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Is there no free will? (Part 1 of 3)

Q. Is there no free will?



A. It has become increasingly popular for public intellectuals to speculate that there is indeed no free will. But is this a reasonable statement? 


To say "there is no free will" is to say the experience of free will is not sufficient evidence of its existence, given the logic of cause and effect. But then, what is "free will" beyond an experience? 


If we are looking for evidence of a brain lesion, we can say the standard is a CT scan or MRI, within the limits of their sensitivity. That's understandable because we have defined a brain lesion as "physical." But what could possibly be greater evidence of free will than the very experience of it? 


Is the absence of the experience of free will at times sufficient to say there is "no free will" or that it is an illusion? While you are sleeping at night, does the absence of the experience of the bed your body is sleeping on mean the bed does not exist at all? Or simply that it doesn’t exist as imagined by the waking mind and as not-experienced by the sleeping mind? 


To be fair, experience is not reliable beyond a certain level of sensitivity–for example, in the case of seeing a “sun-rise.” But in the case of free will, we are not talking about an image of something. We are talking about will–the very agency of individuated existence.


How can reason–an activity that lives on the nourishment of conceptual boundaries, and therefore the boundaries of individuation–comment on the reality of individuation as opposed to simply the experience of individuation? Reason alone cannot–not with a straight face. It would be like the trunk of a tree commenting on the reality of its roots. What reason can do is say [the experience of] free will waxes and wanes in relationship with the experience of individuated identity, or self.


After this acknowledgement, to go further and suggest reason sits on the side of "no free will" is an overstep that conflates reasoned exploration with observation of the waxing and waning of individuation. The overstep originates in believing that reason can tell us where or not the individuated self is real, as well as what lives beyond it. 


Why this overstep? Why go so far as to say free will is an "illusion," or even that it is definitely "real?" 


One reason is it may offer a sense of certainty in an inherently creatively-uncertain domain. Another reason is this is that the language of “illusion” and “reality” interprets the inescapable language of ancient philosophical texts, which are doing their best to indicate subtle, trans-reasonable realizations using as much reasoning as possible.


Reason is the familiar, available boat that carries the weary seafarer nearer to shore, upon which the journey begins, not ends. 

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