Thoughts and Feelings on Free Will (groan)

I think this is an uninteresting topic and people are mostly running in circles. I think there are some nuanced and interesting points, in that they articulate some real positions, and I want to lay those out as I understand them.

'Libertarian' free will - this one is about the idea that choices are truly independent of forces of nature, that we are more than just a bunch of biological clicking gears, and also that this is important for two reasons. One, it's free in the sense of free from nature. Two, an idea that it's truly important, that there's something at stake, that not only is this real, but if it were 'lost', something essential to being you would be lose.

Then there's good old determinism, that we are 'merely' the product of nature.

Then there's compatibilism, which is the idea that, while determinism is true, all the important stuff that libertarians care about is indeed real in some important sense and still there.

And then there's what I might call counter-compatibilism, which is just a different way of saying determinism, again, but pointed and in response to compatibilism, insisting that, no, we aren't at all compatible, determinism is a hard truth and has all the hard implications one might think.

Somewhere in here comes the idea that free will is an illusion, and this one, most of all, irks me to no end. 

I think the compatibilists are basically right on this one, in all the important ways, and both the ordinary determinists and the pointed determinists are wrong.

Let's accept that everything, every movement of every molecule, is in some sense fully 'controlled' by the forces of nature. It is here that libertarian free will feels like they will have lost on the battlefield, and sometimes you can feel the urgency in their arguments, as if the argument itself is a battlefield where free will lives or dies, and must be protected, like it's the American revolution. I think some folks really do think that way, whether they realize it or not.

But for compatibilism, let's consider what it means if we are fully, in every thought, just having forces of nature expressed through us. Then, well, you aren't 'you', goes one argument. The 'you' is gone because, well, just because. I've seen people dead end at this point in the conversation, and it becomes a matter of foot stamping and insisting that this is what 'you' is all about.

But, let's ignore that. Even determinists, at this point, will say that our choice making is an illusion, and therefore that free will is, and this is supposed to be an amazing, tragic, or fascinating point, fascinating, perhaps, because it is one more astonishing mystery of consciousness. But I think there's no illusion at all. You still really are 'you.'

Here's the 'you' that remains. A 'mere' brain, doing nothing more or less than cause and effect driven by some combination of chemical, electrical, and otherwise physical processes. But, well, what is that brain, that totally physically determined brain doing? It's doing all the actual choice making that you thought you were doing all along, because that is you, you are you, you always have been you, you weren't under any illusion.

But to restate a bit more candidly: what is the brain doing? Well, it's gathering all kinds of sense data, it's building a picture of the world, logging and recalling memories, building out possible alternate paths of action, weighing those paths against underlying hopes, values, impulses, desires, sending out commands to the rest of the body to do stuff, maintaining an active picture in the theater of your mind in which this decision making can happen, and actually carrying out those decisions. All of that stuff is really happening, a critical component to that is weighing information and making decisions in response to that information, expressing hopes, etc. etc. That's all still really there. And the fact that it's happening is not an illusion, and the choice-making enging really is thinking and making choices and having preferences and carrying those out.

It's all real, and it's not lost, and it's all you, and it's not that you are witnessing it but it's a miraculous illusion.

This is the point where a certain variant of libertarian will commence stamping feat and just insisting that none of that is you because, well, just because.

And this is the point where a certain kind of pointed determist will take this all in stride and say that it is, nevertheless, an illusion, just the same.

And we will pick up with that thought another time.