What does natural science do when interpreting human consciousness? It attempts to interpret it as a consequence or effect of the complex system that the brain is. In other words, it tries to obtain the mental state from the state of the brain and of the human body in general, similarly to how Laplace’s demon was supposed to calculate the future state of each body in the universe based on its past.
However, mental states are not simply awareness of the present condition of the body and the whole of that personality. They are always related somehow to a goal because the whole human psyche is related to goals.
For example, when you feel right now the sensation of hunger, this is not just a feeling; it is also a spur for looking for ways to satisfy that need. When you are tired, again, you do not simply feel tired but also look for ways to stop the activity that makes you feel that way or for a place where you can rest.
Even when you seem in balance with everything inside of you and do not feel any particular need, you still do not think of your present state for too long but start soon thinking of other things, such as things you would like to do, or you immerse yourself in a memory, a content of your imagination or an assessment of the surroundings.
Somehow our mind is constantly linked to the future and not contented with the present or the past. But what future? Did people in the past imagine the future in the same way as we do today? Did they relate themselves to their future as we relate ourselves today? Of course not.
There is a whole world of ideas, values, emotions, etc., that lie between the awareness of the present and the representation of the future in a human being’s mind.
All this world must be thought of as being stored within the brain: neurons, and their connections. This is no longer so difficult to acknowledge nowadays when we know about the tremendous capacities of computers, and therefore, we use the metaphor of the computer in interpreting the human mind. But does this metaphor hold in this case?
Obviously, computers too can be oriented to the future. However, their connection is different than the human connection to the future. A human being is always part of the image he creates about the future. Unlike humans, computers are not part of ‘their’ future.
When dealing with the future, they are concerned only with predicting how the assessed things will evolve, not with their own future. In other words, computers constantly deal with problems they must solve somehow, whereas humans, although they are concerned with future-related problems too, can also play in their minds with the vision of the future.
This play is feeling-oriented: when I imagine something in a playful mood, I tend to imagine something pleasant instead of something unpleasant. In other words, I constantly tend to put myself into a comfortable emotional framework.
Yes, the opposite can also happen: when I am afraid of what will result from the present circumstances, I tend very much to imagine the bad consequences deriving from these circumstances rather than the possible good ones.
Fear and pleasure are, thus, the two main psychological streams of the human mind. Both are related to what is called homeostasis. As a living being, man strives to maintain positive homeostasis and avoid all factors that can disturb it.
For now, computers are unable to relate to the future similarly to human beings because they lack a body that mediates between what is thought of as present and what is imagined (or calculated, in the case of computers).
But how does this feature relate to the question of free will? The presupposition that the human being is completely determined by his brain clashes with this feature of homeostasis. Of course, not in the sense that homeostasis would not be based on the whole of the human body. But in the sense of the relationship with the inherent latent properties of all the elements composing this homeostasis.
When I imagine something unpleasant, natural science (neurology, etc.) says that this image triggers within me a painful memory. By contrast, when I imagine a pleasant situation, this enhances my overall well-being.
The fact of choosing lies at the ground of every triggering in the system of my brain. If I were not endowed with the capacity to choose between what I prefer and what I dislike, then no neuronal activity could develop my personality because this choice is also related to unknown parts of my personality.
Suppose that I have never heard a certain language, but I have an inclination for that language. That inclination, since I was never in contact with that new language, could not have been manifested previously, and therefore it lay unknown within the depths of my personality. But, once I hear it, I fall in love with it and start learning it assiduously.
Thus, I am not determined to think, feel and imagine by my brain system, but, in what I think, feel and imagine, I am constantly determined by potential elements of this system. Claiming that these elements are products of brain activity is false. Possibility in the sense of potentiality is not a product of any existing system but a condition of it.
Am I like the robot placed in front of a wall and asked to select the red paper from a red-colored paper and a blue-colored one? No, I am not because I do not choose intellectually; in other words, my selection is not a simple recognition of the red paper, but it is also an emotional reaction: I – although at a very low level of intensity – also have a feeling related to those colors.
My whole history drives me toward that choice. It is a history in which what I habitually thought about myself, the world, my peers, and everything surrounding me, as well as my condition as a mortal in this world, was constantly associated with feelings that calibrated what I was thinking as well as the memory of the homeostatic route of my body.
Each succeeding moment in my life was based on this tremendously complex intertwining, also contributing itself to a future moment, because its addition to the past was also changing that past. In each new moment, in fact, I am related to a new I, to a new personality of myself, because this whole constantly actualizes potential features within myself that were not there previously.
Thus, there will always be a gap between what is already stored within my brain, pushing me causally towards the deed or choice of the next moment, and the awareness of that next moment of my choice. When I choose, I am never the same as I was a moment earlier.
I am faced with a situation that triggers contents of my memory and overall personality that cannot be predicted because they depend on how I am as a whole related to the new situation, as well as the emergence of hidden aspects of myself determined by that whole.
Of course, one could argue that, therefore, such predictions have a probabilistic nature, which is not incompatible with the absence of a free will. But in this matter, it is precisely the cases when probability fails that are the relevant ones, because they are inexplicable according to the deterministic paradigm.
Even Laplace’s demon – who is supposed to know all the positions of the bodies in the universe and all the laws of motion in that universe – would be unable to exactly predict my choice because, as a mechanical demon, he ignores the fact that that complex is endowed with potentiality.
He would also be forced to make only a probabilistic prediction because my choice is never wholly the product of my past but also of the novelty that I meet in the moment of my choice. That new content might trigger my new I.
The previous part of this article can be read here.