What is free will? How does that relate to human?

closed as too broad by Frank Hubeny, Bread, Eliran, Jishin Noben, SonOfThought Feb 14 at 6:15

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    This may too broad for a brief answer. To help provide context are you reading something that makes you think of this question? Why should there be only two common sense ideas? Regardless, welcome to Philosophy! – Frank Hubeny Feb 9 at 9:33

I'm going to answer, but i agree you need to do more work on the question.

lower animals such as cockroaches are driven almost exclusively by immediate reaction to stimulus. That is.. if the see something their hardwired brain tells tem is a predator, they flee.

Cockroaches cannot really learn to identify new threats. Their mental processes are a simple product of evolution.

They can however 'decide' which direction to go in. But again this choice is likely to be automatic in some way.

When there are no immediate stimuli, a cockroach will do nothing.

humans have infinitely extended cognition. That is to say... humans can react to stimulii from years gone by.

This manifests as 'free will'. Humans can seem to make decisions and act.. without stimulii.

Intelligence as we know it seems to be based on this infinitely extended cognition.

The 'big problem' is whether this constant thought and ability to make arbitrary decisions means that our free will is somehow etherial.. and not directly linked to the physical brain.

Many believe we're just like cockroaches, but kid ourselves into imagining 'free will'. It's compelling, but counter intuitive.


I agree that the question needs some development. But I have an answer that might fit what you're asking.

The free will problem is generally seen as a conflict between the assumptions of determinism and agent causation. Determinism is the idea that the world is governed by a set of physical laws that completely fix the history of the universe. Specifically, all of our actions are determined by the state of our bodies — including our brains — which is determined by our environment and the prior state of our bodies, and so on, all the way back to the Big Bang.

Agent causation is the idea that beings like us are capable of initiating actions that are causally independent of our prior history; we can act as "uncaused causes." This means that some of our actions are not determined by the state of our bodies, and so on, all the way back to the Big Bang. So agent causation is incompatible with determinism.

Much of the free will debate in academic philosophy assumes determinism, and then considers whether there are other ways of thinking about "free will" that are more compatible with determinism.

However, from my perspective as an empiricist philosopher of science, both determinism and agent causation are metaphysical postulates, and I am suspicious of both ideas. Determinism comes from the medieval Christian idea of God as a divine lawmaker. The idea that physics provides a comprehensive description of the world has been promoted for hundreds of years, but has always fallen short. Research on human behavior often finds important connections to physiology and biochemistry; but we have nothing close to a set of deterministic laws of human behavior, much less an understanding of how human behavior might be reduced to fundamental physics. Even in physics, we have very few accurate, deterministic models of complex physical systems. Given the very limited success of determinism as an approach to scientific inquiry, from an empiricist perspective there doesn't seem to be any reason to conclude that the world is deterministic. For more on this perspective, I recommend Angela Potochnik's Idealization and the Aims of Science.

On the other hand, research in social science, psychology, neuroscience, and so on, has identified many things that influence our behavior. These causal influences fall short of determining our behavior. But they also seem to undermine the idea of agent causation. Some neuroscientists have argued that their research shows that we "don't have free will." But they often say that their research shows that our actions are "completely determined." From my empiricist perspective, the first point seems correct, but the second goes well beyond what their research actually shows.

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