Sunday, 20 January 2013

Long live free will!

My friend Steve Zara has recently become involved in an online 'debate' with Jerry Coyne about free will.  As you might remember, I wrote a blog post about the role of Determinism and Chaos in free will, a few months ago.

It seems to me that Jerry Coyne puts up a bit of a straw man when arguing against Jim Al-Khalli's view of free will.  Al-Khalli hardly touches on the question of dualism, at least in the sections quoted by Coyne, and anyway this is all a paper tiger.  (The word is never used in the whole of his article.)

The more serious part of the argument is about how chaos can come to the rescue and actually give us free will without falling into total anarchy.

As I explained in my earlier post, the detailed future state of the universe is not predictable, even in principal.  I gave three reasons to support that idea, namely chaos, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and quantum fluctuations.

Chaos appears to me to be the strongest factor in this.  The other two might not be significant in everyday life, but over a greater length of time they could build up to make a difference.  It might be possible to compute your way out of the chaos conundrum, but by increasing your computing power you only delay the moment of uncertainty.

However, it is important to note that this unpredictability comes in small doses.  Although we can't predict exactly what we might think or do tomorrow, as new uncertainties approach us, we can at least predict what are the more likely trends.  Without resorting to dualism, our minds have an emergent internal consistency which tends to make us act in a way that is consistent with the way we acted yesterday.

This means that chaos and unpredictability make the future uncertain, but without robbing us of our free will they ensure that future trends are likely to be consistent with what we expect.

Long live free will . . .  even if Christians do often use it as an excuse for the atrocities committed by their God!

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