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Paul Grobstein's picture

the free will problem

"if our mental life is solely the result of our physical brains and the interactions between the neurons/dominoes inside of them then I don't see how we can continue to believe that we have "free-will."

Yep, there is indeed a problem here. Glad to have it out on the table. And certainly one way to deal with it is to appeal to the immaterial. But there are other ways also worth exploring ...

"Like the narrator of Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground, I'm not happy as a "piano key", insist on some measure of "free will", and believe it can be found through a more subtle understanding of the mind/brain relation, one that involves a "physicalism" that embraces indeterminacy." ... Irreducibility without dualism: chaos or indeterminacy?

The key here is that the activity of neurons has a non-deterministic character to it (Variability in Brain Function and Behavior) and that the bipartite architecture of our brains provides us with a way to use that indeterminacy to be causal agents in the universe in our own right (by telling and revising stories). For more along these lines, see

Yep, "observations to date are ... consistent" with either a material or an immaterial basis for free will (and, as well, with free will being nothing more than an appealing story, cf Daniel Dennett's Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting). What appeals to me about the material basis is that it provides me with some clear approaches to questions like how much free will does any given person/organism have, how can one enhance it, and why would one want (or not want) to?


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