Monthly Archives: September 2012

Cog sci examination of free will

In our class discussion of free will and determinism, I was frequently reminded of “god-of-the-gaps” arguments, where gaps in science are explainable by something supernatural.[1] Instead of science and religion, though, what if the concept of free will is the supernatural, the god, in the gaps of causality? Perhaps free will is a purely human construct, while causality is an unfathomably complex natural construct.

    For free will to exist in philosophy, there must be some conflict in understanding causality. With some basic arguments from Hume and Kant, I can understand that humans’ perspective of causality could be the relational product of the mind’s organization of observations and time.[2] The source of these observations may well be a priori, attributing causality to a universal perspective, but such universal causality is not necessarily what is observed by one person. That is, influences outside of what a human can understand or observe may be involved, and observable causality would be relative to the observer. What is observable and follows a person’s understanding of causality may have to have a certain outcome, such as water boiling after being heated to above its boiling point. Similarly, an observed event may not follow any experienced or understood series of events, and it would seem the agents are capable of free will, such as someone suddenly deciding to make tea. Could it therefore be possible that free will only describes events not following the observer’s understood causality?

Causality is a natural construct that exists outside the realm of human cognition and philosophy, attributable to models such as mathematics. I assert that though independent events may not cause an effect, an event cannot occur without an impetus. Causality is thus a surjective function of events in the domain of physically possible events that yields subsequent events. If all the values from the domain of causal events are not known to an observer, then causality cannot be assumed when a subsequent effect occurs, and thus the observer may attribute the result to free will. However, a separate, supernatural domain, such as dualism’s mind or soul, must exist to allow an effect to have no cause and a will effectively free from external influence in order to maintain the surjection.

Instead, free will is a facet of computational neuroscience, or how brain function processes information via chemicals and electrical impulses. This chaotic cognitive process yields a successively smaller (decreasing cardinality) set of decisions when presented with reasonable events; such decisions may be an immediate physical reaction or memory. The torrent of data of events must require some sort of memory to process in non-real-time; however, considering the volume of computations and finite storage capability of the brain, such memory is probably highly volatile. Once a decision is reached, any data remnance from these computations could then be mentally reassembled via the gestalt effect to formulate a perceived cause for the effective decision. Free will, as I see it, is an illusion of the imaginary lines between points of familiar data.