I know the topic of free will has been debated endlessly for millennia, and everyone has their own opinion. However, I’ve read and searched endlessly, and I can’t find anyone who addresses or answers the following problem.
Let’s say that I perceive that I have the choice to press button A or B. There are only three possibilities:
a) There is no actual branching event. The perception is an illusion. The button I press is entirely predetermined. (That doesn’t imply that the universe as a whole is deterministic, but that indeterminacy is irrelevant to my perception of a free choice.)
b) There is a branching event, but it is quantum mechanical in nature. In other words, the button I press actually depends on some QM event (whether you call it measurement, reduction, or collapse), so while the outcome is not predetermined, it is random. The perception that a branching event was about to happen was correct, but the perception that I can control it is an illusion.
c) There is a branching event, and my free will caused the outcome.
In case a), my “choice” is simply a prediction about the future. But there are several problems with this:
1) Why would I ever perceive as possible an event that is actually impossible? (If pressing button A was predetermined, then pressing B is an impossible event.)
2) What is the advantage of making a prediction if awareness of the predicted outcome will not affect anything that will happen in the future? In other words, if I can’t DO anything to change anything (because I don’t have free will), what’s the point in predicting?
3) What is the advantage of perceiving free will when I am actually making a prediction? When I drop a ball, I predict it will accelerate downward toward the Earth. But imagine if I (falsely) believed I had free will over that ball... “OK, am I going to drop the ball UP or DOWN? Hmmm... today I’ll decide to drop it DOWN.” What would be the point of that false perception?
The case of b) isn’t much better, because my “choice” is, again, just a prediction about the future (possibly coupled with measurement of a random QM event). The same problems arise.
Note that my perception of free will is limited to my body, and not even my entire body (for example, I don’t think I can consciously control my digestion process). In fact, I only perceive “free will” with regard to a few aspects of my body, such as motions of my hands and fingers. But what is true is that I have never EVER once observed the experience of NOT having free will over those parts. For example, I have never decided to raise my right hand, but then my left hand rises instead. I never raise my hand and then say, “I didn’t do that!”
But that COULD have been the case. I could have been born into a world in which I just observed things happening... where my body was no different from a dropping ball or a planet orbiting a star... where it’s just an object that moves on its own and I experience it. In other words, why am I not just experiencing the world through a body that moves on its own as if I were just watching an immersive (five-sense) movie? It’s not like we need to believe in free will. For example, we are perfectly fine watching movies or riding roller coasters, full well knowing that we can’t control them. Why couldn’t we just be passing through the world moment-to-moment, just experiencing the ride, without any perception that we have free choices? In other words, if a) or b) above is true, we need to explain WHY I perceive the freedom to press button A or B, but also why my choices are always 100% consistent with the outcome.
That’s a real problem. Because now we have to explain why the universe would conspire to:
* Fool me into believing that I have a choice when I don’t; AND
* Fool me into believing that the outcome is always consistent with what I (mistakenly) thought I chose!
Why would the universe fool us like that?
As an aside, please don’t answer with “compatibilism,” which is the philosopher’s way of avoiding the question of free will. You can look it up, but I regard it as a non-answer. Even famed philosopher JohnSearle agrees that philosophers haven’t made any progress on the free will question in the past hundred years.