Documentary – Closer To Truth – Big Questions in Free Will

Closer To Truth – Big Questions in Free Will


For me the clear issue is in the false statement at 01:18 “our scientific sense is that every action is determined by a prior action”.

That is the key issue – the over simplification embedded in that statement.

What Quantum Mechanics seems to be clearly saying to us is that all such “determination” is expressed in terms of probability statements, not hard inevitability. And certainly, in many macro level contexts, the regularity present does very closely approximate hard classical causality, but not all. And where free will seems to exist is in the application of the uncertainty in those boundary conditions in specific sets of contexts within the extremely complex sets of systems that are the human brain. Complex pattern demands a degree of certainty in the boundary conditions to sustain itself, but the degree does not need to be 100%.

And this is deeply complex territory. No surprise that the ancients could not make much sense of it, the conceptual tools (in the theories probability, complexity, computation, strategy, games, evolution and abstract systems of mathematics and logic) to allow such understandings have not been available for very many years and are not generally understood.

7:40 Libet experiment. Assumes that consciousness is in real time. If consciousness exists in a slightly predictive predictive subconsciously generated model of reality, then those results are what is to be expected, as consciously we are responding to the predictive model (our experiential reality), not to the external reality itself. So once again it is an oversimplification of a complex situation leading to false conclusions.

24:28 Determinism and indeterminism are not the only possibilities.
There is probability.
There is randomness constrained within bounds of probability.
In large aggregate, such bounded uncertainty can approach classical determinism very closely in many sorts of context, yet it is fundamentally different.
Complexity may exist, and so can uncertainty; and in certain contexts this can result in freedom in both the mathematical and moral senses.

And it is deeply complex.

41:54 Patrick Haggard “In Neuroscience we have a real problems with the idea that a conscious event that is somehow independent of the brain, which is occurring only in the mind, but not in the brain, can somehow trigger the brain activity.”
To me that is a complete straw man – a nonsense.

That is nothing like the definition of free will that has meaning to me.
The sense of freedom that has meaning to me is one that comes from degrees of freedom, that can exist when one has a deep stack of complex systems which are coupled with probabilistic couplings, where the system state can vary the coupling probabilities.
Of course reality has to influence will.
If will were completely random, it would have little value.
If, however, the deeply complex system within brain that is the “seat” of “will” has both deterministic and random elements, and a recursive ability to influence its own probability space, then there can become a very real sense in which the operation of that system is decoupled from any hard sense of its output being caused by any current input. The system has achieved a degree of freedom.

Does it make any sense at all to have such a system have no relationship to the outside systems? No. That is highly unlikely to increase survival probabilities, and everything we see surviving in reality in significant quantity probably has the attribute of increasing the survival probabilities of the system(s) it is part of, over some set of contexts (some of which may be very low frequency).
To be useful in survival terms, such a system must have a strong probability of producing survival oriented action that is significant in some set of contexts.
If such a system does so, by essentially randomly generating sets of probable projections of possible futures and assessing among them based on some set of modifiable criteria, then the outputs of such a system cannot be determined by looking only at the inputs (because of the degrees of internal randomness present), the system has degrees of order and complexity, its output has a strong probability of utility in context, and it has degrees of both mathematical and moral freedom.
And such a system is deeply complex. A few electrodes on the scalp is not going to give you a high resolution model of it in operation.
And of course, in this set of complex systems, there are thousands of systems providing incentives to action in particular contexts, some of which need to be over-ridden, and many of which must be able to “do their thing” for us to operate in reality.
We are complex entities, with many levels of systems that were useful in the deep time of our distant ancestors, that are not necessarily appropriate to our current or future complex social contexts. Hence the need for this sort of over-arching inhibitory system, that can develop sets of valences (will) and can reflexively and recursively develop and modify those.

Agree with the notion at about 50:00 that both freedom and responsibility exist on continua. It does in fact seem to be that complex – all levels, matters of degree.

Agree with Roy at 1:06:40 – that free will is a matter of degrees, and has real costs (and benefits).

For me, all the theological arguments are arguments against the very concept of God.

And I can certainly admit of levels of ineffability in reality, to which the idea of God is a reasonable approximation (if one has no access to mathematical concepts of infinities and ideas like maximal computational complexity, and is not familiar with the concepts of the evolution of complexity – see

I agree with the idea about 1:31:00 that free will isn’t involved in everything. I can choose to drive to Christchurch, and have my body do the entire trip (2.5 hours) on the basis of trained reactions, without any conscious involvement of my will. Should something unexpected happen, my conscious will can be bought back into the process, but some trips it will spend the entire time on the exploration of some speculation entirely unrelated to driving.

I think we are all like this to some significant degree.

[followed by 5/2/20 in reply to Dean F – No free will, we are slaves to biology]

Hi Dean,

I never made any claim for us having perfectly free will. My claim is only that we have a degree of it.

Of source we are evolved biological entities, with all the necessary sets of things that come with that if we wish to continue to survive, and that gets really complex at higher levels.

Of course we are strongly influenced by many sets of pattern and context, from genetic through cultural.

The key issue is:
Is there hard causation that means everything always and necessarily follows without any possibility of variance (no possibility of free will), or is the causal relationship (which is necessary for complexity to evolve) of a more relaxed probabilistic nature?

If it is the latter, and there seem to be huge evidence sets pointing in that direction, then it is possible for systems at higher levels to develop degrees of freedom, and for meaningful levels of freedom of choice to actually be present.

And of course, most of our actions are not going to involve choice, most will be subconscious at some level, and even some of those may contain degrees of randomness that ensure they are not entirely predictable by any agent attempting to do so.

So freedom in this sense is a subtle yet important thing. It matters.

And sure, lots of stuff we must do if we wish to survive – like establish a system of global cooperation and trust that respects individual life and individual liberty, and demands of all individual responsible action in social and ecological contexts. And that rapidly gets very complex in the degrees of diversity that get expressed. Nothing simple.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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