I’ve used the words “emergent” and “emergence” several times already on this website, but I haven’t reviewed what those words mean.
Both of the words mean basically the same thing—something that previously didn’t exist, that comes into existence.
So what’s an example of something that emerges? Picture five square pieces of cardboard that are all equal in size. Now imagine that you position them side by side, and one piece on the bottom. Using a hot-glue gun, you glue them together into the shape of a box. The box emerges. That’s as simple of an example as I can think of.
The box didn’t previously exist somewhere else—it didn’t come from “box heaven” and suddenly appear on Earth. It simply emerged right in front of your eyes.
Okay, let’s look at another “emergence” example. Imagine two professional soccer teams in Brazil. Early one morning, each player puts on her uniform and drives to the soccer field. The players assemble on the field and stand ready to begin. A referee blows a whistle and the soccer game emerges. Once again, the game didn’t come from anywhere, it simply emerged right there on the field.
Okay, so what? Well, that’s the fundamental idea of emergence, and there’s a lot you can do with it.
Imagine how the principle of emergence applies to thoughts within your mind. Your thoughts emerge from billions of small electro-chemical reactions that occur simultaneously within your brain in a complex manner.
Let’s take this a step further now and look at emergent forces. In previous sections of the website, I’ve argued that your thoughts exert forces—your thoughts interact with electro-chemical reactions occurring inside your physical brain and cause neurons to fire which thereby cause your muscles to move. Since your thoughts are emergent in nature, isn’t it therefore fair to say that the forces associated with those thoughts are also emergent in nature? What I’m suggesting, is there are several fundamentals about “emergence” that are important to understand.
For any 3-space, there are associated emergent characteristics, emergent forces, and emergent energy. And for each defined 3-space, I would refer to everything within that 3-space as a set, and I would refer to the associated emergent characteristics, forces, and energy associated with that set as being associated with a “point of emergence”. Okay, that was a mouthful and a half, but those are important concepts to understand. When I mention a “point of emergence”, that fits our human references since the very concept of “I” is a singular idea that has to do with a point of emergence. “I” emerge from the 3-space of my body, “I” have emergent characteristics, “I” exert emergent forces, and “I” have emergent energy. What I’m getting at here, is that the idea of modeling reality as sets and associated “points of emergence” is totally natural for humans, since that’s how we perceive of ourselves and everything around us. The concept of “I” reflects a singular idea to each one of us, not a spectrum idea.
When you look at another human being and model her in your mind, you think of her as an “I” just like yourself. It’s interesting that you consider her an “I”, since when you’re looking at her, you’re actually perceiving of spectrum, not a single point of emergence. You model your dog in the same manner; he’s also considered an “I”.
Okay, so we’ve defined a few of the fundamentals about emergence. Let’s move on…
The fundamental idea that’s needed in order to understand how living forces (i.e., free will forces) emerge, has to do with a yin/yang concept. Have you ever seen the yin/yang symbol before? It looks like two rain drops that are curved and placed head to tail, here’s a picture:
Now imagine that one half of the yin/yang symbol represents the set of emergent forces exerted by a large number of subsystems (e.g., the electro-chemical reactions in your physical brain). Now imagine that the other half of the symbol represents forces exerted by the thought that emerges from those electro-chemical reactions.
Now imagine the yin/yang symbol shrunk down into an infinitely small dot, where you cannot perceive of any individual shapes within the symbol. Let’s think of that as the moment in time when a thought first begins to form in your mind. As the thought grows in your mind, imagine the yin/yang symbol growing in scale, both halves at the same time and at the same rate. As the electro-chemical reactions grow in your mind and cause the thought to emerge, so too do the forces grow that are exerted by the emergent thought back into the electro-chemical level. The electro-chemical forces and the forces exerted by the emergent thought interact in a yin/yang manner as the thought emerges, wherein both parts exert forces that affect the path of reality. The new forces that emerge at the thought-level affect what happens in the electro-chemical level. If that weren’t the case, then once again you’d have to believe that your thoughts don’t interact with one another at the thought level.
Living forces exist within a continuous and fluid spectrum of activity. At the instant of time when a new living force begins to emerge, it begins interacting with other forces already existing in the higher-level field. Those existing forces add with the new emergent force and the resulting sum affects the path of reality.
The sum of the new emergent force and existing forces effectively transcends multiple fields and exerts forces back into the field(s) of the subcomponent forces located at lower levels. What I’m trying to say, is there’s a spectrum of activity that occurs simultaneously, and that activity isn't isolated in a point by point manner. It’s comprised of waves flowing through media – a fluid spectrum of forces that add with one another. It’s a complex sea of activity.
If no forces exist within the higher-level field where the newborn force emerges, then the newborn simply spearheads the new field and exists isolated on its own – it doesn’t add with any other forces within the higher-level field. In effect, the newborn force becomes part of a brand new form of higher-level life – “growth”.
Let’s think for a moment about how an electronic amplifier works and how a hydraulic value works, and make sure we understand how our physical brains are different from those devices.
An electronic amplifier has a large potential electrical force that’s controlled by a small electrical force (i.e., the input signal), and the output of the amplifier simply multiplies the amplitude of the input signal by the gain of the amplifier. A hydraulic valve works in a similar manner, except that hydraulic fluid is used instead of electricity. Okay, so what’s the difference between a hydraulic valve and a person’s brain? Doesn’t a brain act exactly like a valve, and the forces exerted by a person’s thoughts are simply deterministic amplification of the electro-chemical forces? Nope, that’s where the similarity ends.
A hydraulic valve simply controls existing forces. The reservoir of high pressure hydraulic fluid that’s on one side of the valve is an existing force, it’s nothing new. The valve simply controls how much of the existing force is allowed to flow through the valve. The same principle applies to an electronic amplifier (e.g., a transistor). Your brain on the other hand, isn’t controlling an existing force. The electro-chemical reactions aren’t controlling a valve where you have lots of “thought force” built up ready to exert. Instead, the electro-chemical forces cause something totally new to emerge—your thoughts—and the forces associated with those thoughts are also totally new—they don’t come from a reservoir—they’re in a different field.
Now that we understand how living forces emerge, how does that relate to the free will vs. determinism question that has plagued philosophers for a long, long time?
Here it is in a nutshell: Living forces emerge in your physical brain, and those new forces give you free will in the strong sense (i.e., you have the ability to do more than simply make a choice, you have the ability to make a choice that’s not predetermined.) The free will forces that you exert from your thoughts add into the net sum of all forces and affect the path of reality. The infinite number of other forces that exist (i.e., forces other than your own free will forces) also add into the net sum and also help to determine the path of reality. Whether or not you exert free will forces is totally up to you. If you do, you have free will and you affect the path of reality. If you don’t, your life is totally determined by all of the other forces exerted by other system levels. Free will and determinism co-exist and both are totally real. There is no contradiction therein. Free will forces are part of what determines the path of reality.
Here’s one definition of free will, and a formal argument supporting its existence.
Free will: The ability for one human thought to interact with, affect, or influence another thought inside a physical brain, in a manner that’s not controlled solely by the four fundamental forces of physics (and isn’t random in nature either).
1. A human thought may be modeled as a complex pattern of neurological activity that exists in a distributed manner within the three-space of a physical brain.
2. A human thought is a real entity that exists at the “pattern” level, not at the singular neuron level (just as the emergent picture from a 1000-piece puzzle exists at the completed puzzle level, not the single-piece level).
3. One thought is capable of interacting with, affecting, or influencing another thought inside a physical brain (i.e., mental causation is true).
4. When one real entity interacts with another real entity, associated forces exist.
5. When one thought interacts with another thought, associated forces exist. Emergent forces interact at the "pattern" level. (If that were false, mental causation would also be false, and it would simply be an illusion that our thoughts interact with one another.)
6. The forces exerted from the “pattern” level (i.e., the thought level) aren’t simply a summation of forces exerted from the four fundamental forces of physics. If that were false, your thoughts wouldn’t interact at the thought/pattern level, since all of your logic would be determined 100% from interaction at the atomic level.
New forces are an emergent property of human thoughts, and those forces aren’t determined solely by the four fundamental forces of physics. In addition, those new forces aren't random in nature, because the interaction of our thoughts (i.e., our thinking) isn't random in nature; our thinking makes logical sense.
How does the concept of emergence relate to the mind/body problem?
Your consciousness and your thoughts both emerge from your body. They’re associated with the 3-space of your physical brain, but they aren’t the same thing as your body—they emerge at a different level. There is no contradiction therein. By understanding the idea of emergence, you understand that your consciousness and your thoughts are caused by your body (i.e., your body is required in order for your consciousness and thoughts to emerge), but you also understand that your consciousness and thoughts are different from your body—they aren’t one and the same. They emerge and exist as different entities.
Just as there is a “weak sense” and a “strong sense” to the meaning of the term “free will”, there’s also a weak sense and a strong sense to the meaning of the term “downward causation”.
Let’s do a quick review of free will in the weak sense and strong sense:
* Free will in the weak sense: Given a choice, man can make a decision. For example, if someone asks if you’d like to have chicken or a veggie burger for dinner, you can make a decision.
* Free will in the strong sense: Given a choice, man can make a decision that’s not predetermined. Man can make a decision that’s not controlled solely by the four fundamental forces of physics.
Okay, now that we’ve reviewed the weak sense and strong sense of free will, let’s take a look at the meaning of downward causation. First, let’s understand downward causation in the “weak sense”. Here’s an example to illustrate its meaning: Two waves travel across the surface of the ocean towards one another and meet together. As the two waves run into one another, their forces add and the water comprising the two waves moves in a deterministic manner. One method for modeling that event is to use downward causation. We’d begin by looking at how the forces of the two waves interact at the “wave level”, then we’d analyze how the higher-level wave forces affect the subcomponents of the waves (i.e., the individual droplets of water). Based upon our top-down analysis, we’d conclude that the forces exerted at the wave level caused the water droplets at the lower level to move, and there was “downward causation”. Upon completing our top-down analysis, we’d end up with a detailed explanation of all the forces in play, beginning with a relatively small number of forces at the wave level, and an extremely large number of subcomponent forces at the water droplet level.
The interesting thing to note about downward causation in the weak sense, is that the resulting analysis is simply a mirror image of the analysis we’d produce if we performed our analysis from the bottom-up instead (using principles of predeterminism). If we were to perform a bottom-up analysis on the same exact wave event using the theory of predeterminism, we’d start by examining all of the individual subcomponent forces comprising the wave (i.e., the billions of individual mechanical force vectors associated with the individual droplets of water), then we’d add those billions of individual force vectors together to obtain the higher-level forces resulting at the wave level. Using bottom-up analysis, we’d create the same exact results as the top-down analysis except that we’d do it in reverse (i.e., we’d create the mirror image) and we’d effectively end up at the starting point of the top-down analysis.
What that really tells us, is that our analysis from the top-down using downward causation is really just a different way of modeling the truth in our human minds. The four fundamental forces of physics are truly controlling the motion of the water droplets in a deterministic manner, and therefore the resulting motion of the waves is actually determined from the bottom-up. It’s simply an illusion for mankind to believe there was true downward causation during the wave event (except perhaps from a quantity of 1/n of living forces). That’s what is meant by downward causation in the “weak sense”. It’s weak because it’s essentially false. There isn’t any downward causation that humans can perceive of.
Like many other events that occur in reality, all of the forces analyzed in the wave example are located in the same force field (i.e., they’re all mechanical forces). Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you model the event from the top-down or from the bottom-up. Both methods are perfectly valid, and humans will naturally tend to model those kinds of events using downward causation since it fits conveniently with our natural human reference. Picture a beautiful ocean wave right now in your mind, crashing onto a sandy beach – don’t you picture the wave as what’s causing the water to move? You could picture the zillions of moving subcomponents of the water as that which causes the wave, but that’s not our natural human perspective.
Okay, we’ve explored the meaning of downward causation in the weak sense. Let’s now consider downward causation in the “strong sense”. Downward causation in the strong sense requires that a living force exists at a higher system level, that adds into the net-sum and affects the path of reality in a true top-down manner. The living force cannot emerge in the same field as the lower-level subcomponent forces that caused the higher-level living system to emerge and exert the higher-level living force. Otherwise the new force wouldn’t be a living force, and it would qualify only as downward causation in the weak sense. Whenever downward causation occurs in the strong sense, it’s not possible to equate a top-down analysis to a bottom-up analysis. That’s because the higher-level living force emerges in a different force field, and forces located in different fields don't add directly with one another. Scientists make certain assumptions (i.e., leaps of faith) when they claim multiple subcomponent forces in one field “determine” how a new force emerges in a totally different field. The truth is, that hasn’t been proven, and it’s not a productive assumption since it causes people to doubt the existence of their own free will.
What would be a good example of downward causation in the strong sense? Answer: human thoughts as they exert forces from the thought level back down into the electro-chemical level of the associated physical brain. That is true downward causation because the forces exerted by the thought simultaneously affect at least two different force fields – the electro-chemical field and the thought field. Because it’s downward causation in the strong sense, we cannot model a human thought from the bottom-up. We cannot add all of the billions of small electro-chemical forces and obtain a large net electro-chemical force that’s equivalent to the forces exerted by the thought. That’s because the net sum of the electro-chemical forces isn’t in the same field as the forces exerted by the emergent thought. A human thought is a fundamentally different type of event than an ocean wave.
Downward causation in the strong sense is synonymous with free will in the strong sense. That’s what this website is about – helping people to understand that free will exists in the strong sense and downward causation exists in the strong sense, because living forces exist.
If mankind is ever going to perceive of living forces exerted by other systems and prove they exist, we need to begin by recognizing that living forces exist within ourselves. Let’s look at the following three arguments and see if they provide further support for the idea of free will in the strong sense.
Argument # 1:
Imagine a newborn baby’s physical brain. Its neural networks are already initially wired upon birth, and the baby is ready to learn. What actually happens as the baby is learning? His brain receives a huge quantity of inputs from his body’s five senses, and then what happens? Does the raw electro-chemical data from those signals directly cause changes in the wiring of the baby’s brain, or would it be more appropriate to believe that higher-level events emerge in the baby’s mind from the billions of neurons firing simultaneously from those inputs, and the forces from those higher-level events cause the wiring to change?
Okay, that explanation was a little rough, so let’s consider another way to understand this… Imagine the child when he’s five years old. What happens inside his physical brain while he’s learning? The child hears words spoken to him by his mother, and electro-chemical signals are sent by the child’s inner ear components through nerves to areas located inside the child’s physical brain. Isn’t it fair to say that the child’s brain interprets the sounds created by his mother, and ideas emerge in his mind based upon those sounds? Wouldn’t it also be fair to say that those ideas cause him to learn and for the wiring in his physical brain to be changed? The neural wiring isn’t changed simply by the raw data signals received from his ears, it’s changed by his ideas. If you agree with that, then you must agree that thoughts exert forces back into the electro-chemical level of the child’s physical brain.
If you still believe the neural wiring in a child’s brain is changed purely by downward causation in the weak sense (i.e., predeterministic forces from the bottom-up), then you must also believe that the intelligence is somehow baked into the low-level sensory data, and it doesn’t emerge from higher-level events (e.g., thoughts) in the child’s brain. Does that really make sense? Imagine a newspaper for a moment; is the associated intelligence located at the paper and ink level, or does it exist at the interpreted level of the words, sentences, and paragraphs? I believe the latter is true, and the same principle applies to sounds heard by a child when he’s learning – the intelligence exists at the interpreted level of the sensory data.
Here’s a brief argument that provides further support for that idea… What if the boy’s mother is fluent in two languages, English and French, and she’s always spoken to him in English ever since he was born. Now imagine that she speaks to him in French for the first time ever, and attempts to convey an important one-minute lesson. Would the child learn anything of significance from the lesson? Of course not. Now imagine the mother delivering the same exact message to the child using English instead. The child learns and his neural wiring is further developed. Here’s my point: even though the same exact information (i.e., intelligence) is contained in the raw signal data of the words spoken in both languages, the child only learns from the English language version. That’s because the intelligence isn’t located at the raw data level received by his senses, it’s located at the interpreted level that results from higher-level processes within his brain.
At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that all readers will agree that a child learns from higher-level events that emerge within his physical brain. In addition, we can probably all agree that the intelligent processes that interpret the raw sensory data and cause thoughts to emerge in the child’s mind are enabled by the current hardware configuration (i.e., neural net wiring) of his physical brain. Now let’s ask ourselves a super important fundamental question: how do those higher-level events (e.g., thoughts) exert forces back down into the electro-chemical level and cause the wiring to change in a child’s physical brain? When the child actually learns something, there’s much more to the process than him simply being conscious of the ideas presented by his mother. The child’s brain is physically changed.
The forces exerted by a higher-level emergent event (e.g., a thought) in the child’s physical brain aren’t a direct sum of the billions of associated lower-level electro-chemical forces that cause the thought to emerge. If that were the case, the thought would simply be equivalent to a large net electro-chemical force. Instead, something totally different emerges at the event level, and the associated forces of the new emergent entity (e.g., a thought) are located in a different field. That fits perfectly with the concept of a “living force”. The higher-level event (e.g., thought) exerts forces in more than one field – the thought field for one, as it interacts with other thoughts in the child’s brain, and the electro-chemical field as another, as his thoughts exert forces that change his neural net wiring.
In summary, human thoughts are caused by billions of lower-level electro-chemical reactions, but they aren’t determined by those subcomponent forces since the subcomponent forces and the higher-level emergent forces are located in different fields. The same principle applies to all living forces at all system levels, regardless of whether or not consciousness emerges at that system level.
Argument # 2:
Let’s do another mental experiment… Imagine for a moment that your consciousness is a separate entity from your thoughts. That should be easy for people who believe in predeterminism, since they believe their thoughts are totally controlled from the electro-chemical level and they’re simply conscious of their thoughts (i.e., they believe their consciousness is a separate entity from their thoughts).
Okay, now let’s take your consciousness and move it over to a different system, namely a laptop computer. Imagine what your conscious experience would be like if it were associated with the computer. In that environment, you’d be aware of events happening inside the computer – its programs running and all of the electrical signals routed at high speeds everywhere, but you wouldn’t feel connected to them – much in the same way that you’re conscious of the events happening around the exterior of your body right now, but you don’t feel connected to them either. They seem deterministic in nature and you don’t directly affect them.
Now compare your imagined conscious experience inside the computer with your real conscious experience inside your own body right now. Yes, there’s an obvious difference, but think carefully about the connection that you have in each environment. Isn’t it true that your imagined experience inside the computer totally lacked connection with the computer elements, whereas your experience within your own body has something different? That difference isn’t simply because one scenario is imagined and the other is real, because you could imagine your consciousness moved into another living system (e.g., a dog), and feel an imagined connection with its body that you didn’t feel inside the laptop computer. Perhaps the connection each of us feels to our body is caused by living forces that we exert (i.e., free will forces).
Argument # 3:
Generally speaking, scientists don’t believe free will in the “strong sense” exists. Instead, they believe all of the activity within a human body is controlled solely be the four fundamental forces of physics in a predeterministic manner from the bottom up. Scientists don’t believe that you control your own thoughts; you’re only conscious of them. In addition, scientists don’t believe that you actually control your own body movements; you’re only conscious of how your body moves. Let’s do a couple of mental experiments right now to better understand what it would mean to be “only conscious”, instead of being able to exert control.
Let’s start by imagining what it would be like if you were only conscious of your body movements – you didn’t actually control them.
Imagine that you’re at home right now, and as usual, your body is completely covered from head to toe with a thin steel suit that fits perfectly against your skin. The movement of the suit is controlled solely by a computer located in a backpack that you’re wearing, and whatever the computer commands the steel suit to do, your body does – you don’t control your body. Instead, you’re only conscious of how your body moves.
Okay, it’s 6:00 AM and you’re lying in bed with the suit on. You slowly awaken, but you can’t move any part of your body; you need to wait for the suit to move. At 6:30 AM, the computer commands the suit to get up out of bed, walk over to the sliding glass door of your bedroom, open the door and let your two dogs out. Next, the computer commands the suit to walk into the kitchen and put away the dry dishes located in the sink. Can you imagine that experience in your mind? That’s what it would be like if your body was controlled in a predeterministic manner and you were only conscious of its movements. Your body moves, and you’re simply aware of its movements. Is that similar to what you're experiencing today, or do you feel like you have control over your body movements?
Here’s another example illustrating the same concept… You’re at a party after work on a Friday afternoon, and you walk over to one of your friends and attempt to speak to him. You’re amazed to discover however that you can’t move your jaw or make any sounds using your voice, because you’re having a stroke and your brain isn’t working normally. During that experience, you realize that your thoughts cannot control your physical body, and you understand what it means for your body to be controlled in a predeterministic manner. Is that similar to what you're experiencing today? Isn’t it fair to say that your body doesn’t move predeterministically, and your thoughts are able to cause your body to move?
Next, let’s imagine what it would be like if there was a steel suit installed in your mind instead of on your skin. Instead of being able to control your own thoughts – you’re only conscious of them. Is that anything like what you experienced today? Did you feel all day long like your thoughts were controlled predeterministically, or did you feel like you controlled your own thoughts? If you believe your thoughts are predetermined, please try the following two-step experiment:
1. Pick an idea to think about – right now – think about something that you like. Choose any idea, then stop reading this text for five seconds and think about that one idea...
2. Okay, now stop thinking about that first idea, and pick a second different idea to think about. Stop reading this text again for five seconds and think about your second idea...
There, you just proved beyond any doubt that you have the ability to control your own thoughts – to change what you think about. You did it just now, and there’s no arguing about it. No scientist or philosopher in the entire universe can convince you that you didn’t control your own thoughts. You experienced it first hand. If that wasn’t controlling your own thoughts, what would it mean to control your own thoughts? How would your experience be any different if you really were able to control your own thoughts?
If you agree that you have the ability to exert forces to change what you think about, isn’t it fair to say that your thoughts aren’t predetermined from the bottom-up?
One last mind-related experiment; imagine what it would be like to be on LSD... Two hours ago, your best friend convinced you to take a large dose, and you’re now experiencing all kinds of weird things in your mind that you’ve never felt before. Some of them beautiful, some interesting, and some so strange that you couldn't possibly describe them. Everything keeps changing - you’re simply aware of things happening in your mind and you can't control them. Suddenly, you begin to feel a very strange ugliness about everything. It’s a depressing feeling and you can’t seem to get rid of it. As the ugliness continues to grow in your mind, you sense something out of the corner of your eye. Up in the sky… You quickly look up and see a strange metal cylinder high in the sky, moving slowly; TOTAL FEAR SUDDENLY GRIPS YOU and you don’t understand anything. The ugliness and fear continue to grow until your whole body is totally filled with fear and anxiety. You cannot control the ugliness and your whole existence is torn and twisted in torture for the next six hours as you run and walk. It’s the worst experience you’ve ever had in your whole life, and you’ll never forgive your friend.
Ten hours later, the LSD has worn off and you wake up in the desert six miles from your friend’s house. You realize how grateful you are that your thoughts aren’t always controlled in a deterministic manner by powerful chemicals, and as you walk out of the desert full of cactus needles, you understand the value of your own free will.
Summary of the three arguments:
Yes, scientists have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the four fundamental forces of physics exist, and yes, those forces deterministically affect the path of reality. I totally agree.
However, a belief in the four fundamental forces of physics doesn’t eliminate the possibility of other forces emerging and adding into the mix, thereby helping to determine the path of reality. Please keep in mind that humans only experience the result of the net sum of all forces at each moment of time. We simply cannot perceive of the many different component forces that are exerted from the infinite number of system levels that exist across the spectrum of 3-D scale. The only component forces that humans perceive of in real time (vs. after the net sum), are the living forces that exist at our own human level.
There is absolutely no reason why human beings shouldn’t believe in living forces, and there are many compelling reasons why we should. The concept of living forces doesn’t create any contradictions with the billions of scientific experiments that have already been successfully completed. A proof of living forces is simply “missing science” and we shouldn’t allow that to cause us to discount what we experience every waking moment of our lives - each one of us exerts living forces (i.e., free will forces).
Yes, the electro-chemical reactions within your physical brain exert forces and influence your thoughts. But that’s only half of the equation. Emergent living forces exerted by your thoughts (i.e., your free will) are the other half of the equation. Yes, our paths in life are determined, but they aren’t predetermined. Our free will forces are a component of what determines our paths.
If you choose to believe in predeterminism, then you choose to believe in ideas that directly contradict your own daily personal experience of reality.
Our experiences throughout our lives have naturally led us to believe that we consciously control our free will; our consciousness is what "drives" our free will. That’s been a strong belief throughout the evolution of mankind, because we don’t sense the existence of our thoughts until we’re actually conscious of them; we aren’t aware of any “time delays”.
Neuroscience has developed experiments showing that a short time delay exists between the moment when a thought first forms in your physical brain and the moment when you become conscious of that thought. Does that mean free will doesn’t exist? No, it simply shows that your consciousness isn’t what "drives" your thoughts, and that your consciousness is a separate entity from your thoughts.
Okay, hold on, that was pretty abstract… let’s take a step backwards for a minute and ask ourselves; what does it mean for a delay to exist between the moment when a thought first forms in your physical brain and the moment when you become conscious of that thought? Let’s do a mental experiment right now to better understand what neuroscientists mean by “delay”.
Move your eyes away from this text for a moment, and scan around the room you’re currently in. Leave your eyes positioned straight forward and simply turn your head left and right using your neck. Try not to focus on anything in particular, and don’t think about what you’re looking at; just see everything.
Did you experience any sensory delays as you moved your field of vision around the room? I'd be willing to bet that you didn't, unless you’re currently on some very strong medication. The sensory delay is imperceptibly short when you change your field of vision.
Now, look briefly at the plastic edge of your computer monitor and then look back at a random word located in this paragraph. After doing that repeatedly, you’ll begin to perceive of a short delay from the time when you first see the word, until the time that you're conscious of the word's meaning. The delay that you experience is caused by processing time that’s required for the thought to emerge in your physical brain. It may be difficult to detect the delay at first, because you’re conditioned to ignore it, much like you’re conditioned to ignore the edges on the lenses of your glasses or the tip of your nose. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll understand the meaning of “delay”.
Okay, so what’s the big deal? Of course it takes a little time for your brain to process the large amount of vision data received from your eyes, and to produce the meaning of the word that you're looking at. Thoughts don’t emerge like square waves (i.e., instantaneous events), they take milliseconds to form in your physical brain. Other senses of your body function in a similar manner (e.g, your hearing); you perceive of raw input signals without perceptible delay, but the meanings of those perceptions emerge shortly thereafter. Ideas take longer to emerge in your mind than simple awareness of raw sensory input signals.
Okay, so you’re probably asking yourself the same "so what?" question again. Well, there are delays also associated with conclusions that you reach when you’re thinking about things, and that’s why neuroscientists believe there may be free will issues involved. When you have multiple ideas in your mind and you’re analyzing things trying to figure them out, your conclusions are formed a short time before you’re consciously aware of them. Neuroscientists have latched onto that fact, and are claiming it proves you don’t have free will in the strong sense.
I disagree with their claim, because they haven't proven that your conclusions don’t exert forces back into the electro-chemical level of your physical brain. I believe that your free will exists as that part of “you” which forms the conclusion, regardless of whether or not you’re instantly conscious of the event. If living forces are exerted by your thoughts during the process when conclusions are reached, then regardless of whether or not you’re conscious of the instant of time when those living forces are exerted, free will still exists. It simply depends on what you define as “you”. The neuroscientists apparently are defining “you” as comprised only of your consciousness in real time. Well, I consider my thought processes to also be part of me, just as I consider my fingertip to be part of me even though there’s a short propagation delay from the time when I first touch something to the time when I'm conscious of the feeling.
In summary, the real question about free will has nothing to do with propagation delays, so let’s leave that whole subject for now.
Here’s the real question about free will: are your thoughts capable of exerting forces back down into the electro-chemical level of your physical brain (i.e., downward causation in the strong sense)?
Please consider the following six statements and determine how many you agree with. (The words “I” and “my” refer to you, the reader.)
1. I have thoughts. (Do you agree or disagree?)
2. My thoughts are real entities and I am consciously aware of their existence.
3. My thoughts emerge from complex neurological activity that occurs in my physical brain.
4. I’m not conscious of the zillions of simultaneous electro-chemical reactions that cause my thoughts to emerge; I’m simply aware of the higher-level emergent entities that I refer to as my “thoughts”.
5. Multiple thoughts within my mind sometimes interact with one another and cause conclusions to be reached. One real entity sometimes interacts with another real entity, and a third real entity emerges called a “conclusion”.
6. Some of my conclusions exert forces that cause my body to move.
If you answered “yes” to all six questions, then you believe you have free will in the strong sense.
If you still believe that your thoughts are predetermined by the four fundamental forces of physics, then you’re probably thinking that your thoughts don’t really interact with one another at the thought level, and any apparent interaction (i.e., logic or intelligence) is solely controlled by the electro-chemical level.
If that's what you believe, then you must also believe that your logic or intelligence is really only downward causation in the weak sense, and a human mind functions much like a calculator. The flaw in that line of thinking is that a calculator is preprogrammed by other intelligence; its algorithms are written ahead of time by humans. Whereas when a human grows from an embryo into an adult person, the development process of the human's brain wiring or “hardware programming” if you will, isn’t pre-defined by DNA located in a fertilized egg. There is far too much complexity in the wiring of a human brain to be predefined solely by the limited amount of matter located in the DNA of an embryo. Instead, the hard-wired logic in your physical brain (the neural network) is created as you grow – as you learn – as you experience reality – that’s when the wiring is revised and improved.
What I’m trying to say, is that human intelligence isn’t already baked in from the onset like it is with a calculator preloaded with algorithms. It’s a learning process for humans, and that process of learning occurs as a human receives zillions of raw sensory input signals to his physical brain. That raw data causes higher-level events in his physical brain to emerge, and those higher-level events are where the intelligence emerges from. Those events exert new emergent forces in a different field (i.e., the forces exerted by those events aren’t a direct sum of the lower level electro-chemical forces), and those new forces aren’t determined; they’re simply caused; they’re living forces (i.e., free will forces).
At some point, intelligence must emerge along the path of a developing human being, and it’s pointless and simply unimportant (right now) to argue about the exact level where the intelligence comes from. What’s important right now, is to recognize that emergent intelligence exerts new forces, and those are the living forces that mankind needs to realize exist.
Most human beings believe that their consciousness and their thoughts are one and the same thing. That’s a belief we’ve developed from our natural human references, and it’s a useful belief. It wouldn’t do us any good to model the singular concept of “I” as split up into many different emergent processes in our physical brains, even though it may be interesting for scientists to investigate and analyze those subsystems.
Imagine a young boy looking out the window of his house at a tree in his backyard. It’s useful for him to model the tree as one thing, not a spectrum of many different system levels all interacting together. In a similar manner, it’s useful for adult humans to model themselves as “I”, as one thing.
“You” emerge from the 3-space commonly referred to as your physical body, and “you” are comprised of multiple emergent entities including your consciousness, thoughts, and sensory perceptions.
Yes, you have free will, but it isn’t controlled by your consciousness, it’s controlled by another part of you. You are conscious of your free will.
Before closing on this section, let’s look at one last idea – the wonderful side of the neuroscience discovery “that a short time delay exists between the moment when a thought first forms in your physical brain and the moment when you become conscious of that thought”.
Instead of proving that mankind doesn’t have free will, what neuroscience has actually shown is something totally different – something profound and beautiful; consciousness isn’t a prerequisite for free-will forces (i.e., living forces) to exist. Neuroscience has effectively shown that our consciousness isn’t what causes (or drives) our free will; we’re simply conscious of our free will. Based upon that conclusion, we can believe that plants and other living organisms are capable of exerting living forces (i.e., forces of design) without having consciousness. That’s a beautiful realization and a big step forward for mankind. It helps us to respect the entire spectrum of life.
Because of our natural human references, mankind has believed that only conscious beings are capable of exerting forces of design. Since it’s obvious that intelligent design exists throughout the spectrum of 3-D scale, and since mankind didn’t do the designing, he’s concluded to date that the design must have been performed by some other entity – God.
The truth is, many different system levels across the 3-D spectrum of scale are capable of exerting forces of design, and if you believe that God emerges across the entire spectrum, then the bottom line remains the same: God is the creator. (More on that later.)
How do neural patterns interact with one another inside a physical human brain?
Let’s begin this hypothesis by agreeing that human thoughts may be modeled as complex patterns of neurological activity.
Next, let’s utilize a "parallel processor" to help us understand how two neural patterns may interact with one another. (A parallel processor is a large array of logic gates that’s designed to process large amounts of electronic information simultaneously in a parallel manner.)
Let’s imagine that there are two complex patterns of electrical data (representing two “ideas” if you will) that are fed into a parallel processor. Each pattern/idea is represented by a 500 millisecond wave of data that’s transmitted in parallel across one billion separate wires. Each idea flows out the ends of one billion electrical data lines in a parallel manner, in the form of a 500 millisecond wave, with the signal on each wire transitioning multiple times from one voltage representing “1”, to another voltage representing “0”, and a pattern exists in the relationship between those one billion different signals (i.e., a pattern representing the idea is embedded in the relationships between the signal lines). Now let’s say that the processor has two large parallel input ports named “A” and “B” that are designed to accept those two ideas. Each of the two inputs has one billion single-wire input connections, so there’s a total of two billion single-wire inputs on the parallel processor. Based upon the two ideas that the processor receives on inputs A and B, the processor is designed to produce an intelligent output conclusion on one-billion output lines named “output C”. The output will appear as a 500 millisecond wave of complex data, representing the “conclusion” (i.e., the output is based upon the interaction of the two thoughts/ideas).
I hope you’re still with me – sorry about all of that...
Now, inside the processor, let’s say there’s a very large array of individual logic gates (including various types of AND, OR, NAND, XOR, MUX, etc...) that are all interconnected in a complex manner. Let’s arbitrarily say there are 10 billion gates comprising the logic array and there’s a total of 100 billion electrical interconnections between those gates.
Now, let’s say the two thoughts/ideas are fed simultaneously into inputs A and B on the processor, and those ideas flow through the logic array while interacting with one another as waves of data. From a neuroscience perspective, perhaps that's a reasonable way to generally model the intelligent interaction of two thoughts inside a human brain.
Okay, after a short propagation delay, a conclusion appears as a wave of data on output C. I agree that the conclusion produced by the parallel processor is totally deterministic in nature and it's based solely upon the characteristics of the input ideas and the hardware configuration of the logic array. There is only one conclusion (i.e., one type of output wave) that’s possible, and it’s determined by the four fundamental forces of physics as the two input waves of data flow through the hardwired gate array.
Now let’s ask ourselves an important question: Where is the intelligence located that’s associated with the conclusion that appears on output C? Isn’t it fair to say that the intelligence exists at the pattern level of the output wave of data? Now, what if we wanted to enable some feedback from the output (i.e., the conclusion) so we could cause the gate array to intelligently “learn”? In order to cause intelligent changes to the gate array, the forces of change would need to come from the pattern level of output C. If we tried hardwiring just one of the single output lines from the billion output lines of output C back into one of the single gates within the logic array with the intent of intelligently changing the array based upon the pattern appearing at output C, we’d fail. In fact, even if we hardwired all billion of those output lines back into the logic array, we’d still fail, because the changes made to each gate would only be based upon the singular data line that was wired back to each single gate. The changes made to the gate array using feedback from output C wouldn’t be based upon the intelligence located at the pattern level of output C. Instead, the changes would be based upon subcomponent forces that have zero emergent intelligence.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make: The neural wiring located inside a human brain isn’t changed by the feedback from a singular neuron that’s wired to another singular neuron. Instead, new living forces emerge at the neural pattern level, and those forces transcend back down into the electro-chemical level in a distributed and intelligent manner thereby changing the neural net (i.e, many neurons simultaneously). Yes, the waves of data that flow through a parallel processor result in a highly deterministic conclusion at output C, but a human brain operates differently than a processor. Within a human brain, as forces are exerted from the neuron level thereby causing a neural pattern to emerge, living forces emerge simultaneously at the “pattern” level thereby immediately influencing activity at the neuron level from the very moment that the neural pattern begins to emerge. It’s a continuous and fluid spectrum of activity inside a human brain, whereas it’s simply a deterministic wave of interaction inside a parallel processor.
The principle explained above applies not only to processes associated with learning; it also applies when a conclusion interacts with subsequent thoughts within a physical brain. The intelligence associated with a logical conclusion exists at the pattern level of neural activity, not at the individual neuron level. Therefore, in order for a conclusion to intelligently affect other thoughts within a physical brain, forces must be exerted from the pattern level of the conclusion.
Before leaving this section, let’s briefly review the meanings of the terms “intelligence”, “intelligent interaction”, and “intelligent forces”. Let’s do that by using those three terms in appropriate context.
The gate array described above is preprogrammed with “intelligence” (i.e., it was prewired by human intelligence), which thereby allows the gate array to cause “intelligent interaction” between the two ideas as they flow through the parallel processor. “Intelligent forces” are emergent living forces, but none are exerted by the gate array (that humans can perceive of). All of the intelligent interaction between the two ideas as they flow through the gate array is controlled by the preprogrammed intelligence and the four fundamental forces of physics.
Sometimes seemingly crazy ideas need to be presented in order for science to discover supporting evidence for those new ideas.
In a nutshell, here’s the idea: Higher-level emergent systems cause faster connections between the lower level subcomponents that comprise said higher-level systems. Please consider the following three examples for illustration.
Example #1: The normal word-of-mouth propagation rate of ideas between individual people is relatively slow. Sue has an idea, which she verbally explains to Bob, who then tells the idea to Allen, who later mentions the idea to Debbie. In order to share Sue’s original idea with millions of people by word of mouth propagating sequentially from one person to the next, it takes a loooooooong time. Now let’s consider what would happen if Sue were to communicate her idea to a higher-level emergent system which would then share her idea in *parallel* with a large number of people simultaneously. If Sue were to do that, the effective propagation rate of her idea would be increased dramatically. Sue can realize that type of “parallel” communication today, simply by uploading her idea to the Internet system (i.e., a higher-level emergent system). Okay, that’s example #1.
Example #2: Let’s consider how the U.S. Government increases the connection speed between individual people. During an election, millions of individual voters go to voting booths all across the United States and cast their ballots regarding whether or not certain laws should be passed. All of the votes from the individuals (i.e., the lower-level subcomponents) flow upward to a higher-level system called “The Government”, whereby the Government receives all of the votes simultaneously in parallel. The Government then determines whether or not new laws are passed, and shortly thereafter, the results of the election are flowed back down to the subcomponent level (i.e., the people) in a *parallel* manner. In this example, the effective propagation rate of ideas flowing through the higher-level system (i.e., the Government) is much faster than the propagation rate would be if millions of individuals were to communicate serially with one another in an attempt to reach consensus regarding which laws should be passed.
Example #3: John Bell is a famous physicist who developed experiments showing that certain sets of particles that have taken part in an interaction with one another and are then separated, are capable of interacting with one another at a distance, wherein the interaction occurs faster than the speed of light. In other words, the effect of one photon on another photon may occur in less time than it takes for light to propagate from one photon to the other. Perhaps a reasonable way of interpreting the phenomena observed during Bell’s experiments, is to believe that as the two photons separate from one another, they cause a wave to emerge as a higher-level entity whereby the connection between each of the two photons and the higher-level wave is in real time (i.e., no propagation delay), and the higher-level wave causes the connection between the two photons located at a distance to happen faster than the normal propagation rate of individual photons. The scientific community tends to view that phenomena as “spooky”, when in fact there’s likely a reasonable explanation.
Okay, let’s summarize where we’re headed with the three examples described above. I’m thinking that the interaction between billions of neurons within a physical brain may occur *much* faster than the normal propagation rate through a linear sequence of individual neurons. The reason I say that, is because a human thought is a higher-level emergent entity which interacts with billions of neurons *simultaneously* in parallel. Said interaction is likely similar in nature to the interaction between the subcomponents and the higher-level emergent systems described in the three examples above. The principle is fundamentally the same.
Perhaps after you’ve had a chance to think about this, you’ll sense how smoothly your thoughts flow within your own mind in real time; you don’t experience propagation delays adding and stacking, and therefore your thoughts aren’t choppy in nature. The reason your thoughts are *extremely* fluid, is because the propagation delays are extremely short between billions of neurons interacting *simultaneously* with one another within your brain while you’re thinking. Neurons don’t interact only with other neurons that they’re directly wired to – they also uplink to the thought level which effectively allows billions of neurons to interact simultaneously with billions of other neurons. This concept may be essential in order to understand how a brain works.