Ira Glass, on NPR’s “This American Life,” cited David Kastenbaum and a study of the question of free will, concluding that because we have neurons, none of our actions are free. Therefore, our criminal justice system need be reconsidered, they said. If our actions are not free, but caused by outside agents such as neurons, we cannot be responsible for our actions, including crime. And it is obvious to all that there are neurons and such things as atoms and molecules. Therefore there is no free will.
This has always seemed to me to oddest intellectual pun imaginable- a “Zeno’s paradox” in four dimensions- just after the time when there was no time required for time to begin at one time and not another. We cannot think outside of time, and so, at the beginning, have made a contradictory assumption, like applying something to one side of an equation but not the other.
A good part or the confusion is clarified by asking if we require un-caused effects in order that an action be deemed. We seem to be assuming that if an action is cased at all, it is not free, because we cite prior causes as evidence that actions are “determined.” We seek some causal looseness, some ‘s Schrodinger’s Box, in order to believe like Laplace in the necessity of every event forever back in time from the first events. We assume that there are only what Aristotle called material and efficient causes, not to mention the assumption that time and causation work tightly, as we imagine. The efficient cause, like billiard balls, precedes the effect in time. But behold! The cause exerted by form is not that way! I move the pen across the page at the same time that the pen moves across the page! Simultaneity of cause and effect characterizes hierarchic causation, as within organisms and, astonishingly, with the tools we pick up, making them as if a part of our causal system. (Next week, we will consider how purposes in a sense, and final causes, beyond simultaneity, in a sense cause” from the future). The cause”What we ignore on one side of the consideration of the question of “free will” is that WE cause. Cells and parts make up a whole organism that is a cause, even in animals.
Determinists are answering a question of metaphysics with the terms of physics. But physics is based upon assumptions from outside of matter, such as math. The chair is made of wood. But what is the form made of? I smash the chair, and still have the same wood, but without the form, the chair is useless, and I throw it out.
Physics cannot explain the form of the objects it assumes, even what makes the ball which Galileo rolls downhill to be a ball, all those molecules to roll as one thing. Artificial things are strange enough, but life: the line of demarkation between physics and biology- cannot be understood by either science, but is simply assumed. With the living organism come purposes. With animate life comes self motion, and these beings are causes as no rock or ball is a cause. Despite its being made of neurons etc., The animal as a whole is a part of the chain of cause and effect, and this is part of what we mean by “free will.” Or why consider the neuron to be a cause? Since it is made up too of organelle’s, etc, and these in turn…?
Still self motion is not quite what we mean by the sort of “free will” that is required for responsibility and justice as is assumed by working governments. It is our intelligence and sense of justice that we assume when we hold criminals responsible for the violation of the rights of their fellow citizens, even while there are all sorts of causes and factors, we assume that one who takes the life to which another has the right he is justly convicted and sentenced for murder.
Similarly in psychology and psychiatry, arguments against responsibility are cited to persuade against the injustice of what is called “stigma,” or scapegoating. Anomalies in the brains of murderers are found, and suddenly it seems as though, since there is not a Cartesian dualism, murderers are not guilty. As though determinism would not apply equally, or even more so, to the sentence! Beings are both form and matter, and would it not be more surprising if nothing at all were going on in there?
Neurons do not go to the door because they intend to get the morning paper.
Humans have access to justice, and to the extent that other animals also perceive justice, the human things would also apply to them. But in addition to self motion, shared with all animate life, is a mystery similar to those demarkating botany and zoology in that it introduces what is like a whole new dimension of being. According to one reading of Genesis, these the creatures able to change not only their places and their courses, but also their WAYS. Every man is presented the choice of good and evil, and the matter is simply of a whole different dimension from self motion. From the two and three dimensions of the plane and solid, the addition of motion and time which makes for physics still cannot comprehend the added dimensions of being that unfold with life, animate motion, and then the knowing good and evil that is the likeness of God. And because of this likeness, we say, man has all the inalienable rights, and to strike one may be assault, to kill one murder. Just as geometry cannot comprehend time so physics and neurology cannot comprehend the the human circumstances and the causes of the human things. Suddenly, moving up the hierarchy, there is what Karl Popper called “World Three,” the world of human thoughts, hypotheses and such, which do exist, right here, in fact, and perhaps whether their cause still exists or not! To ask “where” is, like, a question not appropriate to the dimension. The same is of course true, and more, for mathematics itself, whose truths do seem unchangeable, and from which almost all believe that there is something eternal. Now here is the ringer: Everyone admits there can be unjust laws.