WhyHumanLifeMakesSense.com - Chapter summaries - 4. Do we have freewill?
Chapter summaries

4. Do we have freewill?

Each of us intuitively believes in freewill, or personal responsibility, because we experience it as a matter of course throughout every day of our life. We intuitively believe in freewill because we experience it, and our experience of freewill is as natural as breathing and is as necessary as breathing in order for us to survive and thrive.

But the experience of freewill is cognitively complex. It is not equivalent to, say, the simpler experience of perceiving a color. The experience of freewill is the experience of high-level volitional control of our mind together with the ramifications of this control. The experience of freewill includes an awareness of intention and an awareness of mental or motor behavior that follows from the intention

We also know from our life experience that our personal responsibility for our behavior is graded and that the degree of responsibility varies with the condition of our body and the situation at hand. Yet, except in extreme situations of coercion or physical abuse, we intuitively know that we are ultimately responsible for our decisions.

In view of the nature of knowledge and objective reality, per chapter 1, we have the following result. Unless we have good reason to believe that our experience of freewill is an illusion, we will attribute the feature of freewill to the objective nature of humans because this assumption will be part of the simplest, most accurate axiomatic theory for predicting relevant observations.

Four main challenges have been raised that the feature of freewill is an illusion: determinism, chance, unconscious mental activity, and scale reductionism.

As for determinism, we laid this challenge to rest in chapter 2.

As for chance, per our theory of knowledge, BPT, knowledge is our simplest, most accurate axiomatic theory for predicting our observations. Prediction, in an indeterministic system, is based on probability distributions, so saying that activity is due to chance is just another way of saying that the activity is indeterministic and, hence, that prediction is based on probability distributions. Thus, the idea of chance, or randomness, is equivalent to the idea of indeterminism.

As for unconscious mental activity, this challenge says that we’re not responsible for our decisions because we’re not responsible for our unconscious mental activity. In chapter 3 we laid this idea to rest by developing a model of the mind as a best predictor theory of the mind — AVT. We established the following. Overall, the automatic unit is the engine of the mind, providing regulation, cognition, and emotion, while the volitional unit is the pilot, supervising and training the automatic unit so that it will achieve the high-level goals of the mind..

As for scale reductionism, this is the idea that the best model for predicting large-scale behavior is implied by the best model for predicting small-scale behavior. This challenge is countered by the theory of thermodynamics, as a counterexample.

Freewill conclusion.  Drawing together the results of chapter 1 on knowledge, chapter 2 on indeterminism, chapter 3 on mind, and this chapter on freewill, we have the following. Consistent with our personal experience of our minds and our behavior, we do, in fact, have freewill. We are responsible for our decisions — subject to the notion that there may be some other rationale possible for challenging that the idea of freewill is an illusion. However, I believe that the multifaceted theory presented here will provide the basis for readily countering any future challenge to the idea of freewill.

Reference citation.  Philip Bitar, adapted from Why Human Life Makes Sense, Editions 1/2/3, 2011/2012/2015, p. none/126-127/188-191, 129/140/217-218, posted at www.WhyHumanLifeMakesSense.com, 2011-08-26, updated 2012-10-15 and 2015-03-18.