Why We Are Free – The Two-Stage Model of Free Will

My second free will webcast will introduce the two-stage model of free will, which I first imagined some four decades ago, and over the years found similar ideas in the works of a couple of dozen philosophers and scientists, starting with William James in the 1880’s.

My model of human freedom locates randomness (either ancient chance or modern quantum indeterminacy) in the mind, in a way that breaks the causal chain of strict physical determinism, while doing no harm to responsibility.

The model combines indeterminacy – first microscopic quantum randomness
and unpredictability, then “adequate” or statistical determinism and macroscopic predictability, in a temporal sequence that creates new information.

Important elements of the model have been proposed by many philosophers since Aristotle, the first indeterminist. A number of modern philosophers and scientists, starting with William James, have proposed similar two-stage models of free will. But none of them has been able to locate the randomness so as to make free will “intelligible,” as libertarian Robert Kane puts it.

The insoluble problem for previous two-stage models has been to explain how a random event in the brain can be timed and located – perfectly synchronized! – so as to be relevant to a specific decision. The answer is it cannot be, for the simple reason that quantum events are totally unpredictable.

My solution is not single random events, one per decision, but many random events in the brain as a result of ever-present noise, both quantum and thermal noise, that is inherent in any information storage and communication system.

The mind, like all biological systems, has evolved in the presence of constant noise and is able to ignore that noise, unless the noise provides a significant competitive advantage, which it clearly does as the basis for freedom and creativity.

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