Can We Have A Responsible Free Will? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture Do we have free will?
NPR logo Can We Have A Responsible Free Will?

Can We Have A Responsible Free Will?

I have now published a substantial series of posts, starting with "Closed Quantum Systems" to yesterday's "Standing The Brain On Its Head." My hope has been to lay out a possible conceptual and scientific framework that may allow us to see our humanity as "Re-Enchanted. I end this series with the present post, which hopes to find plausible and testable grounds for an ontologically real, responsible free will.

Rene' Descartes gave us Res Cogitans and Res Extena, "thinking stuff" and "mechanical stuff". Res Cogitans was to be the locus of self, agency and a responsible free will. Res Extensa was his mechanical philosophy, our bodies and clocks as machines.

With Newton, his differential and integral calculus, his three laws of motion and universal gravitation, the universe became a vast deterministic clockwork, all Res Extensa. Res Cogitans disappeared as a useless, forever un-united, dualism in a materialist world.

With the loss of Res Cogitans, and rise of Newtonian mechanics, our humanity became disenchanted, for we too became mere machines, now identified with Mind-Brain as a classical physics deterministic dynamical machine. With deterministic classical physics Turing algorithmic machines, we came to think mind must also be algorithmic.

Hence the problem of free will. If I am deterministic, I have no free will.

The founders of Quantum Mechanics hoped to find a source of free will in quantum randomness. This hope has had two major problems. First, no one thought that quantum phenomena might arise in any important way in the mind-brain system. The quantum coherence of chlorophyll and its antenna protein cast doubt on this doubt, as I stressed in my last post, Turning the Brain On Its Head.

Second and even more important is the inadequacy of quantum randomness for a responsible free will. I walk down the street, a radioactive nucleus, or other quantum event happens fully randomly, so I have free will. I kill the little old lady with a frying pan. But its not my fault, just random chance!

Determinism and random quantum chance are the horns of the dilemma between which a responsible free will, if it can be real, must find its way.

The centerpiece of my argument rests on the novel physics of the Poised Realm and the Trans-Turing Systems I have posted in the recent past. For brevity, I will not restate these in detail. The fundamental point is that for open quantum systems decohering into their quantum environment, such systems can "decohere to classicality for all practical purposes, but recohere to open quantum behavior. This, as a Y axis, and an X axis of order, criticality and chaos, is the Poised Realm. Using the Poised Realm, Trans-Turing systems, perhaps such as synapses in our brains, have open quantum, poised realm and classical degrees of freedom coupled to one another. As quantum or poised realm degrees of freedom become classical, that changes the Hamiltonian of the classical system and with it the Hamiltonian of the quantum system. In turn, the altered behavior of the open quantum and Poised Realm degrees of freedom yields more degrees of freed which also become classical so further alter the classical Hamiltonian. Recherence in turn alters both the classical Hamiltonian and the behavior of the open quantum and Poised Realm degrees of freedom All this new physics is almost certainly very NON-RANDOM. Because Trans-Turing Systems inherit the indeterminacy of open quantum systems, they are NOT DEFINITE ALGORITHMIC classical physics systems.


We hopefully escape the horns of the dilemma: deterministic or quantum random.

The Mind - Brian system may be a highly evolved Trans-Turing non-algorithmic information processing system. Via qualia, perhaps related to synaptic measurement events, and their dual, an "I" that experiences the qualia, we are very close to AGENCY.

Now perhaps we can move toward a responsible free will. R. Ashby, in his Design for A Brain in the 1960's, invented a "Homeostat", a "cybernetic system with a subset of Essential Variables to be held in a narrow range of values. These provided Ashby with a "goal" for the Homeostat which behaved by flowing along a trajectory in state space to a deterministic attractor. The attractor found either kept the Essential Variables in bounds or did not. If not, another random initial state was tried, flowed along a trajectory to an attractor which might or might not keep the Essential variables in bounds. If after many "tries" no attractors were found that held the essential variables in bounds, the Homeostat implemented a "step change" in some random parameter, which altered the trajectory flow in state space, thereby creating new attractors, and continued until the Homeostat found an attractor that kept its Essential Variables in bounds.

Using this idea we should be able to construct Trans-Turing systems, and may ourselves be such Trans-Turing systems with essential variables, blood glucose, oxygen, attachment, to be kept in bounds. Then we can have an inbuilt "goal state", have qualia to experience deviations from that goal state, and, autonomically or as responsible agents, act to try to achieve such a goal state, directly or by linked intermediate goals.

From this, we have the beginnings of an "ontologically free responsible free will".

This requires a lot more work conceptually, theoretically and experimentally. In particular, I do not think a "free will" means we can do "anything". The issue is not: Why does something happen rather than nothing?" It is "WHY DOES SOME SPECIFIC THING OR ACTION HAPPEN, NOT EVERYTHING?"

A new born baby randomly waving its arms and legs, discovers and learns to control them. Only then can the baby INTEND to put its fist in its mouth. It surely cannot intend to ride a bike. Free will arises in the context of learned skills of self and the social world, including enabling constraints such as the rules of hopscotch and cashing a check. We are free to do what we have learned to do and are enabled to do. Only then can we do what we want to do.

We make the world we make.