David Sosa on Free Will in Waking Life
I think that just as free will spans the entire continuum from profound mystery to ordinary fact to most-convincing illusion to least convincing reality, so too does consciousness as a whole.
Will seems to be a self-contained, primordial feature of nature – intentional force. The projection of a single motive sequence from a multiplicity of private motives into a thermodynamically irreversible public consequence. The power to participate in public realism; from motive to motor, emotion to intention to extension as a unified gestalt at the personal level, but smeared across smaller spaces and times at the sub-personal levels (cellular, neurochemical). Will is consciousness oscillating from being to feeling to doing to knowing, an Ouroboran double-binary knot of sensory-motor qualities, pushing and pulling between private times and public spaces.
The ‘free’ part of free will seems more conceptual. Free compared to what? Nevertheless, it too has an aesthetic subtext which is compelling. Freedom is somehow the epitome of will. It suggests self seeking to amplify itself by transcending itself. When people use the expression ‘willful’ there is a sense of being unpredictable or ‘wild’. This connection comes up again and again in philosophy and science and is rejected again and again as well. Vital force. Kundalini. Qi. Animal Magnetism. We are ambivalent about physicalizing this most direct of all experiences – perhaps the only truly direct experience there is.
What I propose is sort of a ‘if you can’t beat em, join em’ strategy. Put the phenomena which we can’t explain in the center of the model. Neither sensory perception nor motive participation can, in my view, be reduced in any way. They are primordial, such that any conceivable physical force or field, any mathematical principle or information process would by definition supervene on some form of aesthetic presentation – some detection-participation capacity. Without such a capacity, nothing which has sense, or is itself defined by sense could possibly contact this non-sensed existence in any way. In this way, we can begin to see that being and sensory-motive participation are ultimately the same thing.
The effects of free will are cumulative, and as we free ourselves again and again from our own collective inertial consequences, initiating novel sequences out of personal preference, we also cut ourselves off from many experiences. We de-cide; kill off possibilities…we make a difference not only by what we choose but what our choice makes us indifferent to. The wild personal impulse gradually pivots to its opposite, and Homo sapiens raw nomadic drive to explore becomes the impersonal impulse of self-domestication. Now that the pendulum has perhaps reached the apogee of its swing, we seek to define the impulse in terms of its absence. This is an opportunity to step out of the system and look at the phenomenon as a whole – as we modulate with it through history. The unexpected truth – that free will and mechanism are two sides of the same oscillating coin is hard to consider, but like free will itself, we should place this enigma in the center of the model rather than try to flatten it into either mechanism or spirituality. Let it be what it is. Let us be who we are.)