I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering this question. I see only one possible answer.
Allow me to make my case:
I believe we have free will because I don’t believe that random interactions of chemicals in a bio-electric brain can generate a phenomenological conscious experience, and even if they could, it doesn’t explain why they should interact in such a way as to make me think about why they are creating my experience at this moment! Consider the odds of random chemical interactions just happening to make me think about random chemical interactions causing me to think about random chemical interactions! Whew! That’s just too much for me to think about!
It seems to me that the fact we have free will is axiomatic. It is self-evident that I control my own thoughts. Further, brain imaging supports my argument. We can see that the brain’s electrical signals are not chaotic, but are in fact orderly and fire in sequence with thought. So much so, that scientists can almost determine what you are thinking about simply by looking at the electrical signals the brain is emitting. These signals do not originate from a central source interaction, they cover the whole brain. They simply spring into existence in sequence with the thought processes of the person being observed.
Given that there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest that consciousness is deterministic, and the fact that free will seems completely self-evident, I want to look a little closer at what this means. If we really do have free will, then the consequences of this are profound.
Modern science absolutely refuses to consider what the consequences of free will entail. It refuses to consider them, because clearly this means consciousness MUST – MUST – MUST be a separate fundamental component of the universe.
Consider that if consciousness is not deterministic, then it is impossible to explain consciousness as a bio-chemical process. All bio-chemical interactions are known to be deterministic. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise. All matter interacts with other matter in fundamentally immutable ways. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that the laws of physics do not apply to brain matter. I find such a notion to be absolutely ridiculous.
Clearly the only way to explain free will without violating physical laws is to presume that consciousness is a separate fundamental component of the universe that is unrelated to interactions of physical matter.
We know that strong emergence is a logical impossibility, which further lends credence to my beliefs. Strong emergence is the claim that new fundamental properties of a system can emerge from component parts. Simply stated, it is the claim that unconscious bits of matter can suddenly become conscious if enough bits of inanimate matter are clumped together in a specific way. This again violates what we know to be true about our physical universe. No experiment has ever demonstrated that new properties of a system can emerge that did not already exist as part of the components of a system.
So one of two things must be true, either all matter is conscious or consciousness must be a component of the universe that is separate from matter. Clearly atoms show no signs of conscious activity; therefore, it seems that there is only one possible answer to the problem.
So what are the consequences of consciousness being its own entity? I would say this means we do have a “soul” that exists separate from our material existence. The brain must act as a receiver and processor of information pertaining to our physical world, but not as the ultimate source of consciousness itself. Think of a car radio. The car radio can receive and processes radio signals, but the radio itself is not the source of those radio signals. If we destroy the radio, the radio signals still exist in space. If that is true, then clearly consciousness can not be “killed” by the death of the physical body.
For all of modern science’s achievements, we still do not know how physical matter comes into existence with any degree of certainty. Scientists like to hold up the Big Bang as the point where all matter came into existence, but this is nothing more than window dressing for a fiat lux (let there be light) argument. It is a religious belief that can not be demonstrated in a lab. Further, we know there are a myriad of problems with the current cosmological model.
If we still do not fundamentally understand where matter comes from or what it is composed of, it strikes me as the height of hubris to state with any degree of certainty that consciousness is a result of deterministic material processes. Clearly the exact opposite is MORE likely to be true! It is more likely that matter is a by-product of pure consciousness. It is more likely that mind creates matter than for matter to create mind. Again, there is actually evidence to support this! Consider wave particle duality and the observer as explained by this short cartoon clip. While I believe quantum theory to be fundamentally flawed, its clear that matter is not simply billiard balls interacting with each other.
If what I am saying is true, then our reality is the dream and death is an awakening.
The deeper question is how did consciousness come to be and what is it composed of if it is not a product of material interactions But that is something for another article.
Cardiologist Pim van Lommel, M.D. discusses consciousness as it relates to his experience in with dealing with patients who have died: