Friday 14 September 2018

Notes on 'Free Will' (or agency), God and Creation

There are so many incoherent ideas-about and explanations-of Free Will, and yet its reality is so vitally important, that this is something that almost everybody needs to sort-out for themselves (assuming that they cannot ignore the explanations).

For Christians, Free Will is at the heart of the religion; and indeed, when (as has quite often happened) Christians neglect the matter of Free Will then the whole nature and practice of the religion gravitates into something quite un-Christian.

Indeed, when Free Will is taken out of Christianity, we get something approximating to Islam - in which obedience to God's will becomes the central virtue.

Nonetheless, taking Free Will seriously (as I think we must) takes us to places a long way from mainstream Christianity

1. Free Will is about thinking, not about actions. (Necessary to avoid incoherence.) Free Will is not all of thinking, not even most of thinking: Free Will is one kind, and the most fundamental kind, of thinking.

2. Free Will needs to be considered an uncaused cause - that is, the thinking of Free Will cannot be explained in terms of being a consequence of anything else. So we should not try to do so.

3. This means that the thinking of Free Will can be observed only after it has emerged. We cannot, and never could, perceive what is going-on in Free Will: Free Will emerges from a black box. We might observe it as it emerges from the black box, but could never see it being formed. 

4. And when I say 'we' could not perceive or observe the workings or causes of Free Will - I also mean our-real-selves cannot do this. The (obvious) reason being that Free Will emerges-from our real-selves. So we-our-selves are in the position of observing thoughts as they emerge from our-selves - we can do so only after they have separated from ourselves.

5. What applies to our-selves also applies to God. God cannot, does not, perceive and know what is going-on where the thinking of Free Will comes-from. God cannot see-into our real selves; cannot analyse of Free Will: nothing can.

6. The 'workings' of Free Will are opaque, even to the creator - the reason is that God did not create that-which from-which Free Will emerges. That entity from-which Free Will (our real-selves) emerges is prior to creation.

7. God's creation works-around this; but Free Will is not a regrettable constraint. Creation is about bringing the Free Will of personal agents into voluntary, loving harmony and further creativity.

Note: What I have done above to is make a metaphysical assumption that Free Will is really-real and really-free (because implied and entailed by Christianity); and to reason from that assumption. 


Chiu ChunLing said...

If free will is thus defined, then I don't have such a thing and have lost any capacity for it I may have ever had by becoming more conscious of and responsible for my own thinking.

Unknown said...

Physics experiments involving Bell's Inequality have demonstrated that one of two things must be true: either the outcome of a quantum measurement *cannot be known beforehand* by *anyone* -- including God -- or otherwise the outcome of all quantum measurements must have been predetermined before the beginning of time a.k.a. superdeterminism. It seems to be physically impossible to distinguish between these two possibilities experimentally.

Note that in both of these possibilities, the information about the results of the all of the quantum measurements in the history of the universe comes from *outside the system*. The universe does not appear to be a closed clockwork mechanism that was started off with a simple set of initial conditions, but rather a system that requires the injection of a massive amount of information from "outside", either all at the beginning (superdeterminism) or constantly (free will).

BC: all of your reasoning in the original post follows immediately and logically from the assumption that information about the outcome of quantum measurements occurs as they are made, which is the traditional interpretation of QM.

Possible clarification of point 1: do we need better terminology to distinguish the thinking process of bringing in new information from the "outside" from the kind of thinking that involves rearranging and processing information that has already come out of the "black box"?

-- Robert Brockman

Unknown said...

Further speculation: note that from within the universe we cannot distinguish between superdeterminism and free will. Recall that in the Ainulindale, there is the notion that before the creation of the universe, various beings made different Music whose interaction manifested as the history of the world. Before entering the world the Ainur even saw the effects of the elves and humans on the world history, and were amazed by their independence. Thus Tolkien has the notion both that the Music governing the unfolding of history was written before the beginning of time *and* the notion that many beings (including humans) independently made unique contributions to this Music.

We should consider that the apparent contradiction between free will and determinism may be an artifact of an improper understanding of time and causality.

-- Robert Brockman

Chiu ChunLing said...

In other words, the possibility that all of our choices have been made in advance does not imply that they were all made by a single entity, nor does the possibility that all our choices are fundamentally unknowable in advance logically imply that they are being made by more than one entity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RB - I would not reason from quantum theories because I (like Einstein) don't think they are true - just useful. All scientific theories are untrue, being models - but quantum theories seem esepcially clear examples of 'saving the appearances' - and not an insight into reality.

But then I don't really understand quantum theory - hardly any body even claims to, they just use maths to do it, which they don't understand either.

And I don't think physics, or maths, is the master metaphor of reation - I believe it is human relationships that give us the deepest understanding of reality.

Unknown said...

"But then I don't really understand quantum theory - hardly any body even claims to, they just use maths to do it, which they don't understand either. "

QM is some weird stuff, luckily I have a talent for physics which gives me a *glimpse* of what is going on. The Bell's Inequality result, which has as its basis Einstein's fundamental dislike of QM, seems to be both very strong and consistent with your general line of reasoning. I am working on assembling a complete explanation of this which is sufficiently simple for general understanding.

"And I don't think physics, or maths, is the master metaphor of reation - I believe it is human relationships that give us the deepest understanding of reality."

Yes, this is exactly the point. From what we can tell, physics and math *cannot in principle* tell us which way quantum measurements will go -- if they could we would get different experimental results. Determining which of the myriad possible future trajectories of the Universe we will experience is thus *beyond the scope of science* and we have used science itself to determine this.

Our understanding of any "patterns" in Free Will must therefore be unscientific, non-mathematical, and non-computational. This is what the unwitting members of Team Ahriman need to be made to understand.

@CC - Yes, exactly. What we know with a high degree of certainty is that our future decisions cannot be calculated from the any present measurements of the state of the universe with physics (or any science based on it) even in principle.

-- Robert Brockman

Chiu ChunLing said...

Human relationships are based on knowing in advance what someone will do. That is why promises and betrayals matter. If we really thought that such things were essentially indeterminable in advance, what would be the sense of caring about them?

Tobias said...

"God did not create that-which from-which Free Will emerges. That entity from-which Free Will (our real-selves) emerges is prior to creation."

I pull out three separate ideas from the above.

1 There is an entity from which free will emerges.

2 God did not create that entity.

3 That entity is prior to creation.

If the entity is a sort of container from which our real selves emerge, perhaps that real self is a self that is obedient to God because that is how it is - it cannot help it. Outside of time and the experience of living as a separate 'I', the real self is pure and good, but has no agency?

Perhaps it is as a separate flesh and blood being (separated from timelessness), making good decisions and acting on them that permits the 'real self' to come out of the container and into time, and into the human body. The real self is then changed, from a thing that is obedient to God because it cannot help it, into a thing that is obedient to God, because of its freely chosen decisions.

Acts of love and beauty would qualify as behaviours that release the real self from the pre-creation, timeless prison of automatic, unthinking obedience into the created, separate 'I' world where a considered choice has been made, that is in accordance with God's wishes. Living in the way God would like us to live permits more of the real self to 'come through' into time, and into our fleshly container. Making the wrong decisions (decisions lacking love and beauty) would bar the real self from entering into time and our bodies, leaving it in its raw, obedient but unaware state, outside of time and creation.

If this is something like accurate, then existing outside of creation and time is a sort of prison, where everything is held in potential, but not able to act on creation to help change it and expand it.

The more freely chosen acts of love and/or beauty an individual human being makes, the more of his real self gets to leave the prison, enter the time stream, and help with creation.

Perhaps the saint is a person whose real self (or most of it) has passed out of the timeless prison of unthinking obedience (the biblical 'void'?) into happy union with a living, breathing 'I'.