15 April 2012

The Significance of Free Will: Exegesis VI

It probably won't come as too much of a surprise if I tell you at this point that in order to get us back down the mountain, in order to argue that this incompatibilist free will we've been defining might be a reality without the invocation of any supernatural or transcendental machinery, Kane invokes the indeterminacy of quantum physics.

That sounds like a bit of a cliche, and Kane acknowledges as much early in the book.

Nonetheless, he makes this move, and he does have something new (or new to me, at any rate) to contribute in the specificity with which he carries this forward in the later portions of the book.

From chapter 8: “Imagine that the indeterminate efforts of will [as we experience them] are complex chaotic processes in the brain, involving neural networks that are globally sensitive to quantum indeterminacies at the neuronal level. Persons experience these complex processes phenomenologically as ‘efforts of will’ they are making to resist temptation in moral and prudential situations.”

This sounds to me like it builds on a “dual aspect” theory of the relations of mind. There is what we subjectively (phenomenologically) experience and there is what is happening physically. Neither of these facts is unreal, nor is either the cause of the other. Each is an aspect of the same situation. Sometimes the subjective aspect of this situation is one of uncertainty and balance -- as when my desire for a smoke conflicts with my desire to finally kick the habit. At least sometimes, when that is the case subjectively, what is happening objectively is also a matter of uncertainty and balance. There is, let us say, a chaotic process underway in the brain and how it will resolve itself depends upon the way some quantum butterfly's wings will flap.

Either I pick up the cigarette or I throw away the pack. The consequences for my life thereafter may be great. And either course may well be an undetermined free willing, or a self-formed will (an SFW).

Remember the Martin Luther situation we discussed earlier? Sometimes one says, “Here I stand, I can do nothing else,” and the stand one takes then is a free act, not an unfree one. Luther was expressing the view that there was no torn will in him at that time, no conflict of purposes. Being who he was, he could not do anything else.

But it might well be that he became that Martin Luther because at earlier points in his life these critical moments of uncertainty – genuine uncertainty, all the way down to the electron level – had resolved themselves in one way rather than another. And such a proposition is necessary, Kane believes, in order for us to understand Luther as fully free thereafter despite all the web of determined effects of determined causes that his life and times no doubt spun.  

1 comment:

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.