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Free-will requires a soul?

  1. Jul 30, 2009 #1
    Statement: To have free-will requires a soul or some variable that is not physical.

    Is it true that physical properties and their behavior are either random or determined (in principle)? If so, then free-will requires something immaterial. Does any one care to argue against this point and say that physical properties are something other than determined or random? What about emergence or top down causality which seems to allow someone to still hold on to physical properties as the foundation, yet allows for emergent behaviors not written in these configurations or properties?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 30, 2009 #2
    Define free will.
  4. Jul 30, 2009 #3
    Free-will: To choose without constraint. No dependence on initial conditions or previous states. The ability to choose otherwise.
  5. Jul 31, 2009 #4
    Thoughts, dreams, numbers, etc. are all immaterial. There is an approximate copy of the world in everyone's head, so materialism doesn't rule out a temporal 'soul'.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2009
  6. Jul 31, 2009 #5


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    Hi Descartez,
    Would you agree/disagree that this statement could be rewritten:
    Mental causation requires a soul or some variable that is not physical.

    If one claims that only the four fundamental physical forces (gravity, weak and strong nuclear, electromagnetic) are at work in the universe, then does free will (or any mental causation) require an additional, 5'th force? Or is there enough wiggle room to suggest that these 4 forces are sufficient but that top down causation provides for this "soul or some variable that is not physical"?
  7. Jul 31, 2009 #6


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    Why is a thought, dream, number, etc... not just a causal interaction that creates a pattern in something such as a computer? Why must they be immaterial?

    What about the experience of the color red, the taste of sugar or other qualia for example? Are the fundamental experiences of the world immaterial, and if so then why are they not simply physical patterns as computationalism would hold?
  8. Jul 31, 2009 #7
    Define a soul. I find the concept totally and utterly foolish.

    If you are familiar with the story of Phineas Gage, you are aware that a person's personality can be changed by brain injury.

    As for qualia, I do not regard David Chalmers to be an even remotely respectable philosopher of mind. In fact, I have low regard for any philosopher that doesn't let science guide them.

    Brain and mind are one and the same, and all psychological phenomena are traceable to neurological phenomena. Your perception of 'red' will be influenced by the rods and cones in your eye (someone who is red-green colorblind will have a different perception of 'red' than someone who isn't!) and your experience with naming colors and inborn human reactions over the millennia to things such as bright colors and their association with danger in their environment.
  9. Jul 31, 2009 #8
    Hello Q_Goest,
    I would say your statement can not be rewritten and still apply. Mental causation must have a physical basis of some type. However, if it is argued that mental causation is actually a non-physical variable, then there is nothing more that can be done with this statement. If we look at emergence, it seems it still has a physical foundation of some kind. The higher order processes are not described in the properties themselves, but in the relationships between these physical properties. I would say for free-will to be true, it must require some type of a 5th force (as you mentioned). Until this is discovered, or until mystical top-down causation can fully account for a human choice, I have no reason to buy into the delusion of free-will. Even if top down-causation can account for choices, why would we turn to it being the decision maker? In other words, our biology and neuronal connections may direct the mind, as it seems that it does, but the "will" or "I" is not guiding the biology and neuronal connections. Even though this is top down causation (the whole of the body and it's emergent mind, if it exists at all), it still does not require "I" to direct itself. It seems that is what the body and brain are for.
  10. Jul 31, 2009 #9
  11. Jul 31, 2009 #10
    The whole differing of 'physical events' and 'mental events' is a bit tiresome, really. Philosophy elevates the human being higher than it should.
  12. Jul 31, 2009 #11
    'Free will' is subjectively definable; in a sense, we have as much free will as we're aware of. If you consider basic aspects of behavior that unite all humans to not be 'free will', you have to differentiate those that are logical from those that are illogical, and determine whether the individual is consciously choosing those or not.
  13. Aug 1, 2009 #12

    What do you think is going on inside that skull of yours? Magic?
  14. Aug 1, 2009 #13

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    I don't think WaveJumper is really saying anything weird. They aren't material things. They could simply be the result of processes that material things undergo, but they are not material things themselves. You can't hold a concept in your hand.

    The analogy epiphenomenalists make sometimes are of mental events as by-products, like gas fumes from a car engine. I find that difficult as an analog because even fumes are physical things made of molecules with a direct physical relationship to the engine. Not quite the same thing as brain processes causing "experience".
  15. Aug 1, 2009 #14
    I believe the word usually used to describe what you're talking about is 'agency', as in, 'the mind is a free agent, unconstrained by physicality/whatever'. To religious people that agency would be the soul.

    I don't believe it.
  16. Aug 1, 2009 #15
    Well, I don't think we know near enough about consciousness to claim this. But we do know that direct physical intervention in the brain makes changes in patterns of conscious thought...

    And that one can image in real time changes in brain activity when changes in 'state of mind' are brought about.

    Of course you are speaking figuratively? I mean, you can't hold electricity in your hand etc...
  17. Aug 1, 2009 #16

    You are taking this way too far. There is a very Big difference in the way ideas, thoughts, numbers "exist" and how electricity exists. Are you seriously claiming that dreams are as real as electricity? I think you are joking and i am simply failing to spot the humour.
  18. Aug 1, 2009 #17
    I think electrical signals in the brain do not have the same way of existence as their consequences - thoughts, dreams... They are obviously related but they aren't one and the same IMO. No one knows the true relationship between electricity and dreams about past/future.

    I can't explain how consciousness works but i feel that the known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of human consciousness.

    I know that the Philosophy forum is the most inappropriate place to make definitive statements, but I strongly don't believe that we are simply deterministic biological robots, as this only opens the door to all kinds of gods, unicorns, deities, jesuses and such. I believe in human free will and free will requires that the known laws of physics would not describe the phenomenon "consciousness". Luckily, I have not seen this belief of mine refuted to date.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2009
  19. Aug 1, 2009 #18


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    Hi robertm,
    I suspect you would agree that the mind supervenes on the brain which states that for any two brains in identical physical states, the mind must also be in an identical state. In order for two minds to differ, the brains must also be in different physical states. That much is generally accepted. The point about electricity is that electricity is physically measurable. One can determine voltage, current flow, magnetic flux, etc... by measurement. In this case, the measurement produces a physical interaction between material things which can be interpretable by a person as 'electricity'.

    Concepts, qualia, experience or other phenomenal aspects of mind however, differ in that one can't measure such things directly. We may (or may not) be able to determine that the color red is being experienced by examining the interaction of various neurons, but that isn't measuring the experience of red directly - it is only a measure of physical interactions. Whether or not the experience of red exists will have nothing to do with whether or not those physical interactions exist. For example, strong AI assumes the interaction of the circuits in a computer will produce the experience of red, but we can equally explain everything the computer does without resorting to explanations about what experiences it may have. All interactions in a computer can be explained at the level of the electric circuit, so the experience of color for example, can have absolutely no causal affect, and really can't be determined by examining the interactions in the circuit. Similarly, concepts or thoughts are not measurable by measuring material things, so it is not unreasonable to state that, "[concepts and thoughts] are not material things themselves" whereas electricity is certainly a material thing.
  20. Aug 1, 2009 #19


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    The use of "we" implies a dualist perspective. If our mind supervenes on the brain, and the brain is material, then how does that open the door to the supernatural?
  21. Aug 1, 2009 #20

    Yes, kind of, it does.

    A purely deterministic "mind" as a determinite consequence of a brain in a determinite universe requires the Supernatural. If we do not have free will, who willfully created my celluar phone, if it was not the will of the engineers at Nokia? Whose will was that? Who created the LHC collider and the beer i've just opened? How could any of those things exist if "we" did not willfully created them? Who did? There is certainly nothing wrong with the belief in god, but i got the impression you were not implying this.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2009
  22. Aug 1, 2009 #21
    It seems it may be more accurate to say: things like thoughts and numbers are representations of real things, and no you can't hold a concept in your hand, but in principle you can have a set of physical correlates in the brain that generates the experience of thoughts and numbers. If there is a direct correlation and a tit-for-tat process is in place, then what is the difference between the representation (mental) and the physical (brain and neurons)? In other words, if we just look at the mental aspect, we are eventually led to ask: "where do these mental representations come from?" and we have to answer this with an explanation involving physical processes. Or, if we just look at the physical aspect, we are led into the realm of questions involving: "Where do these physical processes lead?" and we have to answer this with an explanation involving an experience of those physical processes.
  23. Aug 1, 2009 #22


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    The difference is the "explanatory gap". Why should only some physical processes give rise to phenomenal processes? This perspective (that there is no difference between the mental representation and its physical basis) falls into http://philpapers.org/post/381".)
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  24. Aug 1, 2009 #23
    Yes I think this is plausible; though I'm not so sure that I would going so far as to confirm the existence of two different phenomenon at work here, namely mind and brain. I have a suspicion that when a certain complexity is reached in such a physical system, the words are interchangeable.

    Yes, precisely what I meant. Thanks for that!

    Well, simply because we haven't been clever enough to figure it out yet, doesn't mean you can claim with reason that it is impossible. What you say may certainly be the case, but it is far to soon to say.

    'I' can certainly measure my own experience of qualia, and I have no delusions of being capable of this without 'me' being a certain set of mushy physical organs all in working order.

    This is spot on. We need new techniques in order to see if we are even able to penetrate the 'mind'. Something along the lines of nano-wire implants seems promising to me. Also, I think powerfully psychoactive chemicals could be a key window into experience; sadly of course, most research along these lines is blocked in the US.

    This is not necessarily true. We may not know weather a microbe with an eye spot sensitive to 'red' wavelengths has any sort of qualia, but we do know that it has a physical mechanism that reacts to red light(much like artificial photoreceptors); now, what is the difference between a microbe's 'experience' (or lack thereof) of light and a higher mammal's experience?

    I say: complexity. For, we are really 'just' a complex of symbiotic microbes.

    This is only the case if the computer does not have the ability to communicate it's experience. In which case, the particular dialog would be a direct physical consequence of qualia.

    Again, this is conjecture. We do not know enough to say. I am of the opinion, however, that we will be able to gleam a deeper understanding of this eerie phenomenon through further observation and experimentation.

    One must also keep in mind, I think, that whatever consciousness may be it has arisen through the blind watchmaker of natural selection of chemical mechanisms, no direct intervention required. So that, if qualia turns out to be immaterial we must conclude that a material process gave rise to an immaterial process. Personally, I doubt this is the case.
  25. Aug 1, 2009 #24
    I think something is a bit off with how we view reality when we automatically have to divide things into material/physical and not material/metaphysical.
    Are we really absolutely sure what an atom is? Or what a molecule is? Or what electrical impulses are?
    Are they really all that we think they are.. these "physical" things with which we can hold in our hands or are temporal in nature.

    I believe something is missing from the puzzle. That there must be more to not just how the brain works, but also our fundamental concepts of what physical means.
    Obviously the brain can create phenomena which is not "physical" because you can't see or hear the content of whatever physically.

    I do not know what is missing, and this debate I feel is not going anywhere anytime soon. But I do believe that there is more to this physical matter that we observe around us beyond just being physical as we instinctually define it.
  26. Aug 1, 2009 #25
    Wavejumper, first, I'm going to recommend you stay away from the phrase 'I feel that [blah] is true'. It sends the message that you think something because your emotions, which are not necessarily based on factual information, tell you that.

    Second, dreams are a function of your brain. Essentially, they're brain farts during the time your brain is consolidating information. They are what you perceive and make sense of during the time your brain is in REM.

    Third, you're going to have to prove the existence of anything non-physical about the brain.

    'Deterministic biological robots' does not open the way for imaginary entities; free will is subject to debate; we have as much free will as we can perceive. The world is not entirely under human perception. We do not need a supernatural to have agency; you seem to make so little of human minds and human abilities. To use your cell phone example, humans saw a need for a cell phone; they invented it because they had the ability and because that was the best thing they could think of. It's an adaptive behavior. If we had better perception of our environment and different tools, we might learn to communicate telepathically.
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