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 '19 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. – Wolf Larson Jul 16 '19 at 23:39

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. – Wolf Larson Jul 17 '19 at 0:27
  • 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 '19 at 1:27

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