FREE WILL & THE INVISIBLE SPIDERS
philosophy • 12.12.10
If I said to you that there were invisible spiders everywhere in the empty spaces around us, that these spiders were undetectable, not amenable to the senses in the way everything else is, then there’s not much you can say to disprove me. You might only conclude that I had finally flipped into weirdness.
You could point out that the burden of proof for an assertion should be on the person who asserts and not on the person who asks for evidence. Certainly it is much harder to verify than to falsify but that’s the deal. Credible reality is constantly up against the scrutiny of scepticism.
Still, there are lots of beliefs held that don’t do well scrutinised. Invisible spiders are everywhere in human discourse. The existence of free will is one of them. There is little to no evidence for such a thing but people, even atheists, widely believe in freedom of the will without question.
If free will does exist it would be an entity that can’t be verified. It would be one of these things which operates outside the laws of physics. Yet it doesn’t make much sense to posit knowledge of things that exist beyond the physical. Such entities can’t be verified OR falsified. They are untestable. No amount of information can prove or disprove them.
If everything in existence is subject to causal physics then how can it be said that anything has genuine freedom? Everything in existence is determined by an infinity of other things all interconnected in a massively complex web.
Understood like this, free will is only a metaphor; it is terminology used to describe the behaviour around choosing. There may be ten things on the menu which you consider before settling on one but the idea that you freely chose it is a logical step too far. You may only mean that nobody held a gun to your head. You chose from several options but that the act of choosing was free, that it somehow defied the laws of physics, is far-fetching.
Does the determinism I am arguing for here need to imply pre-determinism? I’m not sure. There could be a cutting edge for events where an infinite number of possible outcomes o(er themselves up only for one to be selected. It may only be in the moment that all is ultimately determined but determined nevertheless and not by anything freely controlled by humans.
That somehow humans might control that selection process with their special will is so unlikely as to be ridiculous. Those who argue for this usually only attribute such a super-power to homo-sapiens while denying that other sentient beings have it. These other biological forms are too stepped in their instinctual natures apparently.
No, I think the notion of a will which freely roams the spiritual cosmos is another example of hubristic humanity and its quaint pretensions. It is as fanciful as the wildest of myths, about as credible as invisible spiders.
free will is a metaphor