Phenomenology and Free Will

Phenomenology is an interesting element of philosophy explored by thinkers such as Edmund Husslr and Martin Heidegger. It is a philosophical study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness. It comes (of course) from the Greek: the study of that which appears. Phenomenology is a challenging area in our world, which is dominated by hard science data.  Phenomenologists prefer to look at human behaviour and conscience experiences. They follow more a process of discovery and reject objective research. The latter always need to be looked at within a certain context.

This is also very interesting from the discussion of ‘free will’. This can also not be explained by hard data but can only be observed by looking at human behaviour.

Many philosophers have something to say about this.

  • According to the Epicureans, freedom is the right to live as we wish.
  • Descartes: “I think therefor I am”.
  • Spinoza: I call him free who is solely led by reason.
  • David Hume: “There is not such a thing as freedom of choice if there is not freedom to refuse.
  • John Locke: All knowledge finds its basis in experience.
  • Voltaire’s thought about this are: “Nothing can exist without cause.
  • Darwin chipped in: Free will is to mind what chance is to matter.
  • Jean Paul Sartre stated: “man is condemned to be free”.
  • Rousseau talks about: “Freedom is the power to choose your own chains.
  • Edmund Husslr: “Pure phenomenology is the science of pure consciousness.”

The discussion on ‘Free Will’ has been going on for millennia and perhaps will continue for millennia. It is interesting to hear other opinions varying from we are totally free to totally determined. To have a more informed discussion it is good to first put ‘Free Will’ in a certain context.

The way I think about this is in the context of the cosmos, life on earth dictates our biology and our mind is part of that. So, most of our behaviour is determined, whatever we do or want to do is limited by the environment we live in. We can ‘will’ to transport ourselves to another spot-on earth or the universe, however, how much we ‘will’, we cannot do it. We must eat, drink, and procreate. We are subject to entropy, grow older and die.

However, within this context we can make decisions of what is called soft determinism and as such influence our lives and those of others. Combined ‘Free Will’ activity as humanity can influence the direction we are going. This is more along the lines of how Spinoza treats this subject.

Let us look at climate change. The way humans evolved is more and more influencing the overall natural balance. Let us first look at this in a deterministic way. In this scenario humans are predetermined to continue to live the way they live, and nature will react in whatever way is needed to maintain a balance. In such a case we could argue that humans are doomed, and nature will win.

But now a different scenario. Human evolution has also provided us with the ability to gather rational knowledge on nature. Based on that we can – based on our Free Will – adjust and as such we could avoid disaster. This would be an example of soft determination, we can make a difference within the overall context of the nature of the cosmos.


Consciousness and quantum processing

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