The Nonlinear Origins of Free Will

piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who posted:

The problem of free will is framed incorrectly. The “I” that is supposed to have free will does not exist: it is something that changes all the time, because at every instant countless cells of the body change including countless cells of the brain.

Hence the “I” that is supposed to have free will is actually defined by that “free will”: it is the sequence of unpredictable actions generated by a nonlinear system.

You yourself cannot predict what your free will will make you do and think in a few seconds, let alone a few years from now.

Free will exists, but the “I” does not exist.

via The Nonlinear Origins of Free Will.

Scaruffi’s framing is interesting, especially in light of my previous posts on identity. He asserts that the “I” doesn’t exist, per se, rather the appropriate frame is “free will.” Free will exists by virtue of a “nonlinear equation,” and the “I” is illusory. Granted, he is talking about consciousness and not identity. But I’m not quite resolved to his argument. He seems to be asserting that because there is always variability on a spatio-temporal micro scale, that regularized patterns on a macro scale are also illusory. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps what he is doing is bringing us up to the boundary of emergence within a nonlinear system, where both free will and identity exist, but not taking us beyond the boundary into a reification or ontologization of an “I” (or multiple cultural “I”‘s).

I do think the issue of “free will” or volition is an interesting one. It’s an issue I’ve tried to understand for a long time. The idea of volition is essential to ethics, for example. If we didn’t have the ability to choose our courses of action, how could we be said to have an ethical sense, an ethical obligation or violate ethical precepts? Not having volition is one of the key reasons why we don’t ascribe ethical responsibilities to our machines. Free will is something we agree exists, but can it exist without predictability? If we can’t predict the consequences of our actions, or what the world might look like if our actions were made into universal law, then what is free will, really?