by David M. Petersen
In Funk and Wagnall's New Encyclopedia, freewill is defined as "the power or ability of the human mind to choose a course of action or make a decision without being subject to restraints imposed by antecedent causes, by necessity, or by divine predetermination". I believe that this definition is not the correct definition of freewill, and I will make an attempt to show logically why this is so. As far as I know, there seem to be two extremes of thought concerning this concept that are generally perceived as irreconcilable. I believe that these extremes are reconcilable, because I believe that freewill fully exists, and it is completely determined from vast forces beyond our control, and so consequently both the Determinist (human action is not willed freely) and the Libertarianist (freedom of the will is absolute) descriptions can be shown to be two paths towards the same truth and there truly is a more concise definition of freewill then the definition above.
First of all, you will probably agree that the observed existence of what we call the will of the individual is an integral part of that which we call consciousness. It is obvious to me that consciousness is completely emergent from more fundamental systems of the universe, specifically the physical and biological systems, including organism survival and development. I believe this because I believe in evolution. In other words, I believe that there was a big bang approximately 15 billion years ago that 'came from nothing', and unleashed an evolving physical energy system that encompasses all there is. If you accept current cosmological, geological, and biological evidence, you must accept that everything you can see, hear, touch, or experience has evolved within this massive energy system, and is included within it. If everything has evolved from everything else within this system, how, I ask you, can human consciousness, and thus the individual will, be something that completely exists outside this causal evolutionary chain? The answer is, it can't. Additionally, As far as the will being an integral part of consciousness is concerned, I think you would agree that the defining feature of human consciousness is the subjective 'I' experience of awareness, and that only an 'I' can have a will. Consequently, only an 'I' can have a will that could possibly be free.
It's obvious that much confusion is caused by the fact that humans do make decisions, or spontaneously act, or create works of art, etc. that show an obvious transcendence of anything that has come before. In other words, they show a transcendence of their physical and biological 'programming', so to speak. I believe that this phenomenon can be completely and logically attributed to a certain amount of growth at the level of individual human consciousness within a universal evolving energy system, of which, of course, the individual will is an integral part. This emergent growth could hardly be said to be truly free, it being best described as changing from, or 'including and transcending', that which came before. Say, for example, an artist renders a painting that is widely viewed as stunningly original and emotionally powerful. The painting does not magically appear out of thin air but rather is a culmination and transcendence of all of the artist's study of technique, his influences by other artists, as well as his personal ideas of beauty and aesthetics which are of course a direct result of his unique development as a human being.
This process can and must be viewed as a complex interaction between all of the 'patterns' of energy connected to the evolution of this new painting, because this painting exists within an evolving system in which new expressions of energy are constantly springing forward from, but are still logically connected to, that which has come before. I know that viewing this process as just energy systems interacting seems 'far out' because life is so fantastically complex and beautiful, but we must remember that everything connected with anything is all just a manifestation of positive or negative energy, since everything that exists, does so within a massive energy system. All of this, of course, follows the deterministic view, but let me continue.
I believe that freewill should be seen as a characteristic of this new emergent system of consciousness, and one that is necessary to the mechanism of the existence of consciousness, because it absolutely must be taken into account in this phenomenon. It is obvious that freewill is relational. Your will is completely free from your next door neighbor Joe's will, as evidenced by your 'clash of wills' over planting a tree in the middle of your front lawns. It's a cold hard reality that we have freewill in relation to each other, or in other words, in the interaction of our separate awareness', marked by our separate senses of 'I'. Joe cannot make you change your mind about the tree, except by force or other extreme means. Your relational freewill is therefore absolute within the local system in which it operates.
Furthermore, natural structures emerge from the collection of the relational freewill of individuals within our universe, namely businesses and governments. These organizations are undeniably part of a system of consciousness because they are the naturally occurring next level of organization of conscious individuals. The laws and operation procedures of businesses and governments must acknowledge each individual's will as being free from each other individual's will, as well as being free from the overall 'organizations' will', or they could not operate and thus exist; this is proof that relational freewill is necessary to the natural evolution of the system of consciousness. The process of voting in both government and the boards of businesses would be nonexistent if this were not so. In fact, acknowledging individual freewill (either relational or the more traditional definition of) is the only way possible for us to understand, view, and organize the operation of conscious individuals within organizations made up of conscious individuals at this point in time.
Even if you deny that the above argument proves that relational freewill is a characteristic within the system of consciousness, or even that there is an overall system of consciousness, It follows that, because conscious individuals exist within the universe and have wills that are completely free from each other, relational freewill must also be a characteristic of the Universe. In order to prove that relational freewill is a characteristic of the universe that is absolutely necessary to the universe, Or in other words, that freewill is truly absolute, We must consider the universe as a whole for a moment.
Not only is the universe a massive evolving energy system, but it is a massive balanced and interconnected evolving energy system. Physicists agree that both the overall electric charge, as well as the difference between all the positive energy of matter Vs the negative energy of the gravitational force between the matter, add up to zero within our universe. This overwhelmingly suggests that all positive energy is completely balanced by all negative energy! The other fascinating physical fact concerning our universe is that everything within it is completely interconnected to an absolutely stunning degree. The most graphic illustration of this is what is known as 'Bells Interconnectedness Theorem'. A physicist named John Bell proved that a quality previously known in the formal mathematics of quantum theory called 'phase entanglement' is an actual factual phenomenon that can be observed in reality. The gist of this phenomenon is that every system at the quantum level, (in short, everything!), is intimately connected with every other quantum system it has ever encountered in the past, regardless of the physical distance between the two systems. Since the universe exploded out of nothing from an infinitely pure state of high density and temperature and has been moving through phase transitions out of which everything we know, including all quantum systems, has crystallized, you can see how everything truly is completely interconnected.
A ramification of these two facts is quite far-reaching. If the system is completely balanced and interconnected, you cannot remove any object or system from within the universe and expect the universe to continue to be completely balanced and interconnected. Therefore, by logical extension, all systems, objects, lifeforms, etc., and their characteristics, are thus necessary to the overall system. This means that in fact, everything that ever results in the universe, as well as the characteristics of everything that ever results in the universe, must be and will be an essential part of the natural evolution of the universe.
At this point, you could argue that if two clashing wills have both been completely determined from more fundamental forces and circumstances, then the outcome of the clash must also be determined, and so consequently all the previous arguments are possibly nullified. This is not so, because of that other fundamental characteristic of our evolving system: chance. Obviously, circumstances can by chance influence the outcome of a clash of two individual wills. The large role chance plays in evolution is widely known, for example the biological chance genetic mutations of species, and is of course related to the mathematical concept of chaos exhibited in all dynamic systems within our universal energy system. Chance, of course, plays a large part in the formulation of individual wills in the first place.
And so, relational freewill, being a characteristic of the universe relative to the system of consciousness, must therefore be necessary to the universal system, otherwise it wouldn't exist in our balanced interconnected universe. Both consciousness with it's characteristic of relational freewill, as well as the more fundamental physical and biological systems that formed it (including the element of chance), are necessary for the universe as a whole to exist. In other words, the inescapable awareness of your own freewill relative to others is necessary for it to work within the larger system that determined it, and of which itself is a part. Freewill therefore cannot be an "illusion", for it has a definite existence. The fact that one can have such a rich conscious experience of life and have complete autonomy relative to one another within a system that generated this phenomenon is a measure of the beauty and power of our universal energy system. It is a beauty that transcends any cold "mechanistic" views of the physical system itself.
And so, I believe that the definition of freewill should read: Free will is an absolute characteristic of the universe related to the complete emergence of the phenomenon of consciousness from the more fundamental physical, then biological systems of the balanced, interconnected, evolving universe; it is embodied within the interaction between at least two conscious individuals, and is absolutely necessary for the continued evolution of the universe.
The bottom line is that the extreme Deterministic and Libertarian positions on freewill are reconcilable in the way outlined in this essay. As far as the ethical ramifications of this definition of freewill, and the relationship between an individual and a supreme being relative to this definition of freewill, I believe these topics are more than worthy of their own individual essays. I believe the facts and logic behind this definition of freewill stand by themselves, and should be dealt with.
1. Free Will, Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia, (1994).
2. A Brief History of Time - From the Big Bang to Black Holes, Stephen H. Hawking. New York, New York: Bantam (1988).
3. Complexity - The Emerging Science at The Edge of Order and Chaos, M. Mitchell Waldrop. New York, New York: Touchstone (1992).
4. The First Three Minutes - A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Steven Weinburg. New York, New York: Harper Collins (1977).
5. Quantum Reality - Beyond the New Physics, Nick Herbert. Garden City, New York: Doubleday (1985).
The likely evolutionary path of the human race:
The future of Man
The 21st century needs its own philosophy; here it is:
My entire body of work is archived Here forever, (http://wayback.archive.org/web/*/
http://philosophy.dmpetersen.net) except for some documents in my storage space.
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