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 conscious 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’. Free will is an outcome of our individual consciousness as such it is not a part of physical world. This can therefore 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.
  • Aristotle: We can act voluntarily (to do and not to do)
  • 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.

Within the context of Phenomenology our own experiences are equally important. While I except the fact that our ‘free will’ operates only within the context of our environment including all of the human conditions my perception is that I do have at least have some freedom to make certain choices. In my reasoning I have the choice to make selections. Even if Fortuna acts against me I still have the free will to react that in such a way that I can cope with that situation and make the best of it. I also have the choice to not do that and suffer the consequences. The freedom to reason puts me certainly above hard determinism. I do perceive a level of freedom within laws of logic and my own morality. So far this process of reasoning has worked for me. Reasoning has not always delivered the best outcomes and most certainly does go through processes of trail and error.

Thoughts on thoughts?

Thoughts often seem to appear rather random and uninvited; I do not necessarily see those thoughts as being owned by me, they are out there or come from out there. Thoughts, however, appear to be very personal. A thought only appears in my brain, not simultaneously elsewhere. These random thoughts create perceptions of me, my environment, the world.

However, it looks like that I can prime my brain through intellectual processes such as education, studying, research, training, discussions, reading and so on. These ransom thoughts might in such a situation not always be so random at all. Thoughts can thus occur in the context of a prepared brain.

People like Aristotle and Einstein, both deep thinkers, mentioned that when they had a good sleep over their consideration, great ideas appeared to them. I interpret that these ideas are coming into a well-prepared brain. These thoughts can turn into ideas, and they can have an enormous impact as we have seen with Aristotle and Einstein.

This happens when one start to actively think, thoughts are then no longer random and clearly belong to me.

However, coming back to the random thought, here is puzzling element. Research has shown that a split second before a thought appears there is a reaction in the brain. What does this mean?

Do I create the thought or does something else creates that thought? This brings Descartes “I think, therefore I am” in question. It was Nietzsche who already question this because he also observed that some thoughts are coming out of nowhere.

There are some observations in quantum mechanics that protons – on what level quantum processing works – could have something to do with this. While physics shy away from this there are theories that quantum mechanism can work across objects and as such influence each other well before thought are arrive and actions are taken. Does quantum mechanics play a role in consciousness? Food for thought!


Consciousness and quantum processing

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