Free Will and its Burden

Free Will is the belief that at least some our actions are not completely determined by agencies beyond our power. “Some” is more than “none”, but it doesn’t have to be “most” or even “many”. Thus, the burden of proof against Free Will is impossibly high as all – not just some – of our actions would have to be entirely – not just partly – determined by external forces to disprove Free Will. This proof has not been produced.

So how do we know that we have Free Will? We cannot know for sure, but we infer Free Will the same way we infer reflex actions – we observe and feel. When we observe actions (ours or those of others) that seem nonrandom and unrelated to any known drivers we accept Free Will. Other times, we see automatic reflex or instinct responses and we consider those actions determined by external forces.

Like a muscle, Free Will (Willpower) gets tired and can be overwhelmed or destroyed by external forces. Free Will appears to decrease when suffering brain trauma, under the influence of chemicals, due to genetic conditions, or when infected with certain parasites. In non-human life forms, Free Will seems weaker than reflexes and instincts. Willpower failures are not evidence against Free Will, just as muscular overpowering is not evidence against muscular power.

Free Will opponents, contrary to their belief, display significant Free Will of their own when passionately arguing their position. If they were not in control of their actions, it would not make sense to try changing others’ ideas because without Free Will, all debates about Free Will and many other topics would be meaningless.

Quantum mechanics indeterminacy versus Einstein’s “God doesn’t play dice” determinism is used sometimes in the Free Will argument, but this debate adds nothing to Free Will. On one hand, how would Einstein know what God does or doesn’t do? On the other, indeterminacy (randomness) disproves Total Determinism, but not Free Will as our actions do not follow each other randomly.

Is Free Will then just a mix of Randomness and Determinism? No. Free Will is a function of the living. Randomness and Determinism apply equally to the inorganic, but only the living (organic) has Free Will. Remember also that anything less than 100% combination of Randomness and Determinism is not sufficient to disprove Free Will.

Many machines fully controlled by Randomness and Determinism have been built, yet none of them displays Free Will aside from the will of their human designer. ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is an ongoing pursuit, and AI machines will eventually be so good, that the naive observer will completely miss the human designers’ contribution and will falsely conclude that the machine perfectly mimics Free Will, hence “Free Will is just an illusion”.

Religious views are behind most of the arguments on both sides of the Free Will debate. While opponents see only an illusion created by Randomness and Determinism, Free Will proponents also see the touch of our Creator behind the machine that would otherwise indeed be just subject to Randomness and Determinism. Is God’s omniscience incompatible with our Free Will? Not at all. Many times parents know that children’s actions will end up badly, yet they chose to let the children exercise their Free Will anyway.

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