It seems we cannot be free.
To each moment of decision, the schedule of inputs is what it is, and as completely constituting the matter of our decision, so it would seem that it completely forms our act therein. We choose what we wish to do, e.g., given our understanding of our circumstances as we find them as each new moment of life arises; but it does not seem that we choose our wishes, nor does it seem that we can choose what, how much or how well we understand. Decision begins with wishes and circumstances as all alike data.
Nor do we seem to be able to choose the way that we choose. The operation of decision – which is our lever of control over our experiences – is not itself subject to our decisions. We are not in control of our means of control.
It seems to us that we choose freely from among options, to be sure. But then, the entire schedule of options really open to us at any moment, however uncountably vast their number, are just as definite ex ante as the facts already accomplished that constitute the causal basis of decision.
Thus the bases, procedure and options of our decisions, being given to each moment of decision ab initio and so unchangeably, would seem to determine us to but one such option, again ab initio and unchangeably. What seems to us to be the free choice of a moment in our lives might then be no more than what it feels like to proceed from the entire schedule of the initial matter thereof to the one option that satisfies the desires felt as an aspect of those data.
Where in this account is there room for freedom?
That room may be found in Gödelian Incompleteness. But to see how this is so, we shall have to traverse several steps.
Consider first that in order to be a cosmos in the first place – a world, properly so called – the events that constitute it as such must if they are to hang together coherently as a causal system, and without conflict or contradiction, be completely ordered to each other, and so therefore in every respect amenable to complete and consistent specification by a series – an immense series, literally, as we shall see – of propositions in a stack of logical calculi consistent in themselves and with each other. This stipulation is the implicit presupposition of all science, all planning, indeed all life: that the world is in the first place orderly throughout, and in the second, and therefore, also intelligible.
Excursus: The fact that worlds must be ordered and intelligible under the terms of consistent logical calculi accounts for their spookily mathematical character.
On Gödelian Incompleteness, no one of the stack of logical calculi under which a world is ordered, and which it expresses, can account for it completely. Nor therefore can any finite stack of logical calculi: a finite stack of incomplete calculi is itself incomplete. Yet the cosmos does in fact exist, and consistently expresses logical calculi; while as ontologically definite it is by definition also logically complete; so the stack of logical calculi that can completely and consistently specify it is itself both complete and consistent. The stack is therefore infinite, and the specification string for any moment of any world is likewise infinite: immense.
This means that no finite entity ordered by that stack of logical calculi can be competent to specify itself. It cannot then be competent to understand or even know all that there is to know about itself. Nor a fortiori can it be competent to understand or know all that there is to know about any other.
The same holds for any finite congeries of finite events: it cannot possibly account for itself. Only an infinite mind could account for it, or for any part of it; or could, therefore, specify it, or any part of it. If anything is to be ordered, an infinite mind is needed.
Thus for any finite mind, howsoever sapient, reality is irreducibly mysterious.
Then while the data of any creaturely decision – its circumstances, its aims, its very way of becoming and process of decision – must be complete and consistent under the terms of the infinite stack of logical calculi, they cannot even as a whole and integral system account for themselves, in whole or in any part. Even as accomplished and definite, the cosmos cannot explain itself.
Thus the schedule of inputs to any decision cannot comprehend itself; neither then can it comprehend the incipient decision, of which it is the matter. Then before any event is complete, no finite mind can completely specify its causes; nor can any congeries of finite antecedent facts. Nor then a fortiori can any or all of them specify, or thereby determine, any other act – such as those in their futures.
Excursus: This is one reason that free creatures cannot create free agents such as themselves.
Our causal inputs cannot themselves even determine their own characters ex post, even though they are already entirely determinate. They cannot understand themselves, or their pasts. Nor a fortiori can they determine their future in our acts.
Likewise the intentions of any act cannot by the agent thereof be completely specified or therefore understood.
So as we make our decisions, both the schedule of their causal inputs and conditions on the one hand, and on the other the exact character of the targets we aim to achieve, are incorrigibly mysterious to us; and on Gödelian Incompleteness, the incorrigibility of that mystery is logically inescapable. Yet we must act in order to be, and a fortiori to survive, to prosper, to reproduce; so, we do, laboring and travailing always under great uncertainty. And this Gödelian uncertainty is not just logical, but also, and therefore, ontological; for, whatever is must be logical. If no consistent logical calculus can be completed, then certainly no system of actual things instantiating and informed by it could be completed either.
Excursus: Thus is it that it is logically impossible for there to be such things as actualities – agents that act – that are not free. Thus is it that God cannot logically create a world of actual entities that, as free, is not subject to a Fall.
These two considerations – of the irreducibly mysterious character of the causal inputs of each act, and the irreducibly mysterious character of its intentions – capture well the phenomenal character of our choices. Why do I do what I do? I have a general idea, but am never quite sure. What am I trying to do? Rather vague about that, too.
Excursus: NB: God does completely know the exact character of his intention when he acts; he knows exactly what he is trying to achieve, because he is an infinite mind, and as such able to comprehend all the truths expressed in the infinite stack of logical calculi. Such is divine Providence. His knowledge is the factual basis in the formal realm – which is to say, in the divine mind – of our prevenient Grace, in virtue of which and by knowing it he brings each free moment from mere possibility into potentiality.
So is it then that actual beings are free ab initio, even though they be sufficiently ordered – ordered by their factual circumstances, and ordered to their intentions.
Finite being cannot be completed – either logically or therefore ontologically – by finite being, either formally or therefore actually; so is it then free per se.
Excursus: Ergo, finite beings such as we, or Apollo, cannot by definition be creators such as YHWH. This is why all traditional polytheism recurs to a Most High God, who can be such a creator as YHWH, and who created all the other gods.
The analysis differs however when it comes to whether finite beings can be completely specified by an infinite being, and if so, then as to whether that specification exhaustively determines them. But those are topics for some subsequent post. I’m already working on it.