When searching on free will, what will often be found is that free will is incoherent (Sam Harris) or an illusion. Other references will claim it exists while citing clinical studies which distinguish between the actions of those who believe they have free will and those who don't: https://www.medicaldaily.com/free-will-exists-even-though-our-brains-know-what-were-going-do-we-do-it-304210

Those who take the position that we have free will may regard it as a causeless cause. My hunch is that the infinite regress implied by the trials has something to do with that.

Even then, I'll find it paired with defensive asides "look, it isn't the only causeless cause" citing stochastic behavior in quantum mechanics as non-deterministic.

My question is, excluding the stochastic nature of quantum mechanics (which follows predictable statistical rules), and in recognition of the clinical studies cited, are there any other 'causeless causes' that compare on the same terms with our perception of free will?

Is it quantum mechanics and free will or are there more?

  • I think you may have come across a partitioning, where there are few "causeless causes" because we start with "all causeless causes" and divide them into categories. Does that feel to you like what you're doing? If so, I'd add one more causeless cause: the big bang.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 16, 2019 at 23:37
  • Fair enough. I hadn't considered that one. Now do you have another one? ;-) I'm trying to conceive of another 'causeless cause' that would be exhibited at the human scale. Jul 16, 2019 at 23:39

2 Answers 2


I think you may have partitioned the causeless causes, which is why you find so few.

The first causeless cause is, naturally, the first cause. In science, this is "the big bang," though there is plenty of philosophy on other first causes. So far it seems unpopular to consider concepts of time which don't have a cause. You might be able to find some interesting causes there, but if we stick with what is "popular," the big bang would be it.

Once one is past the first cause, as in the cause whose time precedes all other causes, we can explore causeless causes which occur after this first cause.

I would argue an easy way to approach these is through complexity. To quote wikipedia:

Complexity characterises the behaviour of a system or model whose components interact in multiple ways and follow local rules, meaning there is no reasonable higher instruction to define the various possible interactions.

Systems for which there are reasonable higher order instructions to define the interactions tend to be called deterministic, and there's always a cause for everything in such corners. Thus, what is left as "complexity" is where all other causeless causes could be found.

Dr. Warren Weaver divided complexity into two categories: disorganized complexity and organized complexity. This was a partition. Disorganized complexity considers that which can be understood by probability and statistics. Quantum Mechanics is a clear example of this. Organized complexity is everything that wasn't disorganized.

I draw these divisions because they partition the possible places for a causeless cause in a way that is similar enough to the choices of your words to possibly offer food for thought.

  • First Cause: Big bang
  • Disorganized Complexity: Quantum Mechanics
  • Organized Complexity: Freewill

This association, of course, is one that you may take or discard at your preference. Disorganized complexity is dominated by QM because we have beaten down all other sources of disorganized complexity through the scientific method, leaving us at a collection of deterministic systems with disorganized complexity at its core.

My claim that organized complexity is associated with freewill is one that may be heavily debated. Not everyone's definition of freewill fits here. However, I do believe they are close enough to be worth mulling over here. Perhaps the thing you are referring to as freewill here is causeless causes that stem from organized complexity, which would defend my claim that there's a partitioning going on. I do note that many systems which exhibit organized complexity, such as the weather or the oceans, are heavily personified and assigned freewill by many individuals who work with them.

So it may be that the reason we see so few causeless causes is that what we are really seeing is a partition of causeless causes, and we only partition it as much as we find convenient.

As such, I would add one more to the list. All of the complexity examples focus on systems which follow local rules. Complexity does not capture something operating on a global scale. As such, I would list "God" as a causeless cause, using a word which is very popular and heavily overloaded.

Regardless of whether one uses the terms "freewill" and "God" to describe these things, I believe this example does partition the causeless causes, and does so in a direction that may be applicable to your question.

  • Thank you for this. I will follow the link to read more on complexity. Jul 17, 2019 at 0:27
  • 1
    To claim the big bang to be an uncaused cause is akin to claim knowledge that it is has no cause. This is not the consensus held by the scientific community, which is that we don't know what caused it or if it has a cause.
    – armand
    Jul 17, 2019 at 1:27
  • The intuitive idea of "cause" is not really used in modern science, only mathematical determination of the state of a system at one time given information about its state at a different time. One can just as well use the laws of nature to determine earlier states from later ones. See the comment from philosopher of science Tim Maudlin here in the paragraph beginning 'As for causation, everyday causal locutions are highly context-sensitive' and the comment 'Furthermore, physics gets on fine without mention of causation: dynamical law does all the work.'
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 27, 2021 at 0:27
  • @Hypnosifl Physics also has a very difficult time working with the concept of freewill in a way which generates the complexity of modern topics such as morality. So sometimes one has to bend a few rules.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 27, 2021 at 3:05

Free will is the ability to cause one's own actions.

Voluntary actions are not caused by any prior events, they are caused by the decision to act. Decisions are not physical events, they are information, the results of mental processing of information.

Decisions are our solutions to the problems we face. Problems never cause their solutions.

  • If decisions are not physical events, how come neurologists using electromagnetic sensors can predict our decisions event before we make them ?
    – armand
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:00
  • 1
    They are not predicting anything. The sensors just register the action signal before the test person becomes aware of his own decision. All decisions are not conscious decisions, as demonstrated by the Libet experiments. Jan 26, 2021 at 11:14
  • "before the test person becomes aware of his own decision" Thanks for making my point. Considering all this physical brain activity based on physical input and out of the conscious experience, pretending decisions are not a physical event seems quite a far fetch and would require at least some argument in support.
    – armand
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:20
  • Decisions have no measurable physical properties. Do not conflate mental processes and physical brain processes. They are intertwined, but still different things. Jan 26, 2021 at 11:40
  • You would have to prove that. The neurons that direct any of our actions are excited by other neurons, themselves excited by other neurons and so on, including the sensory input and the feedback from our memory. All those neurons' activity is perfectly detectable, measurable, can be accurately predicted, even faster than our conciousness can. To posit that there is anything more to our decision process would require some evidence. Just repeating the claim is no demonstration.
    – armand
    Jan 26, 2021 at 12:04

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