consciousness & free will

Two major topics in philosophy of mind, are consciousness and free will.

I. Consciousness is considered the “hard problem” of neuroscience and psychology, namely how do minds come to experience what they do such that they can build an understanding of themselves and the world around them? Are only humans capable of consciousness?

II. Free will asks how choice is possible in a world that (according to science) is ruled by physical causal determinism. Is the mind just an epiphenomenal “rider”, emerging as a by-product physical brain activity but unable to “do” anything? Is it a disembodied force that can control the physical body without connection to physical factors? Or is it a part of the physical brain, with enough flexibility to allow a relevant level of “choice” such that it is not purely a puppet of determined input-output schemes?

I am a compatibilist which means I believe that the material world (including our brains) follows natural laws and so is generally deterministic, yet we have a form of free will (agency) which has practical value, even if it is not the same as contra-causal (aka libertarian) free will.

Massimo Piggliucci was kind enough to publish an essay of mine at advancing the concept of compatibilist free will, by undercutting some common arguments made by hard determinists.  While compatibilists agree with hard determinists that the universe is largely deterministic (cause –> effect) and reject libertarian free will, we still retain a practical concept of free will and choice, which hard determinists normally reject.

In another essay I rejected criticism of compatibilists by evolutionary biologist (and hard determinist) Jerry Coyne, where he questioned the motivations of compatbilists (comparing them to creationists).