I have been reading Sam Harris's latest book, "Free Will", in which he
claims that free will does not exist. Basically, he refers to some scientific
studies that show that all actions that you consciously decide to take
have actually been decided for you, totally unconsciously, in your
unconscious mind a few hundred milliseconds, or sometimes a few
seconds, before it enters into your conscious mind and you "decide" to
take it. But since your unconscious mind has already decided, your
conscious decision is an illusion — you actually had no free will about it.
Harris is aware of the idea of quantum uncertainty, and acknowledges
that Martin Heisenberg, a biologist, has found that certain processes in
the brain occur quantum randomly (thus truly randomly), but says that
has nothing to do with free will.
But I think it may. Consider this example, which is based on an actual
experience I had in solving a problem: I had previously noticed that
when you heat a UPS label on a package with a hair dryer and peel it
off, it leaves a sticky area where the label was. My problem was to
figure out how to get rid of the stickiness.
I don't know much about how the brain works, but as far as I know, there
is nothing to contradict the hypothetical mechanism I will suggest. And
it coincides with my thinking process in solving the problem: When you
are trying to solve a problem, perhaps there is an unconscious
mechanism in the brain that generates possibilities at random,
randomly cranking through and randomly associating past events,
objects, tools, materials, devices, et cetera that you know about. And
when it finds an association that might relate to your problem, presents
it to your conscious mind for further consideration. In my case of how
to get rid of the stickiness here's how it might work:
My thinking process:
How to get rid of the stickiness??? — think… think… think… (unconscious
mind cranking out a possibility). Conscious mind: Aha! Try rubbing it with
a white pencil eraser. Hmm — no, that sounds like it would just rub the
sticky around, but not get rid of it.
So, — think… think… think…
(unconscious mind generating another random possibility). Conscious
mind: Aha! Try spreading glue over the stickiness and letting it dry.
Hmm — Maybe. I have some Elmer's white school glue, I'll try that. …
No — sorry — it didn't work.
Back to — think… think… think…
(unconscious mind generating yet another random possibility).
Conscious mind: Aha! Try rubbing over it with a wax candle. Hmm —
interesting. Strange, but who knows? So try it. … Yes! Amazing. It
worked perfectly! Problem solved.
That's a pretty good description of how my thinking went in my
conscious mind. Of course, I have no idea what actually went on in my
unconscious mind. But where do these ideas that just pop into your
head come from? Especially the one about the wax candle. The few
candles I even own have been sitting on a back shelf for several years,
untouched. I haven't even the vaguest (conscious) clue about where
that idea came from.
But, if there is a part of your unconscious mind that randomly
generates ideas for your conscious consideration and decision as to
whether or not to act on, I think that would be an example of free will.