The Free Will Question Once More . . .

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

There’s an interesting outline of a new experiment to assess processes involved in decision making at the General Religious Discussion section of the Biblical Criticism & History Forum: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms… (The original article is at Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms involved in decision-making.)

I was beginning to think that I no longer have any idea if we have free will or not and after reading the ensuing discussion I felt I could firmly conclude that I really am undecided — though lately beginning to lean a little towards the “yes, we do have it” side of the fence. For now.



The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

11 thoughts on “The Free Will Question Once More . . .”

  1. “The question was: Is it possible for people to cancel a movement once the brain has started preparing it?”

    Note how the question presupposes (or is biased towards) a distinction between ‘people’ and ‘the brain’. It starts out giving at least a nod to dualism even if not explicitly so. Rephrase the question …

    “The question was: Is it possible for a brain to cancel a movement once the brain has started preparing it?”

    Yes, of coruse, the brain is complicated.

    But the question is no longer about ‘free will’ but about brain mechanisms and their interaction and hierarchy.

  2. “The background to this new set of experiments lies in the debate regarding conscious will and determinism in human decision-making”

    And again, same false distinction. If ‘conscious will’ is a frontal cortex mechanism that the brain registers (self-awareness), and there brain processes that account for that ‘will’ event, then the will is not free.

    The determinism/indeterminism dichotomy is another tricky one.

    Brains (and much other stuff) are so complex that precise predictablity is impossible for humans – in other words the world is indeterminate to humans. So, even if reality were totally deterministic, humans could not tell if it was or not.

    Free willies are making claims that we have free will, when the only ‘evidence’ we have is that it ‘feels’ that way.

  3. The original article makes it pretty clear what the researchers understood regarding the limitations of their experiment. No-one was suggesting the experiment finally and definitively decided the question. Research like this is one small step at a time and over much time. They are less dogmatic than I used to be and that you appear to be still.

    1. Are you suggesting that some type of mind/body, body/spirit dualism or dual substance ontology (say panpsychism), or merely a variety of compatibilism?

    2. I wasn’t being at all dogmatic. I was pointing out how the language used to describe the problem is inherently dualistic, or sufficiently vague to imply there’s something other than mechanistic systems at work. Unless you really do have any evidence of anything else the least bit spooky going on, then a mechanistic framework is the one in which the investigation is being carried out.

      And nor did I suggest that the article suggested that the experiment definitively decided anything.

      The last sentence in the second comment was referring to how free will proponents use this type of terminology to use experiments like this as if it’s evidence of free will, when it isn’t.

  4. Here are my simple-minded comments.

    (1) We must be free to make a decision (e.g. not tied up), (2) we must be conscious to make a decision, (3) we decide according to what seems at the time the most persuasive motive, and (4) we do not feel literally “compelled” because the strongest motive is seductive not coercive.

    More interesting, were all such decisions in human history inevitable, and could our past really have been any different?

    Is the cosmos becoming aware of its own existence through human consciousness by some inevitable evolutionary process?

  5. Paul seems to be on the side of determinism in NET Romans ch.6,7,&8, if he is talking about himself.

    Gasp! From the article: “Until now, the existence of such preparatory brain processes has been regarded as evidence of ‘determinism’, according to which free will is nothing but an illusion, meaning our decisions are initiated by unconscious brain processes, and not by our ‘conscious self’.”
    Scratch preparatory brain processes!
    Conscious self? Unscientific anecdotal nonsense, like “dreams” and “pain”. Scandalous!

    But, I muse that the “meat” of Pauline theology was based on a recognition of the common material basis of ‘psychology’.
    1)That through the assent symbolized by the inconvenience of social dunking, the initiate joined a clique that outwardly acknowledged the death of the sinful nature and union with the body [good conscience] of Christ.
    2)Whereupon, Paul’s non-Institutional non-State-sponsored viewpoint that all conscious selves [including Universal groaning] were identical, sinful nature aside, could be explained in further detail by Theudas, et alia.
    3)Now that we have the mind of Christ, we have to be careful with it for the sake of our slow-witted brother, and because those ‘laws’ are necessary for the proper ordering of society.

      1. Perhaps the “Paulist” predestination involves the writer’s “need” for the [Marcion’s] “good god” to have free will, that is, to be “other than good”.

        Which obliquely leads me to “what is punishment”…which the “good god” must have the free will to administer…
        …lest ‘grace’ get out of hand…
        Saved for another day, lest thread continuity get out of hand!

  6. The language involving Free Will is a mix of ancient and modern terms.

    William James response was: Do you feel free ? Do you know the difference between compulsion and choice ?

    Try this simple experiment:

    Have a friend take 20 blank cards and write down simple commands on them:

    Snap your finger, rub your nose, say where lived when you were ten, add 5 + 11,….

    Then your friend mixes these cards together and you do/answer what the cards ask and

    each time tell your friend whether you felt full compulsion in your answer or free on a scale from

    1 – 10 with ten being full compulsion.

    Now have your friend take 20 new cards and have him ask you personal questions that he has no idea

    what the answers were: Grandmother’s name, first date’s name, name of third grade teacher, ….

    and then also take another 20 cards and write – Tell the Truth or Lie on them.

    Mix the questions cards together and then mix the Truth/Lie cards together.

    As you pick up a card from the questions list also pick up a card from the T/L list.

    Make sure your friend does not know if you are to tell the truth or not for each answer.

    Again state whether you felt full compulsion or not on the 1- 10 Scale.

    Compare the numerical score for the first trial and the second trial.

    Ask your self what they tells you about whether you have Freedom of the Will or not.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading