The objection that the terms ‘consciousness’ or ‘free will’ are used in too 
many different ways to be understandable is one of the most common 
arguments that I run into. I agree that it is a superficially valid 
objection, but on deeper consideration, it should be clear that it is a 
specious and ideologically driven detour.

The term *free will* is not as precise as a more scientific term might be 
(I tend to use *motive*, *efferent participation*, or *private intention*), 
but it isn’t nearly the problem that it is made to be in a debate. Any 
eight year old knows well enough what free will refers to. Nobody on Earth 
can fail to understand the difference between doing something by accident 
and intentionally, or between enslavement and freedom. The claim that these 
concepts are somehow esoteric doesn’t wash, unless you already have an 
expectation of a kind of verbal-logical supremacy in which nothing is 
allowed to exist until we can agree on a precise set of terms which give it 
existence. I think that this expectation is not a neutral or innocuous 
position, but actually contaminates the debate over free will, stacking the 
deck unintentionally in favor of the determinism.

It’s subtle, but ontologically, it is a bit like letting a burglar talk you 
into opening up the door to the house for them since breaking a window 
would only make a mess for you to clean up. Because the argument for hard 
determinism begins with an assumption that impartiality and objectivity are 
inherently desirable in all things, it asks that you put your king in check 
from the start. The argument doubles down on this leverage with the 
implication that subjective intuition is notoriously naive and flawed, so 
that not putting your king in check from the start is framed as a weak 
position. This is the James Randi kind of double-bind. If you don’t submit 
to his rules, then you are already guilty of fraud, and part of his rules 
are that you have no say in what his rules will be.

This is the sleight of hand which is also used by Daniel Dennett as well. 
What poses as a fair consideration of hard determinism is actually a 
stealth maneuver to create determinism – to demand that the subject submit 
to the forced disbelief system and become complicit in undermining their 
own authority. The irony is that it is only through a personal/social, 
political attack on subjectivity that the false perspective of objectivity 
can be introduced. It is accepted only by presentation pf an argument of 
personal insignificance so that the subject is shamed and bullied into 
imagining itself an object. Without knowing it, one person’s will has been 
voluntarily overpowered and confounded by another person’s free will into 
accepting that this state of affairs is not really happening. In presenting 
free will and consciousness as a kind of stage magic, the materialist 
magician performs a meta-magic trick on the audience.

Some questions for determinist thinkers:

   - Can we effectively doubt that we have free will?
   Or is the doubt a mental abstraction which denies the very capacity for 
   intentional reasoning upon which the doubt itself is based?
   - How would an illusion of doubt be justified, either randomly or 
   deterministically? What function would an illusion of doubt serve, even in 
   the most blue-sky hypothetical way?
   - Why wouldn’t determinism itself be just as much of an illusion as free 
   will or doubt under determinism?

Another common derailment is to conflate the position of recognizing the 
phenomenon of subjectivity as authentic with religious faith, naive 
realism, or soft-headed sentimentality. This also is ironic, as it is an 
attack on the ego of the subject, not on the legitimacy of the issue. There 
is no reason to presume any theistic belief is implied just because 
determinism can be challenged at its root rather than on technicalities. To 
challenge determinism at its root requires (appropriately) the freedom to 
question the applicability of reductive reasoning to reason itself. The 
whole question of free will is to what extent it is an irreducible 
phenomenon which arises at the level of the individual. This question is 
already rendered unspeakable as soon as the free will advocate agrees to 
the framing of the debate in terms which require that they play the role of 
cross-examined witness to the prosecutor of determinism.

As soon as the subject is misdirected to focus their attention on the 
processes of the sub-personal level, a level where the individual by 
definition does not exist, the debate is no longer about the experience of 
volition and intention, but of physiology. The ‘witness’ is then invited to 
give a false confession, making the same mistake that the prosecutor makes 
in calling the outcome of the debate before it even begins. The foregone 
conclusion that physiological processes define psychological experiences 
entirely is used to justify itself, and the deterministic ego threatens to 
steal from another the very power to exercise control upon which the theft 

It is important to keep in mind that the nature of free will is such that 
it is available to us without pretense of explanation. Unless paralysis 
interrupts the effectiveness of our will (paralysis being a condition which 
proves only that physiology is necessary, but not sufficient), the faculty 
of voluntary action is self evident. If we want to open our eyes, no set of 
instructions is necessary, nor will any amount of explanation help us open 
them if we can’t figure out how. Often the deterministic end couches free 
will in terms of the power to make ‘choices’, which injects another bit of 
unsupported bias into the debate.

We use free will to make choices, but choices imply a pre-existing set of 
conditions from which we choose. This makes it much easier to make the leap 
of faith toward the presumption that free will can be successfully reduced 
to a computing algorithm. Computers can ‘choose’, in the sense that they 
compute which branch on the logic tree must be followed. What computation 
does not do, which free will does, is to lead, and to lead from felt 
experience rather than logic. Leading means creativity and intuition, not 
merely selecting from strategic simulations.

The game theory <> approach to free 
will truncates morality and responsibility, reducing not only personhood to 
mechanism, but also the door entirely on meaningful, game changing 
approaches altogether. Free will allows us not only to elect a single 
decision from a set of fixed alternatives, but also to generate new 
alternatives which go beyond behaviorism. Our values stem from the quality 
of our experience, not just the short term advantages which our actions 
might deliver. The choice is up to us, not because the human body can’t 
function in its environment without an illusion of a decision maker, but 
because it isn’t just about choice, and the body’s survival alone is not 
enough to justify the quality of a human experience. Choice is not where 
free will begins, any more than opening your eyes begins with an 
understanding of eyelids. Experience begins with feeling, not knowing.

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"Everything List" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email 
To post to this group, send email to
Visit this group at
For more options, visit

Reply via email to