Free Will Vs. Determinism

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:


    You still haven’t defined what consciousness is. If DNA “acts” to replicate itself — is that conscious?

    • It depends if the process can be defined in purely chemical terms.  If it is simply a process of chemical interactions, then clearly it is not conscious. Simple action does not require phenomenological consciousness.

      The consciousness I’m talking about involves phenomenological experience.

      • A Country Farmer

        Ok, so if you’re talking about a non-chemical reaction, then what is that? You mentioned how brain activity can be viewed as connected with particular thought patterns, so I’m confused.

  • Christian

    Determinism is more aptly applied to groups of people than individuals. Individuals have free will and can make choices. Once some people get in positions of power they limit the choices available to others. Either to protect themselves or their interests. Then when people can no longer make free choices determinism is more in effect on a otherwise free person as their ability to choose has been curtailed. They are more predictable. It doesn’t make determinism a more legitimate theroy. Without limits on choice free will would reign.
    Consciousness is simply to have ones senses aware. They collect information and you think about what they sense. All life forms are self aware to some point. 
    Matter is in a constant circular cycle. Be is liquid, solid or gas matter is always changing forms. Some forms of matter take longer to change but they will.

  • Mbmurray4

    I like your paper.  I tend to be on the more determinist side after studying neuroscience for some time…. I see what is happen neurologically (your current neurological set up), psychologically (your thoughts, follow of neurons through your head), and environmentally (every external impact) pretty much determining what you are going to do next.  HOWEVER so what? it is impossible to live without the conception of free will so why fret about it.  your “freewill” is the experience of the intense firing in your brain.  you cannot do anything but participate. 

    Now why is this important?  because understanding this concept important “you”, your brain, “your free will” understand more ways to help dictate the decisions you will make in the future.  For instance, the environment you surround yourself in… when I am with these people, I tend to make better decisions.  The food you eat… when I drink alcohol, my judgment is impaired.  Your thoughts… when I allow myself to ruminate on depressing things in the past, I get put in a terrible emotional state and I feel less drive to be productive.  Its a tricky thing to think about.. i mean who is this thing telling your thoughts what to think about… must be free will, right?.. not necessarily if “you” believe it to be true and the neural connection towards it strengthens… your thoughts “network of firing” will more likely flow in that direction and “you” will catch yourself when you are ruminating to much or whatever.

    I guess the point is I don’t think its the end of the world to believe in determinism when you cant remove your self from the experience of free will.

    • Mbmurray4

      I apologize in advance for the poor grammar and confused sentences… how embarrassing…  also, I want to mention that my understanding of determinism and the brain make me want to promote freedom more.  I see more inhibition to our freedom negatively impacting our ability to obtain satisfaction with our lives and limiting how great our society can be.  

      • If consciousness is deterministic, then it really doesn’t matter what you promote because you will not impact anyone who is not already pre-determined to become a libertarian.

        • Mbmurray4

          Well just because you may find determinism depressing doesn’t mean that it isn’t true…  all i am saying is that it doesn’t have to be depressing. and i don’t think either of your arguments will necessarily be the case if humans catch on to this idea.

    • It matters because if consciousness is truly deterministic, then all laws against everything are immoral since no one is ultimately responsible for their own actions. Even anarcho-capitalist private law would be immoral.

  • It matters because if consciousness is truly deterministic, then all laws against everything are immoral since no one is ultimately responsible for their own actions. Even anarcho-capitalist private law would be immoral.

    It depends on what a useful conception of responsibility is. I find application of social correction or removal from society to be more useful conceptions of responsibility and fault than a holier than thou/purity stance. Laws are useful inasmuch as they codify prevailing taboos so people can more easily judge others as needing correction without all the facts.

    If consciousness is deterministic, then it really doesn’t matter what you promote because you will not impact anyone who is not already pre-determined to become a libertarian.

    People are impacted by inputs, it’s just that everything is going to play out a certain way. I was impacted by your post to respond, it’s just that series of events was set in motion for as long as time has existed.

    • Mbmurray4

      It is impossible to take yourself out of the experience of having a freewill.  I know if I am deterministic that whether or not we are going to convince each other of having a freewill or not is determinable… but that is not going to stop me from making this argument.  when i sit around doing nothing, taking drugs, going around harming others i don’t feel satisfied with my life.  when I am acting in the interest of others, when I am exhibiting my values and principles that I have acquired thoughout my life, and when I am working hard towards things that I am passionate,,,, that is when I go to sleep with a smile on my face.  when I am living in a ME centered, simple please based, and not contributing to society I am not fulfilled and become depressed.  I think for the most part all humans are hardwired this way whether they have figured it out yet or not.  Because this idea has proven to be the most beneficial in my life “I”tend to follow it.  Maybe age and hearing other ideas or living out this idea may impact my brain in such a way where I do not find fulfillment. and i will start to behave based on different principles. I do not know.  I feel like I am making the decisions… but its really all my previous thoughts (previous firings in my brain), my genes, what I ate today, and current environment that are dictating my every move. 

      Once you grasp this idea… you can really change your life if you want to. because when you want to change “you” will start surrounding yourself in the environment that will help you get there, you will regulate the thoughts flowing through your head, and challenge yourself in ways that cause for the most mental growth.  The brain truly is what it does.  Think love be love. 

  • someguy

    If there was a button I could press, causing the entirety of existence to rewind the equivalent of one earth hour, would anything change the second time around?

  • Scott

    “I don’t believe that random interactions of chemicals in a bio-electric
    brain can generate a phenomenological conscious experience”

    Why must they be random? Wouldn’t they be ordered by evolution or design of the system?

    “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

    Do the properties of water exist in either hydrogen or oxygen by themselves?

    This post overlapped with several concepts from my religious beliefs:

    LDS doctrine is that all men existed as intelligences eternally. That God organized/created/begot (not clear) them (the eternal intelligences) into spirits, hence we are his spirit children. Those spirits had agency (free will) but were different from our physical bodies (not clear how, perhaps couldn’t die, perhaps couldn’t feel). After a time of progression God proposed a plan to bring his spirit children into a mortal physical existence here on earth so that they could continue to learn and be tested while receive a mortal physical body in preparation to receive an immortal exalted physical body like he has.

    Feel free to learn more at

    Abr. 3:22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was

    D&C 93:29 Man was also in the beginning with God.  Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
    D&C 93:30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

  • A wetrrr

    This is news? Don’t mean to be rude, but this has been studied far more in depth by philosophers for centuries. Dudes, I should say, who were far more familiar with the complex multifaceted nature of the problem. 
    Check out: 
    The writings of Sam Harris, the problem of future contingents, Richard Taylor’s “Fatalism”, G.H. Clarke’s “Determinism, Brain Function and Free Will”, for a start.

    • Well no shit.  You’re kidding me.  You mean I didn’t solve all the world’s problems in a short blog post?