Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

(R) I don't think you really answered my free will question;you simply pointed to the higher brain which allows for conscious decision.
(MB) But, that *is* the answer, isn't it? The higher brain allows us to collate all sense data that the rest of the brain has collected, bounce it off stored memories and learned responses, examine all possibilities for the meaning of that data, and then make our decision. The brain is a hierarchy of functionality where the data-gathering parts are deterministic while the decision-making parts are not.

(R) Try to look a little deeper - what is the mechanism of choice?
(MB) The higher brain has no deterministic mechanism of choice. The other parts of the brain don't make choices.

(R) You describe how a given stimulus is first analyzed by the lower brain to determine its significance, its importance to survival (i.e. danger or threat). No problem there - stimulus comes in and triggers pre-determined neural pathways. Then you say that this information then goes into the higher brain where it enters our consciousness, and we become "aware." What is the mechanism for awareness?
(MB) There isn't one. "Awareness" is really nothing more than a psychological term for our ability to contemplate the data of our own senses. We think it has some special meaning for our species since we can speak and write and formulate rules of logic. I would say that any animal with a higher brain has some degree of awareness. Just because a dog, for example, can't write a book doesn't mean that it isn't "aware".

(R) Does this higher brain differ from other neural pathways in such a way that we can choose which one if fired to cause a thought or an action?
(MB) It might be a better explanation to consider that our brains are constantly roiling with data that are being processed and examined. Most of this occurs beneath the conscious level. When we "think" or "choose", our conscious mind is directed towards the data that is pertinent to the immediate question and sifts through the possibilities. Then, we pick the choice that is the most appealing by applying varying degrees of emotion, logic, reason, rationality (or their opposites).
    I think there's something to be said for the fact that people tend to be happier when they are free to make their own decisions and are less happy when those decisions are forced upon them by dogmatic belief or authority. If decisions were always deterministic, I don't see why those emotional reactions should be so sharply contrasted.

(R) Also your proposed experiment is completely invalid because a neural net changes with every input of stimulus. Therefore a the first press of the button could be determined by knowing the exact structure of each neural pathway just prior to touching it, but by the time of the second press of the button, the brain would have changed to incorporate the stimulus of the first press. Therefore there is no control state -- the brain has changed between pressing the button. The pressing of a different button the second time does not prove free will in any sense, the brain is simply slightly differently wired one hour later due to the influx of the countless individual pieces of information received by the brain in that hour.
(MB) Let's take the experiment one step further and use pairs of identical twins as our subjects. (Actually, psychologists *do* use identical twins for similar purposes). Further, let's speed up the button presses to the point where the subjects are doing nothing but pressing buttons continuously. Therefore, there will be no other outside stimuli that could contaminate the results. If the test conditions are identical for both twins in each pair, they should press the same sequence of buttons if their choices are purely deterministic. But, since this has never been observed to happen, there must be something more than mere determinism involved. The control state would be the actions of the other twin in the pair and the identical test conditions applied to both.

(R) You still have not even attempted to suggest a possible mechanism for free will or any credible evidence that free will even exists.
(MB) Hopefully, I've done better this time around.

(R) Without any evidence or even a possible explanation of the existence of something, one must assume that it does not exist.
(MB) Quite true, but the explanation I've offered should qualify as "possible". Some philosophers think that the very existence of the possibility of free will means that it must exist. If it didn't, we wouldn't even have the concept.
    One argument whose implications have had an impact on me says that the best evidence for free will is the fact that one can make specific choices and think specific thoughts when he might just as well make other choices or think other thoughts. William James said, "My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will".
    Furthermore, it seems to me that our ability to conceive original ideas or come up with non-intuitive solutions to problems seemingly out of nowhere is additional evidence for the existence of a non-deterministic functionality within the higher brain.
    Now, I must admit that none of this is absolute proof of the existence of free will. But, I believe that a sufficient case can be made for it that would cause a reasonable person to acknowledge that it is possible -- or even likely.
    Finally, from an experiential point of view, even if free will doesn't exist, the workings of our conscious mind would still present us with the illusion that it does and we would behave accordingly.

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