First of all I would like to state that I have nothing to do with philosophy, I might even be totally new to the field. So far I had my own thoughts about life and how things work, mentally mostly. Maybe I don't even know how to determine the field of philosophy so maybe this is not the right place to ask for enlightenment on what's bothering me right now. But I'll give it a shot.

Today I had a conversation with a friend of mine, he's a philosopher. The main topic of our conversation was Humans and their will. I as a programmer and a computers geek in general can relate human function with computers. Not literally, but we do have a processing unit, hard drive, power supply, etc. in us, brain, heart, and more peripherals that help us do our thing, hands, legs, eyes, etc. What I was saying is that we are machines as well, surely more evolved than today's computers but there's still a relation in my head. What I was also saying is that a man takes decisions based on his experiences since he was created, even before birth. And here's the part that we couldn't agree. He says "I reject raw deterministic deductive patterns", He seems to believe that a man has something more than just a brain, he thinks that there is something more in there and not just experiences, he thinks he is really choosing depending on his WILL, and that he DOES have a free will.

What is that something more? Since it's proven that a person learns by experience, how can we say he has a free will? To me it all seems to boil down to past experiences.

I just try to explain to him that to me, choosing based on experiences is still free will, it's you that chooses and they are your experiences. But your choices do depend on them. In a way... the way you're "programmed"

I would like to hear more opinions on this topic so I can understand how a philosopher thinks or maybe what's that something that gives us free will? Even the flaws in my logic interest me.

What is your opinion on this topic?

English is not my first language, so please forgive me if I didn't state my question as well as it should be stated. Thank you in advance.

  • 3
    Welcome to philosophy.stackexchange! Your question is hardly new, which in your case is a good thing. Click on the free-will tag and look around, you might already find the answers you're looking for. Also, there's this great Encyclopedia, and you can find the article on Free Will here
    – iphigenie
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 9:57
  • Then he is gotta have a prove of what he believes in. Does his reason sound rational to you? Is his reasoning consistent with what is known to humanity? If not, it is only his own preferred idea, and it won't necessarily be true. And you've got to show this to him, if this is the case. Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 16:16

4 Answers 4


"He seems to believe that a man has something more than just a brain, he thinks that there is something more in there and not just experiences"

It's odd, isn't it, that otherwise rational men believe that sort of thing? I think the reason they do is twofold: One is that the brain (and mind) is a chaotic system; while it is deterministic, there is no way to predict what its future state will be. You have to wait and see. So, it is unpredictable, but not random... which gives a fairly rough description of what free will FEELS like. It seems self-evident that we aren't making RANDOM decisions, but also self-evident that we are MAKING decisions, not following a predetermined script. The solution in the past has been to say that we do not behave in a way either random or predetermined, but some ill-defined third option, generally due to the influence of some preternatural force (soul, essence, or some other evasive concept.)

Secondly, there are huge but inevitable problems with perspective. When we start to reason or do science about ourselves, particularly our own consciousness or perceptions, it sometimes gets very tricky. We see this in philosophical problems of free will, solipsism, idealism, etc., and in scientific problems dealing with quantum mechanics, the anthropic principle, biological definitions of life, and so on. It's harder to reason about a problem when you are, yourself, a fundamental component of the equation.


A brain is not a deterministic construct built from blueprints, passed through strict QA to check if it conforms to specs and performing precisely the way any other brain does.

The "blueprints" for the brain - the DNA code - is not only unique per individual but also a lossy compression format, and the decompression process (growth of organism) takes a lot of "creative liberties" at filling in the blanks not strictly defined by DNA.

Whether that means you do have free will, or your actions are predetermined by composition of your own specific brain in connection with your personal history and current conditions, is a matter of assuming whether the whole universe is deterministic or not. But two different embryos growing in identical conditions will grow into two different people - brains are unique, and the idea of "tabula rasa" - child's brain being entirely blank, generic and only shaped by environment - has been clinically disproven.

  • 1
    In geeks terms: unknowable random seed at every point of procedural generation
    – user2411
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 19:35
  • @Singularity: Yes, procedural = the part of building cell. The actual growth of organism is actually fractal in nature, and each branching of the fractal is affected by new random seed.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 19:41
  • He doesn't accept random either. He says random doesn't exit.
    – Not Amused
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 18:35
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    @DeusDeceit: Then he's a believer of the folly of "deterministic universe". For a time it was believed it's only our inability to observe the state of the universe that makes us unable to predict the future. Now it is known many common quantum processes are truly random. There is no external influence deciding when a uranium atom breaks up; it just happens at one entirely random point of time not influenced by the outside in any way. Nevertheless, the structure of brain depends on so many outside factors that no two identical brains exist. Free will, if exists, is indistinguishable from these.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 21:34

Peter van Inwagen in his "Metaphysics" (2009) explains point of view that both determinism and indeterminism (which he understands as randomness) are incompatible with free will.

He concludes that as such, free will cannot exist or merely an illusion.

Perhaps the explanation of the fact that both compatibilism and incompatibilism seem to lead to mysteries is simply that the concept of free will is self-contradictory. Perhaps free will is, as the incompatibilists say, incompatible with determinism. But perhaps it is also incompatible with indeterminism, owing to the impossibility of its being up to an agent what the outcome of an indeterministic process will be. If free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism, then, since either determinism or indeterminism has to be true, free will is impossible. And, of course, what is impossible does not exist.

It should be noted that there is a chance that can save the free will.

A research by Thomas Breuser concluded that neither deterministic, nor indeterministic universally-valid theories are possible. That means that no theory can predict (even probabilistically) the future of a system which contains the observer himself due to self-reference problem.

As such it seems that the free will of at least the observer can be saved while all other people will appear to him as following the laws of deterministic or random theory and as such, not possessing free will.

Particularly, regarding quantum mechanics Breuer proves that a system which includes the observer has states in phase space which are in principle cannot be distinguished by observer himself however good measurement devices he would employ. Yes these states affect the future evolution of the system.

This can be understood as that there is hidden information which real but unreadable by any physical device which affects the future behavior of the observer.

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    This doesn't seem to actually answer the question.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 1:01

Determinism is usually indicated as a form of coercion to perform in a specific manner. Rationality can be perceived as a form of coercion In other words, a system in a specific formulation will react to the forces controlling it by moving on to a new predictable arrangement. This is the fundamental concept behind all science. There are known systems which are unpredictable such as whether any particular radioactive atom will decay. But in dealing with masses of atoms it is predictable as to the half life of the mass of atoms. The human brain was evolved to predict the consequences of an action in order for the creature to survive. It must choose an action that will be beneficial to the entire organism and it does so by acting in accordance with past experience and to whatever automatic reactions were developed through evolution. Although automatic action-reactions are inherited and are somewhat uniform and without choice, reasoned reactions may not be free since they react to experience to gain the best outcome. Each individual has had different experiences and therefore the choice of what action to use to gain the best consequence would be different for different individuals. Nevertheless, within each individual choice it is experience and automatism which governs the action. Random action would not respond to the needs of a situation and would very frequently be fatal.

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