Free Will Doesn’t Exist
John Dietrich

Sorry to disagree. Daniel Dennet has been quoted to say, “We have all the free will that we need.” I don’t know how he got there specifically, but it captures my own stance succinctly. Our nervous system is organized as an agent of intentionality, and that is the essence of the argument. If we look back at any point, we would see that the laws of nature had been faithfully obeyed throughout, and that there is no place where the exercise of choice could be lodged. In other words, the course of events was forced — your argument. But prospectively, we would correspondingly see the utter impossibility of predicting the course of events. What actually happens emerges from a variety of impulses that constitute who we are. In the main, I remain predictable to myself — and to my wife — and that is a good thing. There is persistence in the self that has been constituted over the decades. But in microcosm, there is an unpredictability to the conversation that my wife and I will have at dinner. That will affect both of us in minor ways going forward. And none of that is traceable back to the Big Bang. We have in this century finally come to grasp more fully the character of complex systems, and with sufficient complexity comes inherent unpredictability at the microscopic level, which may then also become observable at the macro level.

So we carry on — I in the belief that I am in a position to make meaningful choices, you in your belief. But your brain and mine are both agents of intentionality, executors of our respective selves. That causes both of us to act in the moment as if we had free will. For me that will be the reality as I see it. For you it may be little more than a “healthy illusion.” But the practical difference may be negligible indeed.