Free Will (excluding taxes and postage)
August 4, 2009 14 Comments
I just came across this paper on free will and consciousness by Stuart Kauffman. I think it’s nonsense, but I can’t be bothered to raise a counterargument; it would just take too long. There are so many linguistic slippages to contend with in physics and life’s too short. But I’m posting it because I know some of you will be interested and may wish to take the matter up.
Basically Kauffman looks to a handy loophole, which is claimed to lie between classical and quantum physics, that is neither “lawful” nor random, and he thinks he can take advantage of this to permit the free will and conscious self-determination he so desperately wants. If you ask me, this desperation is easily seen in the following quotes (the italics are mine):
“If mind does not act on matter, is mind a mere epiphenomenon?”
“The response to this apparent impasse is a retreat to epiphenomenonalism: Mind does nothing, in fact, it does not act on brain, it is an epiphenomena (sic) of brain. It is fair to say that no one likes this view”
Oh, well, it’s the duty of every scientist to find some loopholes that might plausibly help us avoid finding out something we simply don’t like very much. I can see that. It works for Intelligent Design proponents.
Why “mere”? It doesn’t bother me in the slightest if I’m an epiphenomenon. I don’t feel “mere”; I’m proud of what I am. Maybe a hurricane feels it is making a conscious decision to make landfall over southern Florida, too. So what? I cannot possibly know my future and nor can anyone else (classical theory is enough for that; we don’t need to invoke QM), so I look forward to finding out what is actually going to happen to me. It’s a consequence of my biology that I feel like I’m choosing it, and that I’m somehow making things happen, and if that’s how it feels to me then what do I care if it’s an illusion at the level of physics? I happen to live in a moderately successful social organization, which therefore has evolved a system of belief in culpability and justice; if it hadn’t then I wouldn’t be here, because society would have collapsed. As a consequence, I’m an organism that interprets what happens to me and others as something that was within our control. Sometimes I even have to hold people responsible for “their” actions, because that’s how this society thrives (I don’t have to choose to do it, it’s just the way my thoughts turn out). At the level of description in which “I” live, it makes sense to talk about responsibility, choices and morals. So what if that wouldn’t make sense to an atom? I’m not an atom. I really don’t mind being a lawful consequence of my past and my environment. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. How else can I even justify my so-called choices? “I did it because…” I don’t feel a need to seek out quantum loopholes that could just plausibly allow the way that the world seems to be, actually to be “true.”
But if this sort of thing bothers you and you’re desperate to escape the feeling that you’re trapped by causality, then this is a paper you should read.