Free will – by Andrés Moya

This post is also available in: Spanish

You claim we are aware of freedom, time and death.

The subject of freedom is key. It’s fundamental because it has to do with science itself, in the sense of whether we’re going to be able to give an explanation of its existence or not. I don’t have a criterion set in stone, because sometimes I think we’re not free and sometimes I think we are. What I believe is it’s possible we may arrive to a scientific resolution of the problem. Daniel Denett has written a lot about this. If we think about the brain’s organization, which is where everything is, it’s possible certain laws exists which, should we know them, would allow us to predict the decision that will be made before any act. If the decision is determined, it’s not free; if it’s not, it is. Could we reach a scientific explanation of free will? The answer could stem from the fact that some laws of nature may exist -exist in fact- (for example, those related to the half-life of a radioactive element or in the realm of quantum mechanics, which has indeterministic laws) and that probably in the case of freedom we could end up formulating some kind of laws which would enable to predict the answer, by applying that law, which would allow us to say the answer is unpredictable. It’s not easy to understand, it’s even hard for me to explain. There’s a famous cellular automaton game, called the game of life. It was developed by a mathematician and Daniel Denett works on it a lot. It’s a computer grid, with some cells where some interaction rules are defined. The cells are occupied by some entities which are either alive or not. The grid is made up by cells, alive of not. The rules that define the game are totally deterministic. But you start playing and you can’t tell what the ending of the game will be, because the nature of the interactions is totally unpredictable and the final structure of the interactions at the end of 200, 300, 1,000 or 2,000 cycles cannot be predicted. Denett says that, even with deterministic laws, chaos and a certain indeterminacy may appear. He tries -and I in a certain way follow him- to see that somewhere out there, there’s an explanation to the freedom in our species, not necessarily compatible with the discovery of more or less deterministic laws. This, in what concerns freedom because, of course, we’re talking about our awareness that we’re free human beings and we say we’re totally determined beings, there’s no room for freedom. It’s possible that a certain principle of freedom may exist, in the sense of unpredictability. It would be a certain answer to the problem of free will in our species. How indeterminate to say whether the freedom is greater in us than in other species is a matter to be studied.

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