And that means it is, in some sense, determined.”

That’s my view as well. I am also of the opinion that even if we believe our actions (and our thoughts) are completely deterministic or deterministic combined with some true randomness, that either way we should still act AS IF we have full free will. Because what other option is there? We should pursue meaning.

I am aware it can always come back to, “How are you pursuing meaning when you assume it might all be a deterministic path?” To me, this question is only valid if there was some way to peer into the future of this deterministic path, which I don’t think will ever be possible.

This is because I also agree that predictability as a framework for free will doesn’t work because we truly won’t be able to predict much of anything ever in a true sense. It is so hopelessly complicated to correctly model even a small nonlinear system, that modeling a vast system of systems is beyond what is possible. Like you said, you can fool our ability to predict things just by throwing in a few rules around rolling some dice. But the impossible nature of true prediction is also not an argument against determinism. It’s just an argument against our ability to ever prove it.

What is your view around what would happen with a perfect rewinding of the tape? My view is that any differences that show up from “rewinding the tape” over and over (no matter how far back) would be entirely from true randomness introduced from something like quantum mechanics, and not an inherent free will.

Daniel Dennett says that someone doing the same thing over and over again with a “rewinding the tape” situation does not pose an argument against free will because there was the possibility of other choices, even if they are never realized. This is contrasted with a machine that is only programmed to be able to make one choice to begin with. I disagree with this whole premise and don’t quite understand it.

The free will I envision would exactly being able to choose different outcomes if everything else was made identical by rewinding the tape. Otherwise how would our actions be in any way different than every other thing in the universe that is following a complicated path of cause and effect?

But if I am reading your thoughts correctly, this is where we may disagree. You view this as religious thinking of sorts. I may be forcing a definition of free will to be something separate from the material world, but I have a hard time doing anything otherwise.

To quote the last part of what I quoted above: “And that means it is, in some sense, determined.” I wonder what you mean by “some sense”. Do you actually mean “by all senses”? If not, what are the other senses by which you mean?

Would love to know your thoughts, but I want to acknowledge one last thing. I agree with them on paper, but I bristle at most of the “free will is an illusion” arguments that basically go 1) Matter follows physical laws 2) We are completely made of matter 3) We completely follow physical laws 4) Therefore believing in free will means you believe in magic.

They have a way of turning people off to the argument simply by the arrogant matter of factness of it all.

Anyway, I appreciate your article. I love thinking through this.

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