today i engaged in a detailed study of the philosophies of free will and determinism.
i checked out a book from my library called “Freedom Evolves” by Daniel Dennet. in this book, he promulgates his materialistic theory of deterministic free will. this sounds incredibly paradoxical and even perhaps humorous. however, he makes a good case, logically, about why free will and materialism, and free will and determinism, are not mutually exclusive, as they are many times simply assumed to be. many would ask, “well how can i make a choice if the outcome is determined?” and he would answer that the choice is taken because the machinery of the brain is capable of taking it; whether or not that calculation is determined is seemingly irrelevant to the question of whether or not we can make free choices.
he launches this argument from a perspective of most rigorous materialism. this is the claim that each and every single function of the mind (right down to the seemingly miraculous feat of consciousness) is explainable by physical brain states. soul? forget about it. if anything he relegates the usage of that term to the material and shifts it away from some immaterial entity that, for some strange reason, cannot be found or observed and is not even required for an explanation. his demystification of consciousness and mind has the secondary role of establishing a brain-framework for the explanation of authoritarian imperial choices undertaken in free will. in general, there is some sort of unspoken assumption in our collective minds that any free decisions we take must originate from some metaphysical “soul” or some unexplainable phantom in the machine that pulls and pushes on the levers that control our body in order to execute an imperial order.
so, from this framework, it is easy to make the next leap which goes on to claim that the brain, being a super-complicated and somehow conscious computer, calculates potential future scenarios in its universe-simulating frontal lobes and sifts through the possibilities it predicts and chooses the one it deems most fit by the discriminations learned through experience via memories. that these choices are made in neural circuitry does not conflict with the notion that the universe deterministic; neither does it conflict with the assertion that we have freedom of choice.
so thus, we find that materialism rushes in to the rescue of those who would gasp at such a seemingly evil attempt to break the spell. they are afraid of the fatalist trap they believe lies at the end of this deterministic tunnel. they feel that if our universe is determined from the outset, then we must obviously have no ability whatsoever to make an independent and free choice. if we don’t possess some immaterial “soul” that is exempt from the causal determinism of this universe, how can we act? well, it seems that there are a great many assumptions that people hold in the back of their minds when they ask such questions, and Dennet’s book goes to great lengths to assuage the fears of these and to reveal the fallacies in the assumptions.
also, a quick note to add to the skeptical quantum physicist. i have not yet finished the book and there are chapters i have not read yet that deal with the apparent indeterministic foundation of quantum physics and incorporate that into the argument. i may be wrong in assuming a fully deterministic universe (or in my understanding of the exact meaning implied behind the usage of the term here) but i shall wait to finish this exceptionally lucid and systematic attempt to tackle the question of determinism and free will that has captivated so many philosophers in the past.
i have lately been extremely interested in this idea myself and this book is an absolutely intellectual-thirst-quenching book to read. it is incredibly satisfying as it tackles the same issues i find so intriguing and many times i find myself drawn to the simple and elegant appeal of his arguments. like the cards in the photo above, whose exact position in the deck was determined by the physical laws, my decision to write this article was similarly predictable and determined at the outset of the universe.