An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Freedom of the Will


B.Contestabile       First version 2007   Last version 2017





Table of Contents




1.   Introduction

2.   Basics

2.1  Will

2.2  Freedom of Action

2.3  Freedom of Will from a Legal Perspective

2.4  Inner Unfreedom from a Legal Perspective

2.5  Freedom of Will from a Physical Perspective

3.   Libertarianism

3.1  Definition

3.2  The Unconditional Will

3.3  Mind-Body Dualism

3.4  Criticism from the Perspective of Naturalism

4.   Hard determinism

4.1  Prehistory

4.2  Modern Determinism

4.3  Criticism from the Perspective of Language Analysis

5.   Compatibilism

5.1  Definition

5.2  Natural laws

5.3  Synergetics

5.4  Chaos Theory

5.5  Evolution of Free Will

5.6  Criticism from the Perspective of Hard Determinism

6.   Skepticism

6.1  Sociology

6.2  Sociobiology

6.3  Psychology

6.4  Brain research

7.   Responsibility

7.1  Definition

7.2  Semantics

8.   Conclusion











Starting point

Most cultural pessimists assume that man cannot significantly influence cultural evolution. They refer to the complexity of biological and cultural systems and to the lack of conscious decisions.



Type of Problem

- What is the exact meaning of free will?

- To what extent is the freedom of the will restricted by external and internal conditions?

- What is the responsibility of man for his actions?



Freedom of Will

Libertarians speak of freedom of will only if man is the ultimate originator of his decisions, i.e. if he can break through the causal chain of the physical brain processes. This definition agrees with the intuition that we can decide against our own preferences within a "causal gap".


Naturalists postulate that all decisions are based on physical brain processes, have a temporal extension and do not interrupt the causal chains. The intuition of the "causal gap" would therefore be a deception.

1. Naturalists, who insist on the ultimate origination, see no basis for the existence of a free will (hard determinism)

2. Compatibilists consider the idea of an absolutely free will as a linguistic aberration. They postulate that a correct concept of freedom of will is compatible with the known natural laws (soft determinism )

3. The scope of the compatibilist freedom of will is a controversial issue. The skepticism with regard to the freedom of will has been reinforced by brain researchers, who postulate that consciousness is only an epiphenomenon.



Restrictions by the outside world

This paper is not about the conscious and well-known cases of political deprivation of liberty. As far as social structures can be reflected, they are also open to criticism and resistance. The point here is that freedom of the will is already restricted by the repression of wishes and possibilities. There is a social production of unconscious thoughts and emotions, which serves the control of instincts and the consolidation of the ruling power.


When structures serve the control of drives, they often have a dual function: they limit freedom in one area, but enhance them in a different area. Fort hat reason they resemble rather a monastery than a prison. The monastery restricts freedom, but also protects from the dangers of the outside world and allows undisturbed meditation. Just as the pianist gains artistic freedom by anchoring the keyboard technique in the unconscious, a culture gains freedom by curbing certain agressions in the unconscious.



Restrictions by the inner world

The long-term established, only slowly in the course of life changing zones of influence of the psychic instances define the measure of inner freedom. These zones of influence can be regarded as a basic limitation of individual freedom, but also as a specific adaptation to the environment in which individuality – and thus a piece of freedom – is expressed.


Despite the biochemical control of feelings and evaluations, there is a certain freedom in the choice of aims in life, because the mental and physical occupation with an aim also retroacts on the biochemistry. How great this freedom is and which role the individual constitution (genetics) and the consciousness play is still hardly clarified.




One can only be held responsible for something one can decide about. According to the currently most plausible hypothesis, responsibility must be based on the compatibilist definition of free will.

In essence, it is assumed that the iceberg model applies, which means that only a small proportion of the decisions is consciously controlled. Whether and to what extent the unconscious proportion may be attributed to the decision-maker is disputed.








German Version


The original German version of this paper is available from Eine interdisziplinäre Betrachtung zur Willensfreiheit.






1. Introduction



Starting point

Most cultural pessimists assume that man cannot significantly influence the cultural evolution. They refer to the complexity of biological and cultural systems and to the lack of conscious decisions.



Type of Problem

- What is the exact meaning of free will?

- To what extent is the freedom of the will restricted by external and internal conditions?

- What is the responsibility of man for his actions?




2. Basics



2.1 Will




The concept of will has the function of giving contours to the idea of action and origination [Bieri, 43].



Will and desire

A desire must set us in motion in order to become a will [Bieri, 37].

Example: We can desire to play the piano, but only if this desire drives us towards the piano, it is also a will.


Will has two types of limits [Bieri, 38]

1.  Boundaries are drawn by reality. Insofar as we misjudge reality, we also deceive ourself with regard to these limits.

2.  Boundaries are drawn by our abilities. The self-image is decisive here: as long as this image says that we are capable of something, we can also want it. The more doubts arise, the more will turns into a mere wish.



Will and action

Can volition and action fall apart? The answer is yes for two reasons:

 Keeping still and granting can express a will [Bieri, 40]

 A will is a desire that becomes effective if the circumstances allow it and nothing intervenes [Bieri, 41]

Example: You would like to play the piano and the door to the practice room is open. If the door were closed, one would still speak of a will and not just of a desire.



Will and limits

Our will depends on the external circumstances. What you want to do or what you want to become depends on what offers the world holds for you [Bieri, 49]. Do we feel restricted in our freedom for that purpose? It disturbs us if there are only few options (e.g. in a dictatorship) but it does not bother us that there are boundaries at all. In a completely open world, the will would have no function.

Example: Without hunger, there would be no desire to eat, without freezing, no will to seek warmth, and without fatigue no will to go to sleep.

A will is formed by physical needs, feelings, a life history and the resulting character [Bieri, 51].

-        Anyone who made painful experiences by imposed changes (and now anxiously holds habit)

will want in the same situation something entirely different from

-        the one who has suffered from outside constrictions (and is now afraid of being fixed).


Does the fact that I am influenced and limited in the form of my will, not only by external circumstances, but also by the circumstances within myself, represent an impairment of my freedom? It may bother us that in certain situations we always react in the same way and we recognize an inner limitation. But it does not bother us that there are boundaries at all. In a completely open inner world one could no longer speak of a personal will [Bieri, 52-53].




2.2 Freedom of Action




The existence of a will is a necessary but not sufficient condition for freedom of action. Freedom of action arises only when the will is not prevented from entering into an act (or omission) [Bieri, 44].

A person is free in his/her actions, if he/she can and can do and omit what he/she wants [Beckermann].


Types of freedom of action [Bieri, 46-47]

 Gelegenheiten Opportunities

 The presence of the means to take advantage of a chance

 The presence of skills to take advantage of a chance

The way from opportunities to means, and further to abilities, is a path that approaches closer and closer a specific individual. The scope becomes more personal with each step. In the end there is the most intimate scope: my will. The opportunities are there, I have the means, I have the necessary abilities, and now whether I am performing a specific action or something else depends solely on what I want [Bieri, 48].




For every type of freedom of action, there are corresponding restrictions:

1)  No options are available.

Example: A person wants to smoke, but no more cigarettes are produced and no tobacco is delivered.

2)  Options are available, but the funds are missing

Example: A person wants to smoke but has no money to buy cigarettes.

3)  Options exist, but the skills are lacking:

Example: A person wants to smoke but is prevented by an illness




Imagination helps to discover options for action and thus increases the freedom of action.

Is there a difference between objective and conscious freedom? Yes, the scope of objective freedom is generally greater than that of conscious freedom. [Bieri, 48-49]




2.3 Freedom of Will from a Legal Perspective


There are two definitions of freedom of will:

 The following definition is based on volutariness and refers to the level of jurisdiction.

 A competing definition is based on ultimate-origination and refers to the level of metaphysics (chapter 3) and physics (chapters 4 and 5)



Willingness (Free will as voluntariness)

A person is free in his/her volition, if he/she has the ability to determine which motives, desires and beliefs are to be effective for action [Beckermann].


We can influence our will with our thoughts (...). Thus we exert power on the will and become its originator. The extent to which we succeed in doing this, is the extent to which our will is free [Bieri, 54]


Example: A person who has recognized the harmfulness of smoking compares the medium-term enjoyment of tobacco with the long-term risk of lung cancer. After evaluating and weighing the chances and risks, the person decides and manages to quit smoking. This person obviousy has the ability to determine which of the two wishes (tobacco or health) should be effective. If the same person does not manage to stop smoking, despite the decision to do so, then he/she is restricted in his/her freedom of will.



Types of decisions

Instrumental decisions help an already established will to be realized [Bieri, 54]

 Example 1 : The will to realize a point in a tennis game leads to a spontaneous action. In this case there is no explicit process of weighing. A special case is the demonstration of the freedom of the will by a spontaneous action, e.g. by lighting or not lighting a cigarette.

 Example 2: Chess is like a miniature world, in which both spontaneous and long-calculated actions are carried out.

In the case of substantive decisions, it is determined which desires should become a will [Bieri, 61]

 Wishes that are compatible with each other, but which one must be ordered according to priority

 Wishes which are incompatible, e.g. the choice between two professions.

[Bieri, 55].



Closeness to reality

The freedom of will can be extended by imagination as well as the freedom of action. Thereby it is important to make full use of the reservoir of self-experience and self-knowledge. Psychotherapy, day dreams, voyages and literature - everything can help to learn about other ways of living [Bieri, 65-67]

Example: A smoker learns in psychotherapy that his/her smoking compensates another addiction. Only when he/she has liberated him/her from this other addiction he/she can quit smoking.


In a concrete decision-making situation, a person may be misled with regard to the available options.

Is proximity to reality a prerequisite for freedom of will? No, the considered options for action need not actually exist. Their non-existence limits the freedom of action, but not the freedom of the will. Even the will of a man who is spun into a delusion can be a free will [Bieri, 283]




The openness of the future is necessary in order to make the experience of free will.

1.  Imagination and weighing have an influence on the will.

Es wäre furchtbar, wenn es anders eingerichtet wäre: wenn das, was man denkt und sich vorstellt, keinerlei Einfluss auf den Willen hätte, wenn es kraft- und wirkungslos durch einen hindurchzöge wie Filmbilder, die auf der Leinwand keinerlei Spuren hinterlassen [Bieri, 76]. It would be terrible if it were arranged differently: if what one thinks and imagines would not have any influence on the will, if it were powerless and ineffectual like the images of a film, which leaves no trace on the screen [Bieri, 76].

2.  As long as we think and imagine alternatives, the formation of the will is not complete. The will is changeable and revocable.

It would be dreadful if it were otherwise, if we were to decide only once, as far as a particular thing is concerned, or if only a limited number of decisions would be granted to us that we have to spend sparingly over the whole life, if there were long periods of time in which we could only helplessly observe how the consequences of the last decisions inexorably unfold. It would be hell [Bieri, 77]

3.  It is impossible for us to know in advance and conclusively what we want and will do. On the one hand because much of our will is in the dark and can surprise us, but also because the reflection on our will and its possible result can change it again.

If the will were suddenly frozen and withdrawn from our influence, there would still be time in the sense of succession and change, but it would be a time that passed us by [Bieri, 78]

What we experience as freedom is that the will obeys our own judgment [Bieri, 81].




2.4      Inner Unfreedom from a Legal Perspective


The goal of the following chapter is to delineate the term freedom of will (chapter.2.3) by describing the antonym inner unfreedom.

Inner unfreedom results if the influence of reasoning on will is hampered [Bieri, 193]. There are different experiences of inner unfreedom. They are characterized by different ways of experiencing time:



Being driven

We are driven by spontaneous inner desires and by influences of the environment if we stop thinking about alternatives [Bieri, 84-89]

 The driven man cannot experience the present as something for which he has (freely!) decided

 He/she does not occupy him-/herself with the past and therefore cannot see the present in the light of his/her life story.

 The driven man also cannot enter into a future that develops with a certain logic from the past.

[Bieri, 127-132]




Subjection means that others are involved in the formation of our will, while we are not able to influence it, e.g in the case of hypnosis. In contrast to a permanently driven man, the ability to control the will is only temporarily switched off [Bieri, 91-92].

The time during which one follows a foreign will is in a certain sense not one's own time, one is only a guest in the time of another person. Thereby the following stages of unfreedom can be distinguished

1)  You fantasize your own life, but you cannot realize it.

2)  You can not fantasize any more an alternative, but you are emotionally delimited.

3)  You follow even emotionally the life of the other, your own will is dead.

[Bieri, 132-139]"



Salvador Dali The permanence of memory





The world of thought is filled with carefully chosen metaphors and associations, to which strong emotions are attached. To a certain extent, the family, a political party, or a group of regulars can also play the role of a sect, if one becomes a follower and does not develop a critical distance [Bieri, 93-95]

Since the follower always thinks and says the same, he/she must be bored. As for the future, he will later think what he always thought. Whatever he/she is confronted with, he/she will always stick to the same convictions. It is nothing less than the open future, which the follower loses by his/her foolish bigotry, and his/her particular lack of freedom consists in not even noticing the loss. Die Vergangenheit kann ihm nicht als eine Zeit erscheinen, in der er sich entwickelt hat, sondern nur als eine Spanne, in der er fest zu seinen Überzeugungen gestanden hat. The past can not appear to him/her as a time where he/she has developed, but only as a span where he/she confirmed his/her convictions.  "I always said that" is one of his/her most common phrases. The origin of his/her thoughts lies in the darkness of childish parroting [Bieri, 139-141].




Even people who think independently and are open to self-criticism can become addicted. The insight is available, but they cannot follow it. An addiction is not necessarily condemned; it can also – as in the case of workaholism – be socially awarded. Addicts are often described as weak-minded, but weakness does not concern the existing (excessive) harmful will, but the ability to replace it by a new will, which is recognized to be better. The compulsive will can not be taught by experience. The only chance is that someday this will is perceived as alien [Bieri, 96-101].

Because the compulsive wills hurts, it appears as something menacing or strange and one always waits for its disappearance. Because of this waiting for a better future the present slips away from the addict. The performance-addict, for example, just wants to finish the work he has started, and then allow him-/herself some pleasure. But, of course, a new challenge emerges, so that the pleasure has to be shifted further into the future. Time passes by the addict, without him/her being able to participate in it. In memory the past does not consists of activity, but of futile waiting. It is a time that the addict endured, but not lived. It was a vain battle with oneself [Bieri, 141-146]. In the addiction, man loses his time freedom [Wittmann].



Lack of self-control

The uncontrolled is not lacking a will, but the control over it.

    The uncontrolled differs from the compulsive by extinguishing and sweeping away all reflection. A compulsive action, in contrast, can be performed with a clear mind.

    In the mind of the uncontrolled the affect is not necessarily inappropriate, but only the action which follows the affect. In the case of compulsion, the affect is inadequate in the first place

[Bieri, 107-109].




2.5 Freedom of Will from a Physical Perspective


There are two definitions of free will:

 One definition is based on volutariness and refers to the level of jurisdiction (chapters 2.3 and 2.4)

 The following (competing) definition is based on ultimate-origination and refers to the level of metaphysics (chapter 3) and physics (chapters 4 and 5)



Free will as ultimate-origination

1.   A person’s will is free if he/she is the only cause for the action and could also act differently [Willensfreiheit , Wikipedia]. The decision must not be based on circumstances which the person him-/herself cannot control [ Beckermann ].


2.   A person can only be the ultimate-originator of the event "E" if he/she can also control the causes (or at least a decisive part of the causes) which are responsible for the occurrence of "E" [Beckermann].


We cannot control the laws of nature. Can a will be free, which is determined by natural laws?


The answers to this question are controversial:



Most important theses

1.   Incompatibilism is the thesis that determinism and freedom of will are incompatible (Wikipedia).

Incompatibilists must either drop determinism or free will. There are representatives for both options:

a.  Weak incompatibilism

Naturalism-skeptics drop determinism. They postulate that there is a metaphysical (dualistic) explanation for the freedom of the will (chapter 3).

b.  Hard incompatibilism

Naturalists drop the freedom of the will (chapter 4) or become compatibilists:


2.     Compatibilism considers the rejection of free will as a linguistic aberration (chap.4.3) and drops the demand for ultimate-origination. Compatibilists are naturalists as well. But they provide a physical explanation of how a will – despite being determined by the laws of nature – can be free (Chap.5).




Currently there is no uniform terminology, but different terms for different viewpoints. The following table shows how the terms are mostly used, but it does not raise a claim on universal validity:



Freedom of will

defined as

Natural laws which decide about free will

Compatibility with

natural laws


Determinacy of

the will

Existence of a

free will


Non-accidental metaphysical interventions

Soft/ weak


Metaphysical Indeterminism



Physical system without contingency

Hard/ strong Incompatibilism


Hard/ strong


Freedom of will

is an illusion


Physical system with pseudo-contingency




Soft/ weak


Freedom of will






3. Libertarianism



3.1 Definition


Libertarians are the group of incompatibilists who locate the will-freedom in an immaterial world.


Libertarians assume that the experience of free will presupposes a non-deterministic world. Some representatives of this view agree that there is a determinism in the "physical" world, but postulate that there are no limits for "spiritual" events (Compatibilism and Incompatibilism, Wikipedia)




3.2 The unconditional will


Ultimate-origination is only possible if the will is an unmoved mover. Only an unconditioned will is a free will [Bieri, 199].


Is this a meaningful claim?

Not only the preferences, but also the reflections which lead to a decision, have a history and thereby become something personal [Bieri, 175]. The free will forms under the influence of reasons. By this influence we become its originator [Bieri, 165-166, 188]. But all these conditions for the formation of a will do not limit freedom. They merely define requirements inside and outside the person for a specific will to exist at all. Without this context the idea of free will could not even be described. The demand for an unconditioned (absolute) freedom of the will is a conceptual aberration [Bieri, 251-253].


Libertarians accept these arguments only partially:

 The free will may be inclined to follow reasons and reflections

 But it can also deny every reason

To determine whether there should be a reason (and if yes, which one) that is exercising true freedom [Bieri, 189-190].


An ultimate-originator must be able to terminate the decision-making process (the assessment and weighing of reasons) at any time and act arbitrarily. This is called instantaneous agent causation. The decision is perceived as a spontaneous action without temporal extension and without causality, i.e. as a "causal gap" [Bieri, 222-226].

Example: The smoker feels that he/she is free at any given moment and independent of any consideration about health to light a cigarette or not.




3.3 Mind-Body Dualism


Libertarians postulate that the perception of the causal gap is not a deception, but that a mental sphere exists outside the hitherto known laws of nature which acts on the physical system (mind-body dualism). They maintain among others that

 most of the theses in brain research are based on correlations only

 physical theories do not have a secure foundation [Rothman]


The classical form of dualism is the interactionist substance dualism. It was essentially formulated by René Descartes and still has followers today. Karl Popper and John Eccles were the most famous interactionist dualists of the 20th century (...). Some newer philosophers, for example the theoretical physicist and relativist Roger Penrose assume an interaction through quantum effects (...). The big advantage of interactionist dualism is that it coincides with people’s everyday experience (philosophy of mind, Wikipedia)


The most important objection to a connection between quantum mechanics and the freedom of the will is the contingency of quantum mechanical processes. Interactionism escapes this objection by the thesis that a hypothetical force acts on the brain in such a way that these processes no longer happen randomly [Esfeld, 179]. Eccles assumes that

1.  Intentions are not identical with states or processes in the brain

2.  but are relevant for certain physical processes in the brain

[Esfeld, 177]


Bieri 's trilemma also assumes that non-physical phenomena are involved in mental processes [Falkenburg 2012]. Approximately 10% of the brain researchers believe that qualia and / or self-reflection belong to this non-physical sphere [GAD, Vollenweider]. Sensory perceptions such as vision and hearing are reduced in the brain to exactly the same biochemical processing processes and differ only by their localization. But if the storage and processing of the information takes place in the same way, how can we perceive it as different qualities?


The belief in non-physical processes may be related to the fact that the description of the microcosm is becoming increasingly abstract. As early as 1934, Werner Heisenberg noted that quantum mechanics drifts away from the generally understandable language of classical physics and uses mathematical objects which can no longer be interpreted vividly (see The Quantum Theory and the Schism of Physics). The abstract is closer to the spiritual. And how do we know that our measuring instruments are sensitive enough to grasp all phenomena?




What is mind? – No matter.

What is matter? – Never mind!


Author unknown





3.4 Criticism from the Perspective of Naturalism




From a naturalistic point of view, the mind and consciousness are part of the physical nature, and thus subject to the laws of nature. A non-physical force which acts on the brain and changes energy and impulse there would violate the conservation law of physics [Esfeld, 180]. Quantum mechanics would be incomplete in the domain of certain neurophysiological processes [Esfeld, 184]. This price is too high in order to save the thesis of interactionism.



Ultimate Origination

John Searle , a representative of biological naturalism, criticizes the metaphysical ultimate-origination as follows [Searle]:

1.      The libertarian theory of the "two worlds" (mind-body dualism) assumes an instantaneous actor causality. The two worlds arise from the assumption that

-        on the one hand "the activity of the brain is subject to the laws of nature and thus to causality" and

-        on the other hand, "a person can decide freely, i.e, without causal dependence."

Natural laws are conditional clauses, i.e. they have the form of an if-then statement [Vollmer 2000, 211].

2.   Naturalists assume that not only decision making, but also the decision itself requires a certain amount of time and reflects a nomological process involving the acquisition of habits and / or the weighing of reasons [Hampe 2007, 173-174]. In a spontaneous or consciously shortened decision, the weighing of reasons is dropped, but the decision nevertheless requires a certain temporal extension and cannot be instantaneous in a physical sense. This thesis is supported by the fact that (with the exception of quantum entanglement in quantum mechanics ) no instantaneous effects are known. Nevertheless, we have the feeling to be able to decide "freely" in a single moment.

How can we reconcile the experience "to decide freely" with the knowledge that the processes in the brain are causally linked? Why can we not simply accept that free will is an illusion?


Searle suggests the following answer:

The reason for the insistence on the freedom of will is probably that we perceive a "causal gap" between decision making and decision. But is this gap real or is it illusory? Compare the following two opposing theses:

1.  Freedom of will has about the same claim to reality as a rainbow

2.  Freedom of will reflects a real mechanism in the brain; man is the ultimate-originator of the decision

Let us consider the consequences of the two theses:

1)  According to thesis 1, it would be possible to construct a machine which performs decision processes causally, but makes us believe in free will. In this thesis the difficulty lies in explaining the evolutionary advantage of "cheating". Without such an advantage, it is unclear why the illusion could arise and prevail. Fabricating illusions consumes energy and is thus disadvantageous in an evolutionary sense.

2)  According to thesis 2, the decision-making process in the machine ought not to be causal, i.e. it should be determined neither by the laws of classical physics nor by the laws of quantum mechanics. Classical physics is deterministic, quantum mechanics knows random events. Both are in contradiction to the idea of an ultimate-originator.

According to the current state of knowledge, thesis 1 is more realistic. The evolutionary advantage of the free-will illusion could be that it strengthens self-esteem in situations where options for action exist and thus motivates the individual to seek or bring about such situations. Concerning the evolutionary significance of consciousness, see Chap.6.4.





4. Hard determinism



4.1 Prehistory




The oldest reflections on the freedom of will probably stem from the monistic Hindu tradition (Advaita). A contemporary formulation can be found, for example, in Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), a vedicist :  

Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is molded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here (Free Will in Theology, Wikipedia)




Predestination is a theological concept according to which God has predestined the fate of the universe and all human beings from the beginning. The doctrine of predestination is associated in particular with Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Calvinism (1509-1564) (Predestination , Wikipedia)


A radical representative of predestination was also Gottschalk von Orbais (803-869)

Gottschalk used the expression double predestination, which is probably to be found for the first time by Isidore of Seville (560-636). Double predestiantion, expressed in short terms, holds the view that God choses not only the redeemed (before their birth), but also those who would not find mercy (Gottschalk von Orbais, Wikipedia)


Predestination avoids contradictions between

 the idea of human freedom of will and

 the conviction "that nothing happens without the will of God".

In modern times, predestination was gradually replaced by the concept of scientific determinism. From this perspective the omnipotent God is not dead (as Nietzsche postulated) but continues to live in the form of the natural laws.



Classical mechanics

The basic principles of classical mechanics, and thus indirectly also the concept of determinism, were created by Isaac Newton (1642-1726) (Isaac Newton , Wikipedia)


Determinism (from Latin: determinare, delineate, determine) is a philosophical concept and, together with its counterpart, indeterminism, essential for the formation of a consistent world view. It assumes that all events occur according to firm laws and that they are completely determined by them. Determinists thus maintain that – given the known natural laws and the fully known state of a system – the further course of all events is in principle predetermined, and that consequently neither a true contingency, nor miracles or similar nonphysical phenomena exist (Determinism, Wikipedia)


In classical mechanics the term determinism is closely linked to the concept of causality:

Causality (from Latin: causa = cause) denotes the relationship between cause and effect, thus affecting the sequence of related events or states. An event or state A is the cause of the effect B, if B is brought about by A (Causality, Wikipedia).




When does the effect precede the cause?

When a doctor walks behind the coffin of his patient.


Robert Koch




Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) postulated that the order and connection of ideas is the same as the ordering and connection of things. Just as in the world of material bodies no effect is possible without (compelling) cause, in the spiritual world no will is possible without motive. Everything happens out cosmic necessity. Therewith Spinoza excluded any freedom of will (Spinoza, Wikipedia).


The French enlightener Paul Henri D'Holbach (1723-1789) postulated that everything is subject to a reciprocal dependency, like parts in a closed system. He denied any transcendent intervention in this system, especially by divine intervention or by an absolutely free will [Pépin, 7].


In the 18th century already Joseph Priestley (1732-1804) represented a radical determinism, in which the will was subject to the causal law, and decisions were traced back on brain states (History of free will, Wikipedia).


Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1829) questioned whether the world could be calculated with complete knowledge:

The Laplacian demon is the illustration of the thesis according to which it is possible – given the knowledge of all natural laws and all initial conditions – to calculate every past and future state. On the basis of this thesis, it would theoretically be possible to establish a world formula (Laplacian demon , Wikipedia).

In a certain sense, the determinism of Laplace stands in the succession of the doctrine of predestination, and his demon undertakes the role of the omniscient God.


In Schopenhauer, too, we find the notion that free decisions cannot be subjected to the causal law:

For Schopenhauer (1788-1860) there was no freedom of action, but only a freedom of being (...). Intentional willing is already clearly motivated and determined. A genuine liberum arbitrium cannot be conceived because it violates the principle of sufficient reason , Wikipedia.




4.2 Modern Determinism




Towards the end of the 19th century it became clear that the apparently causal relationship between the pressure, volume and temperature of gases (see Gas laws) is based on the probability distribution of the velocities of molecules:

 Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of the circulating molecules

 Pressure is the impulse of the molecules (per unit of time) on the surface unit of the surrounding wall

The gas law is, in reality, a statistical law [Vollmer 2000, p.229]


The kinetic gas theory uses statistical methods because the investigated processes cannot be calculated in detail, but is based, apart from that, on the laws of classical mechanics. Whether the classical mechanics and the probability calculus are sufficient to account for the increase in entropy, thereover Ernst Zermelo and Ludwig Boltzmann argued at the end of the 19th century [Boltzmann].

1.   Zermelo criticized that in a dynamic system of point masses the states necessarily recur (Poincaré recurrence theorem). Consequently, a function of point masses can not account for the constant increase in entropy.

2.   Boltzmann replied that the repetition of the states is not observed because it requires an observation period of almost infinite duration. A mixture of hydrogen and oxygen in an isolated container at room temperature can theoretically produce water. But this has never been observed.

From the molecular-kinetic point of view, the second principle of thermodynamics is merely a theorem of the probability theory. The fact that we never observe exceptions does not prove that the statistical standpoint is false, since the theory predicts that the probability for an exception (when the number of molecules is large) is practically equal to zero [Boltzmann, 276].

3.   At this point Zermelo extended his perspective from an isolated gas container to the whole of nature. If the second principal is merely a theorem of the probability theory, then the entropy in nature should decrease as often as it increases. Boltzmann's thesis therefore can not explain the overall increase in entropy.

4.   Boltzmann finally had to concede that the universe is in an unlikely state. Why this is so, is still a puzzle today (see Entropy Problem ). To save the deterministic world-view, one must assume that the universe was initially in a state of extremely low entropy, or that the fundamental laws of physics are time-asymmetric [Smolin]. Boltzmann tried to explain the extremely low initial entropy by an immeasurably rare fluctuation [Silk, 27].



Systems theory

1.   Also deterministic are systems whose dynamics, under certain conditions, are sensitive to the initial conditions so that their behavior is not predictable in the long term. Since this dynamics, on the one hand, is subject to the laws of physics, but appears irregular on the other hand, it is called deterministic chaos . Chaotic systems are nonlinear dynamic systems (Chaos research, Wikipedia).

2.   Finally, all processes which lead to a so-called (un-)happy chain of events are deterministic; see for example Murphy's Laws.

The term randomness is sometimes used in the context of mathematical singularities, e.g in bifurcations. But since in these cases the system can be described by mathematical equations, the term pseudo-randomness is more appropriate.


In practice, pseudo-randomness has the same effect as genuine randomness.

Singularities or unstable points in the calculation models of deterministic classical mechanics can bring about that arbitrarily small differences in the initial state lead to maximal deviations of the results after a sufficiently long time. The result is determined by "inestimable small fluctuations and is therefore impossible to predict." Together with fundamental limitations of precise measurability, this implies "the existence of objectively indeterminate processes also in the range of macrophysics" (Indeterminism, Wikipedia)

It would be more appropriate to speak of practical indeterminism here, in contrast to theoretical indeterminism. The former is based on pseudo-randomness, the latter on genuine randomness.



Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics has induced a discussion about whether the world obeys fundamentally deterministic or random principles (...). In the case of radioactive decay, it is known that half of the radioactive atoms will disintegrate after the lapse of the half-life. Which individual atoms will be decomposed, however, cannot be predicted. The fact that the disintegration at the macroscopic level is absolutely deterministic left doubt about the "randomness". While the photons in a double-slit experiment form a pattern on the two spatial dimensions of the screen, the radioactive decay events form a pattern on the time axis.


Einstein suggested that the laws of quantum mechanics could be determined by hidden variables on an even more fundamental level, just as the gas laws are determined by the deterministic (kinetic) laws of molecules. There is a distinction between theories with local and non-local hidden variables.

1.   Theories with local hidden variables always satisfy Bell's inequality. Quantum mechanics, however, violates the Bell inequality so that these theories seem to be refuted (Hidden Variable, Wikipedia)

2.   The competing theory with non- local hidden variables is still disputed.


Erwin Schrödinger, in contrast to Einstein, hypothesized that the quantum mechanic type of probability (propensities) is more fundamental than the one of thermodynamics.

According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the characteristic of quantum-theoretical predictions is not an expression of the imperfection of the theory, but of the principally non-deterministic character of these processes (Causality, Wikipedia ).




There are at least three notions of causality [Falkenburg 2007] [Haas]:

1.   The causality of classical mechanics ,

which is closely linked to the concept of determinism (chapter 4.1).


2.   The Einstein causality of the signal transmission.

Since Einstein, we know that causality can only spread with the speed of light. The instantaneous propagation of information would thus be a non-causal event. The theory of general relativity is often classified as clearly deterministic, but the singularities this theory (e.g, the ominous black holes) are difficult to reconcile with the causality of classical mechanics [Schulte]. According to Einstein's theory, it is also possible for an observer to see an event A before B ,and another observer B before A ,depending on the relative velocity of the two observers [Brooks, 23].


3.   The probabilistic causality of quantum mechanics.

Although quantum mechanics is not deterministic, it is nevertheless causal, which can be seen in particular from the fact that quantum mechanics does not allow events to be altered in the past (Causality, Wikipedia ).

Probabilities for quantum events are caused by previous quantum events [Esfeld, 183]. A possible Creatio ex nihilo would also be a non-causal event from the perspective of quantum mechanics.


In the following diagram, the term determinism is subordinated to the extended notion of causality.





  In the context of the brain processes (and thus freedom of will) the Einstein causality is not relevant.

  Most physicists also assume that the genuine (quantum mechanic) randomness does not interfere with brain processes.

According to the present state of knowledge it is plausible to assume that the brain processes run deterministically, but in this concept the deterministic chaos (pseudo-randomness) is included. The prominent brain researcher Wolf Singer compares the human brain with a computer in which the hardware is as flexible as software and is continually adapted to external influences. The architecture and the respective state of the system "brain" are determinant for the subsequent state (in combination with the external influences).

Consequently, on the physical level, there is therefore no freedom of will. Also the participation of a genuine randomness would not change this judgment. Only a metaphysical intervention in the brain processes would allow a free will (Chap.3).




4.3 Criticism from the Perspective of Language Analysis



Intelligibility argument

Some compatibilists regard determinism even as a necessary precondition for the existence of free will. Since free actions and decisions are free only if they are based on reasons, freedom of will requires determinism, namely, determinism by reason. According to this argument, paradoxically, it is determinism that supports the freedom of the will and not indeterminism . This argument is called intelligibility argument and commented by Daniel C. Dennett as follows: "Determinism is the friend, not the foe, of those who dislike inevitability" (Compatibility and Incompatibility, Wikipedia).

Hard determinists point out that the reasons for decisions are also based on deterministic brain processes and are therefore not free (Chap.5.6). This claim for the ultimate-origin, on the other hand, is contested by language analysts.



Ultimate originUltimate-origin of preferences

The maximum claim is the following:

We are only free, if we are the source of all our goals and intentionsDoes this claim make sense?


1.  The decisions I make depend on my preferences and ultimately on my character – on what kind of person I am. But my decisions can only be free if my preferences trace back to me and not to circumstances I have no influence on. The question now is whether it is really reasonable to assume that persons can actually be the ultimate source and origin – in the above sense – of all their goals and intentions.

The wording at least is irritating. People are not born as beings without desires and intentions and then choose the preferences they would like to have. Ein Wesen ohne Wünsche und Absichten hätte gar kein Motiv, sich überhaupt Ziele und Absichten zuzulegen, und es hätte auch keine Kriterien, nach denen es auswählen könnte (…) A being without desires and intentions would have no motive at all to target something, nor would it have any criteria to choose something (...)

It is obvious that we are born with a considerable number of natural desires – the desire for food, security, care, etc. (which are subordinate to the biological utility function). It is not particularly meaningful to say that nature manipulates us by doing this, or that it makes us unfree by giving us these desires. Rather, our freedom is based on the fact that humans have developed – over time – the ability to become conscious of their desires and reflect them [Beckermann]

2.   Preferences emerge through a certain constitution and life story and characterize a person. Freedom is not arbitrariness. Arbitrary preferences are impersonal preferences. The fact that someone wants something definite can only be understood if we know the history of this willing [Bieri, 230-239].

3.   The ability to build an inner distance to oneself and to liberate oneself from desires is often cited as a characteristic of free will [e.g. Bieri, 226-228]. Das temporäre Loslösen bedeutet aber nicht, dass man in der Folge die Wünsche frei wählen kann. However, a temporary detachment does not mean that subsequently one can freely choose preferences. A complete liberation from desires is probably only possible in the context of (Buddhist) meditation . Ein solcher Zustand ist durch die Abwesenheit eines Willens gekennzeichnet und eignet sich deshalb schlecht zur Illustration der Willensfreiheit. Such a state is characterized by the absence of a will, and is therefore unsuitable to illustrate the freedom of will.


Conclusion: The entitlement to the ultimate origin of preferences overstretches the concept of free will (just as the entitlement to self-determination about one's own existence):

If the concept of freedom is used that way, then people are unfree by the mere fact that they are human beings.

It seems that existentialist authors have represented such a notion of freedom. In this concept of complete autonomy, people also determine their very nature, they are not only the originators of their actions, but also create themselves [Hampe 2007, 173].


Somewhat more difficult is the question whether we lose a part of our freedom through culturally shaped preferences. Culturally induced neurotic developments can often be cured by an extension of consciousness (e.g. in a psychotherapy). Does the Freudian program “aus ES soll ICH werden" (ID shall become EGO) lead to inner freedom? The answer is not clear. Unconscious restrictions in one area of the psyche can increase freedom in a different area.


1)   Self-control and repression of aggressive thoughts (death wishes in particular) eliminate the latent danger of violating the state's monopoly of violence and ending up in prison. If everybody controls his/her aggression, then the free movement in the community is greatly increased.

2)   A pianist gains spontaneity in artistic expression, by first anchoring the technique of key control in the subconscious through a hard learning process [GAD, Hampe].

The educated pianist (and, in a sense, any disciplined average citizen) is not the ultimate-originator of his/her preferences because his/her interests have been shaped by an educational program. Should we deny that educated people can have inner freedom?



Completeness of the information

The maximum claim is the following:

We are only free if we have complete knowledge about the alternatives.


Our evolutionary-evolved brain potential to generate multiple action plans is constrained by what is stored in memory and by what is present in the environment. Thus the feeling of a free will is an illusion, as there is probably no unlimited (= completely free) amount of representations generated, due to the inherent constraints [De Ridder].

Here, too, the concept of freedom is overstretched. Human freedom always ranges within a framework of imperfect knowledge.



The coercion of natural laws

The imagination that freedom is impossible in a world governed by natural laws arises from the thought that laws exercise coercion [Hampe 2007, 171].

But the coercion which the laws of nature exercise, does not concern the actions of natural beings, but rather the human procedures of explanation and conclusion (...). It is the tendency to project compulsion and guidance by mathematical argumentation into the area described by these formulas. But the planets, which follow the laws of motion, do not feel resistance and effort. They do not want to break out of their path and are not prevented by the laws in the realization of their will [Hampe 2007, 173].


We can even call such relations (such as gasoline ignitizing under fire) compulsive. But it must not happen that, in the course of such reflections, we imperceptibly enter into the sphere of interpersonal relations, where the term compulsion means lack of freedom. If we do that, then we merge two completely different categories [Bieri, 254]



Powerlessness in the face of causality

Our will, including the deliberate and firm will, is at the mercy of causal events beyond our influence. Indeed we often attempt to change a will through reflections. But we should not deceive ourselves: whether we succeed is not within our control. If we trace back the history of the formation of a will and divide it into fragments, then we recognize that this history was inevitable, unchangeable, and inescapable [Bieri, 255-256].

Is above description realistic?

The experience of powerlessness can be characterized as follows:

1.   In order for someone to be powerless in the face of a process (e.g. the formation of a will), this process must be different from him.

2.   The threatening process, which makes someone defenseless, cannot be influenced by the victim.

3.   The victim does not want the menacing process to happen; he/she wishes he/she could stop them.

[Bieri, 257]

But a free person does not experience his/her will this way:

1.   In contrast, for example, to an addict, the free person identifies with his/her will.

2.   We cannot experience the formation of our will as something that passes in front of us uninfluenceable.

3.   Because we can influence the formation of our will, it also makes no sense to assume that we would want to stop this process

[Bieri, 259-264]



Obviously a (possible) determinism is not experienced as such from the internal perspective. This is no argument, however, against determinism from the external perspective.



Unfreedom from the external perspective

  If a person hits somebody, then this is a deliberate act.

  If a person topples, then this is an (unwanted) physical event.

Now let us assume that we describe the brain processes of the person (which lead to the action) as physical processes. These processes cannot be both, a deliberate action and an event without originator. In order for the causal chains to be interrupted, there would have to be a subject inside the person, who is absolutely free, and who examines each of the individual brain processes. But such a subject does not exist [Bieri, 265-266]

We must apply the concept of origin to the whole person and not to the individual physical processes in the brain.

All terms apply only under certain conditions and cannot be applied outside of these contexts without producing nonsensical questions. This is particularly true with regard to the concept of origination and the distinction between intentional actions and mere events. These terms are useful to talk about whole persons and they lose their meaning if applied to phenomena inside a person [Bieri, 267].


Why are we succumbing to the fiction of inner unfreedom when thinking of causal chains? The external perspective describes man as clockwork. This provokes an intuitive resistance. What is the characteristic of the internal perspective?

We are not only a subject of reflection, will, and action, but also a subject of emotions. It is indeed possible to describe and understand emotions from the external perspective, but never in the same quality as from the internal perspective. Is this lack of quality crucial for the rejection of the external perspective? Can freedom only be understood from the internal perspective? No, inwardness is not a specific property of freedom. Unfreedom (e.g. addiction) has the same inwardness as freedom. Both (freedom and unfreedom) can only be experienced from the internal perspective and can only be fully explained from the external perspective [Bieri, 295-300].



For most people the idea of causal chains is associated with the same feeling of lacking freedom as a ride on rails compared to a bird's flight. That is where the resistance comes from. In the case of addiction, the association with a ride on rails is better accepted, because addiction is often described as a stressful ride in circles. Not the lack of realism is the reason for the rejection of the external perspective, but the fact that the description is associated with negative feelings. Realistic or not, the perspective which creates the better feeling is preferred. Example: There are people who suffer from a multitude of options and cannot bear responsibility. These people prefer the external perspective, because it points to unfreedom and relieves them from responsibility.

The idea of causal chains, by the way, was not always associated with negative feelings. The adherents of the doctrine of predestination and the famous philosopher Spinoza, for example, were convinced that causal chains are intended by God and that they must therefore be associated with positive feelings.



Fatalismus –Fatalism – a fatal error

  The past, together with the natural laws, determines the future. According to d'Holbach, there is exactly one line for each of us on the surface of earth that we can draw with our lives. This line is our fate, our destiny. Fatalists like d'Holbach describe life as if we were sitting on the bank of a powerful stream of life, and have to observe resignedly what it does. But that is not true. Wir sind als Wollende, Entscheidende und Handelnde nicht Zuschauer. We are not spectators, we are persons who want, decide and act. We are within the stream - we are the stream. Why can a fatalist not see that? The reason is that he/she imagines an abstract subject sitting on the bank of the river. This subject, however, does not exist (see previous section).

  The fatalist associates his/her life with the trajectory of a golf ball. The line of our life is influenced by external circumstances, of course, but it runs within us and through us. It is indeed a definite line, but also an extremely flexible and interacting line. The determinateness of this line does not disturbe us, because the sensitivity of our reactions and the freedom of our decisions is expressed in it [Bieri, 307-314].

  Predestination is an evil only if it concernes a misfortune. Predetermined happiness is welcome. Predestination in itself is neither good nor bad. But is it

not depressing to know that everything is predictable? Depressing for whom?

-        For an omniscient being? A depressed God is not a topic in any religion, and for atheists the question does not arise.

-        For ourselves? If we could foresee mistakes, we would not make them. The idea to predict your own mistakes presupposes that you cannot use your knowledge to avoid these mistakes. But that does not make sense.

[Bieri 315-318]



Predetermination is not the same as predictability. It is therefore recommendable to distinguish between the following two questions:

1.   Is it not depressing to know that everything is predetermined and unpredictable?

Predestination would not be an evil, indeed, if we were guaranteed a happy life and a peaceful death. But this not so. People who believe in predestination are depressed if they cannot bear the imposed risks.

2.   Is it not depressing to know that everything is predetermined and predictable?

-        It is certainly depressing to know, that one is destined to lead an unfortunate life (this can be seen from people, who suffer from an incurable hereditary disease which is getting worse and worse).

-        It is motivating, conversely, to know that one is destined to lead a happy life.

It seems, incidentally, that Bieri's arguments refer to classical mechanics (Section 4.1). According to modern determinism (chap. 4.2), nature does not function like a clockwork. Case (2) can therefore be excluded.





5. Compatibilism



5.1 Definition


Compatibility is the thesis that determinism and freedom of will are compatible, that is, there is a naturalistic explanation for freedom of will. This is only possible if the claim for the ultimate-origination (see chapter 2.5) is dropped. The claim for the ultimate-origination can be questioned on two grounds:

1.   One can criticize it on the basis of language analysis (chapter 4.3)

2.   One can criticize it as a reductionist concept (chapters 5.1 to 5.4)


Compatibilists postulate that natural laws are not in contradiction to freedom, but that, in the course of evolution, freedom was created by natural laws. What is that supposed to mean?

   Hard determinists focus on the natural laws on the micro level and neglect the complex higher level structures which result from the interaction of individual components. They think reductionistic.

Reductionism is the philosophical doctrine, according to which a system is completely determined by its individual components ('elements'). This includes the complete traceability of theories on protocol statements, of concepts on things and of regular relations on causal-deterministic events (Reductionism, Wikipedia)

From the perspective of the compatibilists, the reduction of complex phenomena to simple structural forms of nature is by no means acceptable. They believe that the interaction of the individual components creates new phenomena (such as the freedom of the will) which cannot be explained by the terms of the micro level [Haken, 27]

   Synergetics has shown how order is spontaneously formed out of chaotic systems (Chap.5.3).

   The evolution of freedom can be understood as the emergence of a new order (Chap.5.4)


Well-Well-known compatibilists are Thomas Hobbes , David Hume , William James , and Daniel Dennet .




5.2 Natural laws



Physics as the basis

According to Gerhard Vollmer [Vollmer 2000, 193] [Vollmer 2003] the basic disciplines of physics are the following:

1)   ThermodynamikEntropieThermodynamics (since 1850) with the central concepts energy, entropy and temperature, responsible not only for heat phenomena, but for all physical processes

a)   The statistical mechanics of the atoms and molecules provide a microscopic explanation of the entropy increase [Boltzmann]. Statistical mechanics operates within the limits of classical mechanics and probability theory .

b)   The thermodynamics of irreversible processes, in particular synergetics and the microscopic explanation of the entropy decrease uses insights of system theory.


2)  The general theory of relativity (since 1915), responsible for space, time and gravitation :

a)   It extends the special relativity theory (1905) and transitions into it for sufficiently small regions of space-time .

b)   It contains classical mechanics (18-19thc) as a border case for sufficiently small mass densities and velocities.


3)  Cosmology (since 1917), responsible for the structure and development of the world as a whole, possible as an empirical discipline since Newton, successful since Einstein.

Since the discovery of the background radiation, the Big Bang theory is considered to be the most plausible explanation for the structure and development of the universe as a whole. The Big Bang theory follows from the description of the universe by the general theory of relativity.



This picture was taken from the Internet (author unknown)




4)  The quantum theory (since 1925), indispensable for microsystems, but with a claim on validity for all real systems.

a)   In quantum mechanics, attempts were first made to formulate a quantized equation of motion. The Schrödinger equation (so-called first quantization ) was thus formed from the classical Hamiltonian function. Quantum mechanics approaches classical physics (18-19thc) when the quantum numbers increase accordingly (correspondence principle, Wikipedia).

b)   Quantum field theories expand quantum mechanics as follows:

  They use a uniform description of waves, particles and fields (so-called second quantization).

  They are multi-particle theories and are therefore suitable for applications in statistical mechanics (e.g in solid state physics).

  In the collision of elementary particles, very high energies can occur, so that the special relativity theory must be taken into account.

The first quantum field theory was Quantum Electrodynamics (1949). The photoelectric effect (1905) led to the discovery that electromagnetic waves (called photons ) are quantized. The attraction of two electrical charges is explained, for example, by the continuous emission and absorption of photons. Quantum electrodynamics contains classical electrodynamics / optics (19thc) as a border case with strong fields or high energies, where the measured values can be regarded as continuous.


5)   The theory of elementary particles (since 1962)

a)   Classical physics only knew the fundamental forces of gravitation and electromagnetic interaction . It was the exploration of radioactivity and atomic structures that led (12thc) to the discovery of the weak and strong interaction. All forces can be interpreted as a particle exchange.

b)   Today's knowledge of the elementary particles and their interactions is summarized in the standard model. The standard model allows a consistent description of the basic forces (except gravity) in the form of quantum field theories (particle physics , Wikipedia).


Quantum field theories are not compatible with the general relativity theory (quantum geometry, Wikipedia):

   The general relativity theory considers the space-time as dynamic, depending on the gravitational field. It cannot describe the Big Bang and the phenomenon of the black holes, because there the curvature of space-time becomes infinite (so-called singularity).

   Conversely, quantum field theories neglect the effect of gravitation on space-time. They are investigating, however, structures in the realm of the Planck scale, which could replace the singularities of the general theory of relativity.

The most promising candidates for a combination of the two theories (called quantum gravitation) are the string theory and the loop quantum gravitation. But it is also conceivable that there will never be a “world formula” [Lim].



The notion of a world which is ordered by natural laws is not widespread historically and culturally. "Nature" as an all-encompassing phenomenon is a speciality of the Western philosophical tradition [Hampe 2000, 241-242].

Candidates for natural laws can relatively easy be enumerated, but what natural laws are and why they apply is difficult to explain [Vollmer 2000, 205] [Mittelstaedt]:

    We can never deduce the future from our previous observations (induction problem). Since natural laws cannot be verified by induction (they can only possibly be falsified) the laws of our empirical sciences have the status of hypotheses.

    Also unclarified is the question how far the descriptions of nature are influenced by our brain structures. At the latest for quantum theory, the thesis of an observer-independent reality is untenable [Lyre, 442]

   Possibly the physical cosmology as the theory of evolution of the cosmos finally comes up with principles which explain the development of physical laws, much the same as Darwin's theory of evolution has succeeded in explaining the natural species. The standard justification of laws is their explanation by more general laws, whereby the old law has always proved to be contingent within the new and more general law. This process is not completed [Hampe 2000, 250-251]. The following is an illustration from Weltformel, Wikipedia:





Weak interaction

Strong interaction


Electromagnetic interaction

Quantum electrodynamics

Quantum chromodynamics

General theory of relativity

Electroweak interaction

Grand unified theory

Quantum gravity (World formula, Theory of everything)



The basic laws are usually very abstract, and it is not easy to understand them. Deshalb werden in wissenschaftstheoretischen Diskussionen eher klassische Gesetze als Beispiele herangezogen [Vollmer 2000, 193]. For that reason – in discussions about the theory of science – classical laws are preferred as examples [Vollmer 2000, 193]. One of these classic laws is the law of gravitation . It is suited to illustrate the difference between the concepts of natural necessity and natural law:



Natural necessity and natural law

The concept of natural law is linked to a series of different world views that have developed over the centuries [Hampe 2007] [Hoyningen-Huene]. Each of these world views includes a symbolic system. Symbolic systems are historically grown, cultural products. The falling of an object, for example, has been described very differently by various scientists in the course of history. The most important authors of such descriptions are (in historical order):

1)     Aristotle

2)     Kepler

3)     Newton

4)     Einstein


The historical view clarifies that one has to distinguish between natural necessities (laws of nature) and their descriptions, the laws of science [GAD, Hampe]:

1.     A natural law is formulated in a specific symbolic system, which can be chosen freely.

2.     A natural necessity, in contrast, is unchangeable.

Einstein's description of gravitation, for example, allows for more precise predictions and thus opens up new options for action, even though the natural necessities have not changed.


The way nature is described has a big influence on the concept of free will, as illustrated by the following two world views:

1.   The mechanistic world view of Newton can be compared with a clock, which runs according to the rules of an eternal law (ordained by God). Man is subject to this law, and each of his/her actions can be precalculated. From this point of view, the freedom of will is a deception.

2.   Compatibilism, in contrast, is based on the world view of synergetics and evolution, according to which laws emerge autonomously (through self-organization). If man is not subject to laws, but creates laws him-/herself, then he/she is free.




5.3 Synergetics




Synergetics is an interdisciplinary theory between reductionism and holism [Haken, 21]. Within the classification of individual sciences it can be considered as an extension (20thc) of classical thermodynamics (18-19thc). It concentrates on the general laws of self-organization, structure formation, and coevolution in complex systems and therefore has a philosophical dimension [Haken, 22]. The paradigm of synergetics is non-linearity .


Nonlinear equations establish a connection between concepts of synergetics and evolution.


Die Menge der Lösungen einer nichtlinearen Gleichung entspricht der Menge der evolutionären Wege des Systems, das von dieser Gleichung beschrieben wird. The set of solutions of a non-linear equation corresponds to the set of evolutionary paths of the system, which is described by this equation.

1.   Insignificant fluctuations can increase and grow up to macroscopic differences.

2.   There are thresholds of sensitivity below which everything blurs and leaves no traces.

3.   There is something like a "quantum effect", i.e. there is only a discrete and not a continuous spectrum of the evolutionary paths.

4.   Processes change in an unpredictable manner. Forecasts on the basis of the hitherto known are insufficient. Due to the randomness of a chosen path at the bifurcation point, a path becomes unique.

[Haken, 32-33].


The work of Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003), Hermann Haken (1927-) and Manfred Eigen (1927-) was decisive for the development of synergetics.

For Prigogine laws are local, singular, historical relations, which emerge from random developments and will disappear by them [Hampe 2007, 123].


If laws do not last forever, then the structures they create cannot last forever. The validity period of the physical and chemical laws, however, is often much longer than the history of the people, who try to understand these laws. In some areas, therefore, the reality appears to be steady and unchanging:


The appearance of reality is strongly structured.

1.   Conservative forces freeze randomness and create steady shapes and patterns

2.   Dynamic ordered states arise from the temporal synchronization of physical and chemical processes under constant dissipation of energy.

[Hampe 2007, 126].



Conservative structures

Conservative structures, i.e. material spatial structures are always due to static forces (attraction and repulsion) between the parts [Eigen, 89]


1.   Distribution of atoms in the molecule

2.   Spatial structure of a protein, e.g. protein molecule

3.   Symmetrical arrangement of the building blocks in a crystal lattice

4.   Viruses (as a matter particle, the virus can be transferred into a crystal like a mineral substance, but within the environment of a living cell it behaves like a living being)

5.   Pattern of a star system

Conservative structures are mostly equilibrium structures characterized by an absolute minimum of free energy .

[Eigen, 92-93]



Dissipative structures

Dissipative structures are a consequence of interactions [Eigen, 89]

The dissipative structures are just as important in nature as conservative structures. They differ from conservative structures as follows:

1.   The cooperative force in the conservative pattern corresponds to the autocatalytic reactivity in the dissipative model.

2.   In the dissipative model, a stationary pattern develops without the matter particles being fixed in space

3.   The dissipative form is not only determined by the interactions, but also by the boundary conditions of the system

4.   The maintenance of the structures requires a constant dissipation of energy, which is equivalent to a stationary generation of entropy. The system thus disposes of a metabolism, i.e. material-bound energy is continuously converted.

5.   Conservative structures are more stable, reversible and more easily combinable because they do not depend on boundary conditions.


1.   Physics: Honeycombed cell structures in a fluid heated from below (Bénard effect)

2.   Inorganic chemistry: Chemical reactions that show temporal oscillation (Zhaboutinsky reaction)

3.   Biochemistry: Periodic patterns produced during the decomposition of sugar.

4.   Biology: As if driven by invisible forces, slime fungi come together to form a Plasmodium, which behaves like an organism

[Eigen, 116-120]


Dissipative structures are something between chaos and order insofar, as they can arise or disappear by accidental changes of the boundary conditions. In the above-mentioned example of the Bénard cells, for example, this happens as follows:

Smallest disturbances (for example the random simultaneous rising of some liquid molecules at certain points) are sufficient in order to induce macroscopic movements which ultimately cover the entire liquid layer and fill it with convection cells. Like on command, a coherent, collective behavior emerges from the microscopic chaos of thermodynamic equilibrium. The liquid particles, which previously function individually and independently of one another, suddenly pursue a common cause. As long as the external conditions do not change (constant energy flow) this cell pattern – which was created by chance – survives. Chance is quasi conserved and determines the individual form of the dissipative structure. Randomness can therefore be regarded as the creative element of structural formation [From dissipation to dissipative structure, H.J.Schlichting]

Mit dem Begriff „Zufall“ ist hier der unechte Zufall, dh das deterministisches Chaos gemeintThe term random is means pseudo-random in above context, i.e. it refers to the deterministic chaos.




The formation of structures in living beings can only be understood from the co-operation of the conservative and dissipative principle:

1.   In morphogenesis, the dissipative structures provide the spatial organization of the conservative structures (the latter defined by the genetic program of the cell)

2.   Concerning the brain: As stimulus pattern in the network of nerve cells, the dissipative structures superimpose the partial information and thus represent the material correlate to form/shape (Gestalt).

The interrelationships, which are necessary for the formation of dissipative structures are based on conservative forces. The permanent spatial fixation of dissipative patterns also requires the stabilizing conservative forces [Eigen, 118]


The order of life is based on the conservative as well as the dissipative principle. The form of living creatures, the gestalt of the ideas, they both have their origin in the interplay of (pseudo-)randomness and law [Hampe 2007, 126].


Nature as an aleatory process, as a play, is neither a world machine planned by God, nor a world organism, and has no corresponding form of totality. It becomes an infinite story. Denn das Spiel ist nicht durch Spielregeln bestimmt, sondern aus dem Zufall entwickeln sich immer wieder neue Regeln und durch ihn gehen alte Regeln unter. Because the game is not determined by fixed rules, but (pseudo-)randomness constantly creates and destroys rules. This process has no end and no tendency to perfection [Hampe 2007, 127].



        René Magritte Le domaine d'Arnhem




5.4 Chaos Theory


The following characteristics of synergetics are of prime importance for the evolution of free will:

1.   The ability to create systems that are not predictable

2.   The ability to create order out of chaos and maintain it through a steering mechanism.

If the world could be described by a clockwork metaphor, then the existence of a free will would be implausible. Chaos research, however, has shown that the future (and the behavior of people in particular) is not predictable.




Chaos theory (or theory of complex systems) is a subdivision of mathematics and physics and is concerned primarily with structures in dynamic systems whose dynamics is sensitive to the initial conditions, so that their behavior is not predictable in the long term. Since this dynamism, on the one hand, is subject to the laws of physics, but appears irregular on the other hand, it is called deterministic chaos . Chaotic dynamic systems are nonlinear.

Examples are the butterfly effect in the context of weather, turbulence, economic cycles, certain pattern formation processes, such as erosion, the emergence of traffic jams, and neural networks.


If chaotic behavior occurs, then even the slightest changes in the initial values – after a certain time – lead to a completely different behavior (sensitive dependence on the initial conditions). Thus, an unpredictable behavior appears which seems to develop irregularly in time (...).In order to calculate the behavior of the system for a certain time in the future, the initial conditions must therefore be known and calculated with infinite precision, which is practically impossible. Although in theory such systems are deterministic, in practice predictions are only possible for more or less short periods of time (Chaos research, Wikipedia).




The initial conditions of a macroscopic system are never exactly known. Nevertheless, we can represent the system by an ensemble of points in the phase space corresponding to the dynamic states (...). Instead of separate points, it is more convenient to introduce a continuous density of points in the phase space. This density measures the probability of a dynamic system to arrive at a certain point in the phase space. One could regard the density function as an idealization, as an artificial construction, while the trajectory directly describes the behavior. In fact, however, the trajectory, and not the density, is an idealization. We never know an initial state with the infinite precision that would reduce it to a single point in the phase space [Haken, 212].


The fact that the mathematical equations are idealizations can be seen in the so-called singularities.

In mathematics, singularity refers to a point at which a mathematical object is not defined or where an otherwise appropriate characteristic is not present ( singularity ).

Singularities lead, for example, to the phenomenon of bifurcation:

Nonlinear systems whose behavior depends on a parameter can suddenly change their behavior when the parameter changes. For example, a system that previously moved toward a limit, can now jump back and forth between two values, that is, two limit points. This is called a bifurcation (Bifurkation, Wikipedia).


It is conceivable that the non-predictability of a free decision corresponds to the non-predictability of a neural network. The perception of the "causal gap" (chap.3.2) would then be, so to speak, the internal perspective of a process which can not be predicted from the external perspective:

Neuroscientists such as Bjoern Brembs and Christof Koch believe thermodynamically stochastic processes in the brain are the basis of free will, and that even very simple organisms such as flies have a form of free will. Similar ideas are put forward by some philosophers such as Robert Kane (Indeterminism, Wikipedia).

But how can such a process be steered? Following an example:




Steering and control

Far from thermodynamic equilibrium, order can emerge spontaneously from chaos. In the context of a laser , this can be described as follows:

A laser illustrates that even inanimate matter can organize itself in order to bring out meaningful phenomena. Here we shall encounter strange laws which occur in all phenomena of self-organization. We will recognize that the individual parts are arranged as if they were driven by an invisible hand, but conversely the individual parts, by their co-operation, create this invisible hand. We will call this invisible hand the "organizer" [Haken, 19]

In the terminology of synergetics, the organizer enslaves the individual parts. The organizer is like a puppeteer, who lets the marionettes dance, but who is, conversely, influenced by the marionettes (...). The creation of order out of chaos is largely independent of the material substrate within which the processes take place. A laser can behave like a cell cluster [Haken, 20-21]


A chaotic system can function reliably and reproducibly if the temporal means of the components depend only little on the initial conditions. For example, the state of a gas is determined by the magnitudes of pressure, volume and temperature, although the individual molecules behave randomly [Berry, 62]. From the random behavior on the micro level, it does not necessarily follow that the dynamics on a higher level is random as well.

     Certain chaotic systems oscillate between attractors. The olfactory perception was explained, for example, by a mechanism in which an attractor is assigned to each specific odor [Berry, 66].

   In technical applications, system theorists have shown that chaotic systems can be stabilized by means of a control circuit or a synchronization [Letellier, 28-31].

Such mechanisms may explain why a brain can steer and control, although it is subject to chaotic dynamics on every level, starting from the molecules up to whole neural networks [Berry, 62].


Chaotic systems obviously fulfill two important requirements for the existence of a freed will:

  They are not predictable

  Nevertheless, they do not exclude steering and control.


In addition to neuroscience and synergetics, a plentitude of new sciences, such as generative philosophy, evolutionary psychology and cognitive sciences [Determinism, Wikipedia] [Dennet] also explores the emergence of free will. In the following we restrict the investigation to a brief philosophical explanation:




5.5 Evolution of Free Will


Two of the most important factors that enhance the options for action are the following:

1)  A new individuality (Gestalt), expressing new independent laws.

2)  An extended ability to reflect. Reflection is a necessary prerequisite for freedom of will.


Reflection can improve the ability to survive (the Darwinian fitness) but it does not necessarily lead to superiority over other creatures. Bacteria are extremely survivable even without "higher intelligence", because – thanks to their flexible genotype – they constantly create new forms (and thus new options for action). Zwischen der Überlebensstrategie der Gestaltenbildung und der Reflexion entwickelt sich ein Wettkampf dessen Ausgang offen ist: Between the survival strategy of creating individuality and creating reflection there is a competition with unknown outcome:

  Bacteria always find trickeries to outwit the defensive strategies of the human body and medical drugs

  Medical research constantly expands its knowledge in order to figure out these trickeries



The following phylogenetic tree shows the variety of competing concepts:






This picture was taken from the Internet (author unknown)



In the definition of free will (chapter 2.3) it was not explicitly stated but assumed, that the decision-making processes is conscious. Bacteria do not have a free will, because they have no consciousness and their behavior is programmed. The transition from fixed programs to complex decision-making processes, however, is gradual and consciousness is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon as well. In addition, consciousness is not an uniform phenomenon; it has different aspects:

  Qualia (perception of the outside world, bodily sensations, emotions)


   Higher-order reflection, in particular the knowledge of one's own existence

[Metzinger, 36].


Because there are different levels of individuality and reflection, there are also different levels of free will. 

Following a few examples illustrating how free will can emerge out of individuality and reflection:



Action options through individuality

The gradable and increasable individuality is a gauge for action options. It corresponds to a specific regularity, whereas the chaos acts like an equalizer [Hampe 1996, 67]. Elementary biological needs produce elementary action options. Complex cultural preferences, on the other hand, produce a multitude of new action options.


Roles such as goalkeepers, strikers, defenders, referees, and linesmen are only generated by the laws (rules) of a game. These rules structure a range of new actions, which the physical and biological laws of humans do not prescribe [Hampe 1996, 70].


The relation of natural and cultural laws can be illustrated by the metaphor of superimposed nets with different mesh sizes.

1)   A wide-meshed net illustrates the physical laws. These laws do not determine everything, they leave gaps open.

2)   If we superimpose the finer net of the biological laws over the rough net of the physical laws, then the biological net fills some gaps, which the physical net left open.

3)  But the biological laws also do not include everything; they do not completely determine people. The laws of a game, of a moral code, or of a legal system can further determine the behavior of humans beyond the physical and biological rules.

[Hampe 1996, 71].


The rules of the second level do not contradict the rules of the first level. On the contrary, they are based upon them.

A bird that flies does not override the physical laws for inert masses. Its movements, unlike those of falling apples or tossed stones, are determined by additional laws, but they lie entirely within the framework of the physical laws (...). Through these further determinations, the bird has possibilities (action options) which the falling apple and the tossed stone do not have [Hampe 1996, 72-73].

The principle of stratified laws also applies to the second law of thermodynamics. Living beings are subject to the tendency to increase entropy, indeed, but not exclusively. There are further determinations which counteract the increasing entropy.


We are both natural beings subject to unalterable laws, as well as ingenious beings who create rules and laws (...). Our creativity is itself a natural fact (...). We are not caught in a mechanistic natural context, which completely determines our actions (...). Nature must not be conceived as a system of rigid laws, but as a place of creativity and destruction, of arising and vanishing laws. We ourselves are involved in this natural process as producers and destroyers of (social) laws [Hampe 1996, 197].



Action options through reflection [Hampe 1996, 73]

Reflection presupposes distance.

Only in cases where a person goes on distance to a regularity, the action options no longer coincide with this regularity [Hampe 1996, 74].

Distancing allows the discovery of regularities and thus opens up new action options. This can be illustrated by the example of Edgar Allan Poe's novel A descent into the Mahlström [Hampe 1996, 75]


One of the two fishing brothers, who had fallen into a sea-swath with their boat, recognized – a after his deathpan had vanished and he was able to observe things from a distance – a lawfulness in the vortex: small cylindrical bodies are drawn down more slowly than large angular ones. The fisherman took advantage of this insight: By tying himself to a barrel and jumping from the ship, he survived.


The relationship between the shape of an object and its attraction by the Mahlstrom corresponds to a natural law and thus to a kind of description which is available for selection. The scientific description discloses a possibility of salvation, while magical or religious descriptions (such as describing the Mahlstrom as hell-mouth, punishment of God etc.) lead to death. Loss of control and superstition do not have to be fatal indeed, but self-control and reflection enhance the action options, while irrational fears restrict freedom.

Example: Stories about magnetic mountains which attract and smash ships caused certain areas of the sea to be less frequented. The scientific description of the geomagnetic field, in contrast, increased freedom. The magnetic compass is still used for navigation.


The novel of Edgar Allan Poe illustrates that action options can also be enhanced without breaking the law, namely, when gaps are detected in the pattern of determination:

The fisherman did not survive despite, but because of the laws of the vortex. A bird or a plane does not fly despite, but because of the laws that apply to heavy masses [Hampe 1996, 74].


Living beings have many more degrees of freedom than solid bodies. A stone and a bird are both subject to gravity, but the bird has system properties which allow to steer the direction of movement. The bird overcomes the power of gravity or uses it to its advantage (for example, if it slumps). In this sense the bird is freer than the stone. People can not free themselves from natural laws, but they can (like the bird) try to use them to their advantage.


Distancing can be illustrated with the relation between figure and background [Hampe 1996, 76]:

1)   The inanimate forms the background, in front of which the laws of the living being take shape.

2)   Self-determination by a moral law is like a figure in front of the background of a merely biologically determined existence.

The degree of detachment that an individual has reached (...) can also be "measured" from outside as it were. The measure is the frequency with which the prognosis of the behavior of an individual is successful, when a certain law is applied [Hampe 1996, 77].


The higher level determines the open areas of the lower level and thus exercises a certain control [Hampe 1996, 80-81].

Example: Hierarchy of human speech:

1.   Spelling of vocal sounds. This level leaves the combination of the sounds into words largely open

2.   Combination of the sounds into a vocabulary: On this level it remains open how the words are linked to sentences.

3.   Grammar: On this level, it remains open, which thoughts are to be communicated.

An ascent in the hierarchy corresponds to an increase in order. Arbitrary structures, however, are not possible. There are restrictions in the construction of living organisms, and one cannot infer the species and the physiology of organisms from the physical laws.


The idea that individuality can be increased and that this increase is accompanied by a multiplication of possibilities, relativizes the self-image of man, who is at the mercy of a lawful nature [Hampe 1996, 86].



Freedom of will

The capacity for freedom and knowledge are interrelated [Hampe 1996, 86].

Freedom of will emerges only if one's own preferences (motives, desires and convictions) can be reflected and become action options. The reflection of one's own preferences is the basis of morality. Humans have a certain ability to free themselves from their biological determination and to redirect their energies to culturally recognized behaviors (so-called sublimation ). The typical human freedom is that these behaviors can (but need not) be realized.




5.6 Criticism from the Perspective of Hard Determinism



Ultimate origin

Compatibilitsts maintain that the demand for the ultimate-origin of decisions is exaggerated (see chapter 4.3).

If one uses the concept of freedom as hard determinists do, then people are unfree by the mere fact that they are human beings.

Well, hard determinists maintain indeed that people are unfree by the mere fact that they are human beings.

They consider humans as a kind of robots with biotechnically implemented intelligence.



The coercion by natural laws

From the perspective of incompatibilism, the reproach that human emotions are projected on nature (see chapter 4.2) is unwarranted.

1.   A projection would be, for example, the statement "The planets are forced into their orbit by the laws of mechanics". Such a claim, however, is not raised by incompatibilists. Planets do not want to break out of their path because they have no preferences. Will and preferences are qualities of living beings. In contrast to planets, creatures feel the force of gravitation.

2.   The processes on the micro level are not part of our experience because the awareness of these processes is not useful for survival and (accordingly) wastes energy. But the lack of awareness does not change their inevitability.

The compatibilistic thesis on the illusion of coercion can therefore be reversed as follows:

The imagination that freedom is possible in a world which is controlled by natural laws arises from the idea that the imperceptible coercion can be ignored.




Examples, which show how freedom is increased by the discovery of natural laws (chap. 5:5) discard the micro level. This can be illustrated, for example, by Edgar Allan Poe's novel A Descent into the Mahlstrom:

A description of the brain processes of the fisherman would have called into question the message of the novel (increase of freedom by self-control and reflection). At the time of Edgar Allan Poe nature was described by Newtonian mechanics, and man was regarded as a cogwheel in a large world machine. From this perspective, self- control and reflection would have been predictable processes.


The Newtonian world view has been overtaken in the meantime, indeed, and synergetics has delivered arguments in favor of the compatibilists, but a number of other sciences have sown doubt within compatibilism. This is the topic of the following chapters.





6. Skepticism


Among the compatibilists, there are doubts about the existence of a free will as well, because it is largely unclear

1.   whether the preferences stored in the unconscious are "wanted" by the individual (Chapters 6.1 to 6.3)

2.   whether consciousness exercises a steering function at all (Chap.6.4).

A person is only the originator of his/her will if all forms of inner unfreedom are dissolved [Bieri, 226]



6.1 Sociology



Imprisonment in the ideal and liberation

The pursuit of the divine model and the attempt to satisfy its demands is diametrically opposed to a free way of living. Augustine, for example, completely discourages self-realization by saying:


If you build yourself, you will build a ruin.


Idealizing humanism has a similar function to religion. The fixation on an idealized or superior nature of man makes it impossible to develop an individual sense in life and to reconcile oneself with the human weaknesses. The humanistic ideal replaces the religious ideal. A first step towards the liberation from a fixed ideal and more tolerance was done by Erasmus of Rotterdam in the 16th century:


The climax of happiness is when a person is ready to be what he/she is (from Philosophy ... what is that? )


A counter-movement to idealizing humanism in the 20th century was existential philosophy. It was founded by Kierkegaard, philosophically analyzed by Heidegger and Jaspers and literarily formulated by Camus and Sartre.

Existentialism is a special form of the French philosophy of existence. At the core of existentialism are the writings of Sartre, which are based on the ideas of Hegel , Heidegger, and Husserl [GAD, Strassberg]. Sartre defends life’s practice against the determination of man by theories and considers the individual existential experiences as decisive. Man is not defined by forms, but creates (life-)forms with his example (L'être et le néant). But what are existential experiences?


What is really important, man usually only discovers when he/she is confronted with a critical situation, thrown back upon him-/herself by death, struggle, suffering, guilt. The things that are still important in such a situation are existential; the rest is obsolete (from Philosophy ... what is that?)


According to Sartre metaphysical humanism and every fixation to an idealized or superior nature of man, leads to anti-humanism (...) It is necessary to defend a comprehensive, critical position, which challenges simplified and fixed views of man and the world, and which also sincerely considers the inhuman. The era of (only) positive humanism, of the Renaissance and the (optimistic) Enlightenment comes to an end (from Jean Paul).


While the philosophy of existence called for the liberation of metaphysical ideals, a group of linguists, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists (later called structuralists) discovered that metaphysical ideals are only a special case of a more general form of captivity.




Structuralism emerged from the attempt to apply scientific methods to language. The relationships between speech phenomena should be studied in the same sense as the relationships between natural phenomena. Main principle is the finding of substitution and replacement rules, i.e. a kind of reductionism. Later, this experiment was also extended to other areas of the humanities.


Levi-Strauss argued that culture functions like a language: only an outsider can understand the underlying rules.


The fact that human thinking is limited by language is obvious. We think in given terms and sentence structures. "Man behaves as if he were the creator and lord of language, but it is, on the contrary, the language which is and remains his/her master" ( Heidegger ). If there is an analogy between language and culture, then action is limited in the same sense as thinking.

The structuralist worldview was influenced by the following philosophers, among others: [GAD, Strassberg]:

1.    Marx, who analyzed the power of the economic constraints „Das Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein“ ("The way of living determines consciousness")

2.    Freud, who analyzed the power of the superego (social norms are anchored in the unconscious).

3.      Nietzsche, who analyzed the will to power “Wahrheit ist die Lüge, die gesiegt hat” ("Truth is the victorious lie").

Not only the actions, but also the reflections which stand behind these actions and even the ability to reflect are determined by culture. Why, for example, is one of the two brothers in Poe's novel A Descent into the Maelstrom able to reflect the phenomena in a scientific manner and the other not? A structuralist would say that the two brothers were assigned different roles in society.


An analysis is structural, if it is not based on isolated phenomena, but on relationships. A single element has no significance; the relations are decisive [GAD, Strassberg]:

1.   The starting point of this view was Freud's suggestion that the  individual elements of a dream do not have an isolated meaning, but begin to speak only in relation with one another. According to Lacan , the unconscious is structured as a language.

2.   Every cultural object is related to a structure. Only the catalog makes the library, the neighborhood of a book defines its properties. The term meaning corresponds to the place within the map of neighborhoods. The world becomes accessible only if we move within a symbolic system (analogous to the library catalog), i.e. within a language. Rules and laws (i.e. symbolic structures) characterize the perception of reality. The ego with its emotions, results from a network of obligations. From this follows Foucault's thesis death of the subject as presented in his book The Order of Things

3.   One could also reverse the Lacanian point of view and say that the language is structured like the unconscious: "It" speaks (What Remains of the Night). From an evolutionary point of view the unconscious precedes the development of language. The relationships exist initially in the unconscious and are gradually translated into a symbolic system. The world is now accessible in a different way.



Imprisonment in the structure and liberation [GAD, Strassberg]

1)   What makes culture different from nature? According to Levi-Strauss man leaves nature, when he/she starts exchanging beyond the family (in particular exchange of women and goods combined with incest-prohibition). At this point laws, roles and functions within society begin to develop. The societal law determines the (correct) emotions and not vice-versa. The law determines what is human, but it is not created by man. Laws define relationships which emerge with necessity from the nature of things. The subject can only occupy the role, which is assigned to him/her by the structure. The position within the structure determines his/her preferences (emotions, inclinations, interests)


2)   Why are there structures in the first place? Structures must bind the impulsive and strengthen the ruling powers [Erdheim]. For this purpose, historical events are reinterpreted as a kind of natural law, for example in the form of myths. The illusion that we act autonomously obstructs the view that our drives are tied in the structure. The illusion of the ego makes people submissive. Those who – by means of reflection – are able to fully integrate themselves into the structure can recognize how the ego is composed of cultural relations. The structure becomes transparent and the illusion of the ego breaks down. Only from this position a resistance is conceivable. But how could such a resistance look like? What is outside the structure cannot be described with structure-internal means. In this sense a deliberate exit is not possible.


3)   Nevertheless there is a longing to go beyond the structure. Diese Sehnsucht wurde von gewissen Strukturalisten mit der Schizophrenie oder mit einer angestrebten Herrschaft des Unbewussten in Verbindung gebracht. This longing was, by certain structuralists, associated with schizophrenia or with an intended rule of the unconscious. Lacan suggested (in an allusion to Freud) “Where Id was, Id shall be again”.  According to Lacan, structures are unstable; there is always a threat that the unconscious breaks through, respectively – in the terminology of Lacan – that “reality” breaks through

a)   An attempt to escape the suffering which is produced by the structure consists in accepting the non-existence of the ego and thus a heteronomous role. Dies wurde von einigen Strukturalisten als mystischen Aufgehen in der Struktur bezeichnet und erinnert an das hinduistische Dharma . This has been called as mystical merge into the structure by some structuralists and is reminiscent of the Hindu Dharma .

b)  A different attempt would be the creation of an individual language (e.g. in psychoanalysis) or the immersion into a foreign culture. A structuralist would, however, also consider psychoanalysis as part of the system and postulate that a foreign culture can only be seen with the eyes of one's own culture. In addition, the truly alternative cultures are becoming extinct. The life of hunters and gatherers, for example, cannot be reproduced in the foreseeable future. In contrast to the existential philosophy, structuralism takes predominantly a descriptive standpoint.

c)   From a normative point of view, one can try to define individual freedom as the goal of the structure. In a liberal society it is easier to accept the imprisonment in the structure. But freedom is usually not a gift; it has to be won in a struggle and then defended.




6.2 Sociobiology



The biological utility function

Since man is a biological being, the biological utility function must also be represented prominently in the psyche. The pursuit of individuality, self-realization and self-assertion are driven by a biological program. This statement has an epistemic status that is close to a natural law. We are born with a considerable number of natural desires (as Beckermann says), but these desires are ultimately subordinated to the biological goal (the replication of the DNA).


In humans, the biological goal can be superimposed by cultural norms in such a way that it only acts in the unconscious . Whether or not we are manipulated by the biological utility function is a question of identification. Those who fully identify with their biological nature do not feel manipulated by biological needs. In a culture that requires sublimation, however, the biological goal may turn into an obstacle in the pursuit of cultural goals.


The biological strategies for the propagation of genes are manifold and partly indirect [Gräff] [Voland, 143]. This means that a person's psyche is not necessarily characterized by the biological goal of having many children.

Even where we believe that we are altruistic and morally superior, it often turns out that the egoism of genes is at work. The fact that we benefit others and perhaps even harm ourselves is – as sociobiology has shown – not a contradiction to Darwin's doctrine, but under certain conditions an inevitable consequence [Vollmer 1994].

There are even attempts to derive the phenomenon of "conscience" from an evolutionary basis. Certain genes would encourage educators to intervene in the development of their pupils in a way that benefits the genetic interests of the educators and harms the genetic interests of the pupils. The conscience of the pupil could then be interpreted as a parasitic function of the extended phenotype of the educator [Mittwollen, 156-160].




Do not trust a sublime motive,

if a low one can be found.


Edward Gibbon





Acting against community interests

Traditional behaviorism was already convinced that "altruistic" behavior could and should have biological respectively genetic reasons. It assumed, however, that altruism could only be explained by means of group selection. Animals were thought to behave species-preserving (...).Sociobiology contradicts. Group selection does not exist or only in exceptional cases. A natural need to care for the preservation of mankind is also not to be expected in humans (...). It is therefore not at all surprising that appeals, asking us to do something for the whole of mankind, are so little fruitful [Vollmer, 1994].


Ecological behavior, for example, is in the interests of the whole of humanity, but it is thwarted by unconscious biological/ evolutionary mechanisms.

    Biological evolution is not only short-sighted, but absolutely blind with regard to the future: the design of the organisms is adapted to a "race in the here and now".

   Genetic reproductive success – the ultimate biological measure – is based to a large extent on efficient resource utilization.

Both mechanisms stamped our psyche and created the mentality of depletion [Voland, 145].

Marx was right in many ways, but he overrated the forces of social consciousness and underestimated the forces of evolution. His misapprehension did not only concern competition, but also the relationship between his comrades and nature. The latter can be illustrated by the pollution in the former Soviet Union.



Acting against one’s own interests

The mechanism of the selfish genes does not only work against the interests of the public, but also against one’s own interests.

Although we know that smoking, salt- and fat-rich food, lack of exercise, etc. lead to health risks; it is difficult to change appropriate habits. Health apostles are usually fall on deaf ears. Whereof does the willingness of an organism depend, to pay low costs now, in order to avoid higher costs later? The answer is amazingly trivial: it depends on the probability that the organism actually experiences the later periods of time. The pleiotropic effect may serve as an example. Genes with beneficial effects in young years can spread in the population, even if they are tied to significant disadvantages in old age. In evolution, the young body is optimized at the expense of the old one. It is worth – in the average – to buy early advantages with late disadvantages. The debt mentality, which is expressed in credit cards and mortgages, corresponds precisely to this logic. There is a cross-generational interest, indeed, but it is dynastic and not of a general kind [Voland, 146-148].




6.3 Psychology



Genetic determination

    The best method to investigate the genetic determination of behavior, and thus the degree of internal constraints, is twin research. Heredity is often misunderstood as the proportion of the genes that are responsible for a trait in a given person. In fact, however, genes determine the proportion of differences. People differ because they carry different gene variants and because they live in different environments. An inheritance of 88% for the body mass index means that 88% of the differences in the body mass index in the population are due to genetic differences. It does not mean that a single person is responsible in the amount of 12% for his/her weight (Zwillingsforschung, Wikipedia).

   According to Strelau, the temperament is determinded predominantly genetic, but a distinction must be made between

-          temperament and

-          the behavior in which the temperament is expressed

In contrast to the temperament the behavior is much better changeable.



Interaction behavior

Various analyzes attempted to reduce the personal characteristics of interactions to a few main features ( Berkowitz ). Two dimensions and their combination proved to be especially clarifying for the description of relationship styles [DTV, 213]:"

1.   The first dimension captures the tendency to communicate: affiliation and detachment .

2.   The second dimension captures the tendency to form a hierarchical structure: dominance and compliancy

The interaction behavior is related to the release of biochemical substances in the brain. These releases are partly genetically determined:

1.   The tendency to affiliate is associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.

2.   The tendency to dominate is associated with the steroid hormone testosterone.

The restriction of personal freedom by biochemical mechanisms is considered by staff consultants, career planners and marketing experts (see, for example, Brain Script by H.Häusel).


Despite the biochemical control of emotions and evaluations, there is a certain freedom of choice:

 because a system, which is based in the prefrontal cortex enables us to slow down impulses, pause, weigh up and consider what we want to do in the long run [Bauer]:

 because the long-term mental and physical occupation with a goal also retroacts on the biochemistry.





A little Indian boy was talking to his grandfather:

"How do you think about the situation in the world?" he asked.


The grandfather answered:

"I have a feeling as if wolves were fighting in my heart.”
“One is full of rage and hatred, the other full of love, forgiveness and peace. "

"Who is going to win?"
the boy aked.

Hereon his grandfather answered:

"The one I feed."


(Author unknown)






Behavioral disorders

1.   Many behavioral disorders in youths and adults are associated with genetic, prenatal, or early-stage disorders of the so-called neuromodulatory systems in the brain. These systems are the origin of neuronal messengers, such as serotonin , dopamine and noradrenaline, which are distributed over countless nervous fibers in a wide range of brain areas and influence our mental condition [Roth, 11].

2.   Also the criminal behavior is genetically influenced, although usually it is not a specific behavior, but a behavior style which is inherited. Even in the case of concretely defined disorders, genes do not act deterministically, but only increase the probability of the occurrence [Nedoptil] [Rowe].



Image results for Lövheim cube of emotion



Lövheim Cube of emotion




Freud's theory oscillated between freedom and determinism [GAD, Guggenheim]:

1)       Die Psychoanalyse war zuerst durch die Traumdeutung , dh durch eine hermeneutische Methode geprägt. Psychoanalysis was first characterized by the interpretation of the dream , ie by a hermeneutic method. In der freien Assoziation versucht sich der Patient von der kausalen Denkweise zu lösen und „zufällige“ Gedanken zu akzeptieren, Gedanken die keinen „Grund“ haben, unlogisch erscheinen und (scheinbar) unvernünftig sind. In the free association, the patient tries to break away from causal thinking and to accept "accidental" thoughts, thoughts that have no "reason", appear illogical, and (seemingly) unreasonable.

2)   The theory of drives was an attempt to put psychoanalysis on a scientific basis, whereby we have to keep in mind that, in Freud's times, scientific theories were always deterministic theories. Freud, however, was not consistent in the pursuit of this goal. Innerhalb der Triebtheorie findet man den Begriff des Triebschicksals welcher den Zufall betont und damit den Determinismus wieder untergräbt. Within the theory of drives one finds the concept of the drive destiny, which undermines determinism.

3)   Freud’s structural model roughly divides the psyche into three instances: Ego, Id, and Superego. At the end of the development of theory there is the metaphor of the rider (Ego), whose horse (Id) sometimes refuses obedience, i.e. a mixture of freedom of action and unconscious coercion.

Those who live long-term against their own character are punished with a feeling of senselessness. This reflection of feelings provides a piece of intellectual freedom, which cannot be immediately or permanently be converted into actions. On the intellectual level, action options can be explored playfully, but emotional liberation is a tedious, protracted, and often painful process. For more information on this topic, see The Controllability of Life Satisfation .


Psychoanalysis has played a major role in a better understanding of the feeling of freedom. It is namely quite possible to carry out precisely the same activity with a feeling of freedom and with a feeling of determination by others. The feeling of freedom arises from the consistency of willing and doing. It can also arise when an activity is commanded from outside, namely if one identifies with the commanding authority, or if the commanded activity meets one’s (unconscious) desires. This suggests that the perception of the activity is crucial and not the activity itself [Hampe 2006, 2].


1.  A person plays the piano in order to make money and feels unfree because of the commitments

2.  A person plays the piano spontaneously and feels free because there are no regulations.

3.  A person plays the piano according to commitments but still feels free, because he/she is rewarded by recognition. Famous musicians often feel free despite commitments, because they like to give concerts.

Psychoanalysis deals, among other things, with the question under which conditions the heteronomous (e.g. music lessons) can be perceived as something autonomous. In our example, emotional liberation can take two entirely different forms:

1.  The person leaves the world of music, because he/she perceives music as coercion.

2.  The person discovers the liberating potential of music.

For possible pianists freedom of will means to reflect motives such as "trying to please a teacher/audience", "being afraid of a teacher/audience", “spontaneously feeling the music” and then decide whether these motives are realistic and whether he/she wants to follow them. For prospective pianists, freedom of action means to dispose of a piano and the means to finance a music education.



Sales psychology

The accordance of willing and doing is achieved more easily if there are action options. Sales psychology, for example, teaches to always offer alternatives to the potential buyer, so that he/she feels that he/she can decide him-/herself. The fact that the offered alternatives are already pre-selected by the seller is usually not noticed by the customer. For customers who are "never satisfied" one has to prepare a strategy where the customer can reject all proposals and then find a solution him-/herself.

Obviously, freedom has something to do with power, unfreedom with powerlessness. Power can refer to others or to oneself.

1.   Those who do not master themselves are at the mercy of their passions and become unfree.

2.   Those who are under the influence of other people also become unfree unless they identify with these other people.


The action options need not necessarily be conscious:

1.    The feeling of free will arises if one perceives oneself as the agent of the thought processes which harmonize will and action.

2.    However, a sense of freedom also arises when willing and doing are unconsciously brought into harmony (and at the same time freedom of action exists). Example: Apparently many people experience a liberating feeling in warehouses, although they are unconsciously manipulated. The sales psychologists and marketing specialists explore, guess and direct the unconscious wishes of their customers.




Je pense – donc je suis


René Descartes


Je dépense – donc je suis 


 Le Devoir




6.4 Brain research


In the definition of freedom in chapters.2.2 and 2.3, it is not explicitly stated, but assumed, that the decisions processes are conscious processes. But what is consciousness?


Theory of consciousness

Physical basis:

1)   Neural correlates are known for specific contents of consciousness. It is, unclear, however, to what extent the discovery of such correlates can explain the phenomenon of consciousness. [Metzinger, 37]

2)   Studies show that the conscious perception of sensory impressions (stimuli) goes with exactly synchronized high-frequency oscillations in widely distributed regions of the cerebral cortex. If the stimuli are not consciously perceived, high-frequency oscillations can also be detected, but they are not linked to synchronized patterns [Metzinger, 105].

For more information on this topic, see

 Global Workspace Theory

  Integrated Information Theory



1.   Human consciousness is filtered information. It is only the shadow of something (physically) much richer and larger and has no independent existence [Metzinger, 41]

2.   From a computer science point of view, consciousness probably has the function of a working memory. It is the partial quantity of the information that is currently active in the brain, which requires constant monitoring, because it could be needed soon. This thesis is supported by the observation that we are conscious of an activity whenever we learn it for the first time (e.g. fasten one’s shoes or cycling). As soon as we fully master the activity, however, we forget everything that has to do with the learning process [Metzinger, 89].

3.   A main function of consciousness is to create a fixed frame of reference for the organism, i.e. to define what is real [Metzinger, 95]. However, the representations of reality in the brain are perceived as reality rather than representations [Metzinger, 72].


A secure theory of consciousness does not exist yet. Such a theory would have to solve the following problems:

1.   The one-world problem: Why is consciousness seen as a unity and not as a collection of different conscious components?

2.   The Now Problem: How can the impression of a moment arise when time is always in flux?

What we call the present and perceive as a continuum is the result of neural reconstructions. The brain does not experience time in the Newtonian continuum, says the psychologist Ernst Pöppel, but jerkily. "Every thirty milliseconds it asks what happened in the world." Incoming stimuli below this period of time can no longer be identified. Conversely, the brain is also unable to group information into a single perception for more than three seconds [Büttner]

3.   The reality-problem: Why can we not recognize that we perceive reality only indirectly? Why are we born as naive realists ?

4.   The ineffability-problem: Why can we perceive things about which we cannot talk?

5.   The who-problem: Who is this "ego" to whom the conscious experiences are assigned?

6.   The evolution-problem: What is the evolutionary purpose of consciousness?

[Metzinger, 45]

Concerning the issue of free will, questions 5 and 6 are of prime importance. We start with some findings in the context of the who-problem and then proceed to the evolution problem.



The who-problem

Traditionally, the term consciousness refers to a person. To decide consciously means to use (moral) evaluations for a decision. But who is this conscious "ego"?

Buddha said, "Actions exist and also their consequences, but the agent does not exist (...).There is no individual, there is only a conventional name that is given (a set of) elements " [Metzinger, 351].


The ego-feeling always goes with a physical feeling. This physical-feeling consists of several components:

1)      It integrates elements of the consciousness contents into what is experienced as one's own self.


a)   A blind person can develop a tactile sensation at the end of the cane [Metzinger, 113].

b)   Repeated exercise can transform a tool (or a sports device) into a part of one‘s hand [Metzinger, 117]

2)   Agentivity, i.e. the conscious experience of decisions and actions

3)   A place in space

4)   Interoception (bodily perceptions)

5)   Background emotions

[Metzinger, 116]


Which of these components are necessary for the ego-feeling?

Agentivity is not necessary as the example of meditation shows. The feeling of the ego is probably created when the knowledge of one's own existence emerges from spatial orientation, body perceptions and self-ascription (respectively self-demarcation. This process can, for example, be understood when one wakes up in the morning and comes to oneself [Metzinger, 151]. Wenn man sich jedoch als denkendes Subjekt erleben will und nicht einfach (wie in der Meditation) die Gedanken vorbeiziehen lässt, dann braucht es eine kognitive Agentivität, dh innerliches Handeln beim Denken, verbunden mit dem Gefühl die eigenen Gedanken zu verursachen [Metzinger, 177]. If, however, one wants to experience oneself as a thinking subject and not simply (as in meditation) as an instance allowing the thoughts to pass through, then a cognitive agentivity is needed, combined with the feeling of creating one's own thoughts [Metzinger, 177].


Is there consciousness without ego-feeling? This question must be answered in the affirmative because there are selfless forms of conscious experience. In certain psychiatric disorders, such as the Cotard's syndrome, patients sometimes stop using the first person's pronoun, and, even more surprisingly, claim that they do not actually exist [Metzinger, 99-100].


According to Antonio Damasio, the aspects of consciousness are embedded in a hierarchical structure:

1)  On the lowest level is the meta-presentation of the body (the proto-self), which is already present in primitive animals. This also includes the perception of the state of alertness. There is a continuous transition from alertness to inattentiveness, to sleep, to coma, and finally to death.

2)   The next higher level is the so-called core-consciousness, the feeling for what happens, respectively the feeling that the proto-self is moving through the world and interacts with the world. Damasio describes the case of a patient who, for a period of 6 years, lived only with the core consciousness, i.e. in a world with no past and no future. The core-consciousness is also present in intelligent animals.

3)  On the highest level is the extended consciousness, the link of the core-consciousness with autobiographical data, with a life story and its projection into the future. The extended consciousness exists only in humans and possibly in certain primates.

a)   In contrast to the long-standing thesis that language is at the center of the extended consciousness, it seems to be the feelings, respectively the knowledge about having feelings. In strokes, patients may lose their speech. In the case of a cure, such patients say that their consciousness was completely intact, but that they simply could not communicate their condition.

b)  An important role is also played by the connection of the brain’s left and the right hemisphere. If this connection is destroyed, then two consciousness-instances arise: one describes the world verbally, the other spatially. There is no communication between these two instances, but they are nevertheless represented by the same "ego-feeling".

If Damasio's thesis is true, i.e. if consciousness presupposes a biological body, respectively a body-feeling, then it is impossible to create consciousness within a computer.



Decision-making processes

1.   Let us first look at the etymology of the term consciousness. The Latin term conscientia is the root from which all later terminologies in the English and Romance languages have developed. It derives on the one hand from cum (with, together) and scire (knowledge). In antiquity, as in the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages, conscientia related primarily to moral knowledge, i.e. knowledge of values. Interestingly, "true" consciousness was thus linked with moral insight [Metzinger, 45]. Moral insight is the result of reflections which question, evaluate, and weigh preferences, i.e. the result of higher order reflections. The possibility that the weighing of preferences could take place without insight (consciousness) has traditionally not been considered.

2.   With the increasing acceptance of psychoanalysis this view changed. The existence of unconscious decision-making processes was now at least regarded as a defensible thesis. The simultaneous existence of conscious decision-making processes, however, seemed obvious and was not contested by anyone.

3.   Only in the aftermath of the Libet experiment the idea emerged that all decision-making processes could occur unconsciously, and that awareness is only a somewhat delayed accompanying phenomenon. The specific brain activity, which correlates with a movement, can precede the conscious decision (to move) up to 10 seconds (The Unconscious Will).




Chief Witch:

"Yes, that's right!"


"I understand that you can foretell the future?"







Alvaro Pascual-Leone conducted an experiment in 1992, in which the subjects were asked to move the right or the left hand by chance. He found that by the stimulation of the different brain hemispheres by means of magnetic fields the choice of the person could be strongly influenced. Normally, right-handers select the right hand in about 60% of all cases. However, if the right hemisphere was stimulated, the left hand was selected in 80% of all cases (the right hemisphere of the brain is essentially responsible for the left half of the body and vice-versa).

Despite of this demonstrable influence from outside, the subjects continued to report that they were convinced that they had made the choice freely (Free will , Wikipedia).


Wolf Singer points to the following experiment: If the non-verbal hemisphere of an experimentee is given a command by electrically stimulating the motoric cortex areas, then this person executes the command without being aware of the causation.

If one then asks for the reason of the action, one obtains an explanation, which has nothing to do with the true cause (Philosophy and brain research, Patrick Albertini).

Whatever the consciousness of one's own will (in this case) may be, it seems to be something that can be turned on and off by means of a weak electric current and an electrode in the brain [Metzinger, 181].


According to Wegner and Wheatley , the phenomenal experience of will or mental causation is governed by the following three principles [Wegner]:

1.  Exclusivity : the thought of the experimentee is the only possible and introspectively available cause of the action

2.  Consistency: the subjective intention must be compatible with the action

3.  Priority: the conscious thought must precede the action within a reasonable period of time.

[Metzinger, 183]


In the experiments cited, the freedom of the will is obviously a double illusion because the decision-making process is not only deterministic, but also unconscious. The conscious perception does not have a controlling function; it is only a (more or less accurate and delayed) image of the unconscious process. But can this finding be generalized?


The question of whether the movement of a hand expresses something about the free will of a person must be cautiously discussed. The skills required for the hand movement are contained in the procedural part of the long-term memory. But if we make a free and morally well-founded decision, then we use the experiences and the knowledge of the episodic part of the long-term memory. Libet's experiment can therefore only say something about decisions which – like the movements of the hand – need not be evaluated morally. Prof. Benedikt Grothe and Prof. Martin Korte provide a detailed and detailed analysis of this problem in their lectures at the LMU Munich resepectively the University of Tübingen, which are accessible as video recordings (Free Will, Wikipedia).


Recent experiments have also shown that the specific brain activity, which correlates with a movement and precedes the conscious decision (to move), does not mean that the brain predicts the movement. In one of these experiments, the participants were free to press a key (or not) when they heard a sound. It turned out that the specific brain activity existed independent of the decision and that it corresponded to an outward directed attention. In the Libet experiment, attention is directed inward. It is assumed that the decision (to execute the movement) is triggered, if (permanently existing) random fluctuations in the relevant brain area exceed a certain value [Ananthaswamy].




In the case of the so-called alien-hand syndrome, one of the two hands is no longer subjected to volitional control, but nevertheless performs purposeful actions (such as moving a piece in the checkers game ). The concerned persons still experience the uncontrolled hand as their own hand. Missing is the perception of an act of will. There seem to be unconscious mechanisms which determine when a movement appears to us as an act of will [Metzinger, 172].

In this example, too, one can argue that these are not moral decision-making processes and that the meaningfulness for the problem of free will is accordingly limited. There are, however, disorders which are not restricted to the movement of a hand and where the semantic memory (a part of the declarative long-term memory) may be involved [Metzinger, 173].

1.  Certain patients experience any consciously perceived event in their environment as caused directly by themselves.

2.  Conversely, certain schizophrenics have the feeling that their own body and their own thoughts are remote-controlled.

In these cases the perception of the will is much less consistent with the real situation (as compared to healthy persons). In the former case an excess of impact is pretended in the latter case (in a kind of reversal situation) a complete helplessness. These findings suggest that the perception of the will is an independent function, which is more or less correctly linked to the real situation. It is therefore theoretically conceivable that this function is evoked with some delay in all decision processes and that it creates an illusion.

In the case of akinetic mutism, the patient does not make any decisions [Metzinger, 179]. There is accordingly no reason to activate the function "perception of will". The perception of "not wanting anything" accords with the real situation.



The evolution problem

Does consciousness provide an evolutionary advantage?

Evolution is driven largely by random events and has no objective. It is wrong to assume that evolution necessarily lead to consciousness. Other paths of evolution were possible and are still possible [Metzinger, 87]. However, once the phenomenon of consciousness had arisen (possibly accidentally), it proved to be valuable in the survival struggle. A function that does not provide an evolutionary advantage disappears in the course of time because it unnecessarily consumes energy.


Die Frage, welchen Überlebensvorteil das Bewusstsein konkret bietet, ist noch weitgehend ungeklärt. The question which advantage consciousness could have for survival is still largely unresolved. There are a number of qualities that could have given its carriers an advantage, e.g.

1)  The understanding of mental states of fellow members of the species and the prediction of their behavior in social interactions [Halligan].

2)  The adjustment of action plans for longer periods of time.

3)  The solution of internal conflicts that arise through "fixed" mental processes.

etc. [Metzinger, 88]

One of these survival advantages is likely to have dominated. The others then are more a kind of "creative misappropriation" [Metzinger, 122]. It cannot be ruled out that the higher-order reflections represent such an misappropriation.


The thesis, according to which consciousness improves the decision-making processes, however, is disputed. If consciousness is only an epiphenomenon – as most brain researchers suspect – we must reject all the theses where the evolutionary advantage is explained in terms of improved decisions.


In order to improve decision-making processes, consciousness would have to represent the reality unadulterated. However, the traditional assumption that we receive the content of our phenomenal consciousness directly is wrong:

1)   There is, for example, a neurological disorder that makes it impossible to recognize objects by touching them (Astereognosia). In this case the sense organ (the skin) is intact, but the connection to consciousness is disturbed [Metzinger, 48].

2)   Conversely, there can be a consciousness of sensory impressions, even though the concerned sense organs are damaged:

a)   This is especially evident in a certain group of disorders, which is called anosognosia neuropsychology. In these disorders the patient can no longer experience an existing consciousness-deficit as such. A particularly impressive example is Antons Syndrome. Patients who are afflicted with sudden blindness by a visual cortex injury stubbornly insist in some cases, that they still see. They bump into pieces of furniture and other obstacles; they show all signs of functional blindness. Nevertheless, they behave as if they were not aware of the subjective disappearance of the visual world. For example, they produce false but consistent confabulations on questions about their environment: They tell stories about non-existent phenomenal worlds that they themselves seem to believe, and deny any functional deficit with regard to their vision [Thomas Metzinger, The problem of consciousness ].

In this case consciousness is coupled with a dream-world, which makes it difficult to cope with reality . It strengthens the feeling to be intact, but at the same time worsens the adaptive abilities of the organism.

 b)  In dreams blind people are sometimes capable to see [Metzinger, 199].


In intact persons as well, consciousness refers to representations and not to reality itself, so that the reality can be faked.


1.  The simulation of virtual realities (e.g. in a 3D-film ) creates a sense of presence and full immersion. As in a dream, the creation of real physical behavior is prevented. If in a dream this motoric inhibition fails – as in the REM-Sleep Behavior Disorder – then the patient is forced to act out even dramatic and violent dreams.

2.  The phenomenon of false awakening shows that the feeling to be in the reality can be turned on and off.  The dreamer is like an asognostic patient, who, after brain injury, lacks insight into mental deficits. Evidently, the vitality, clarity, and conciseness of a conscious experience is not a sufficient proof that one is actually in reality.

3.  The dream is a good example of the tendency of our brain to construct meaning. During REM sleep, chaotic internal signals are generated by PGO waves. The brain tries to interpret these signals and constructs for this purpose a fairy tale in which the ego of the dream state plays the leading role. The system does not recognize that the signals, which are transformed into an inner narrative, are produced by itself.

[Metzinger, 197-202].

This raises the question of whether the evolutionary advantage of consciousness is not to be found generally on the emotional level. It is conceivable that consciousness offers a survival advantage only in the form of self- awareness, i.e. through intrinsic motivation or emotional strengthening [Metzinger, 88]. The conscious information is given a higher priority (by emotional strengthening) and then possibly stored more permanently. This can be compared with producing documentation about decisions. Only important decisions are documented and always retroactive, i.e. the documentation does not contribute to the process of decision-making. It may improve, however, the quality of future decisions. Dreams are often forgotten very quickly after awakening. In our analogy, this means that documents (which are recognized as deceptions) are subsequently depreciated or disposed of.

John-Dylan Haynes compares consciousness with a spotlight. The unconscious decides whether the light is switched on and whereupon the light beam is directed [Douglas, 32]. The illuminated scene is documented and receives a certain priority in the memory, the rest remains in the dark.





7. Responsibility



7.1 Definition



Freedom as a condition

One can only be held responsible for something that one can freely choose. Freedom is the prerequisite for responsibility. According to the different definitions of freedom, there are different definitions of responsibility.

1.   For incompatibilists, who do not believe in a mind-body dualism, there is no responsibility at all.

2.   For all others, the main problem is to correctly assess the moral weight of unconscious motifs:



Responsibility, which includes unconscious motifs

The unconscious contains personal experiences and evaluations, and can therefore be considered as part of the self. It is not disputed that one can credit positive achievements of the unconscious (e.g. the ability to solve problems while sleeping) to one's own person. Why should this not also apply to negative performances? Both the delimitation between ego and id as well as the delimitation between decision-making and decision-ending are blurred. There are no punctual decisions. In general, a mixture of conscious, up-to-date reflection and unconscious, long-term motifs is used. One is determined to a certain extent by one’s history, but one is also responsible for this story [GAD, Hampe].


Example: During a penalty, a football goalkeeper must decide whether to stand still or dive into a corner. Because of the scarcity of time, the decision is essentially made in the unconscious. Thereby a lot of information (movement of the shooter, experiences, tips, etc.) is considered in an individual decision-making process. The goalkeeper is responsible for his decision, although a large part of the evaluations are made in the unconscious. The responsibility is accepted because the unconscious evaluations are the result of a long, personal story. This history includes in particular the training of football-specific reflexes.



Responsibility, which excludes unconscious motifs

In a narrower sense, responsibility only exists if the decision is made by consciously weighing up preferences. The decision-maker is not responsible for unconscious motifs which influence the weighing process. In this case it matters how far the influence of the unconscious reaches.

1.   Sociological, sociobiological and psychological research suggests that the importance of the subconscious is underestimated (Chapters 6.1 to 6.3).

2.   An almost unlimited power of the unconscious is postulated by brain research (Chap.6.4). Most brain researchers assume that consciousness is only an epiphenomenon, and all evaluations are caused by unconscious processes. The feeling of being free to decide and not being determined by physical processes is possibly a function of the brain, which can be switched on or off depending on the situation. If the conscious weighing of preferences is a deception, however, then there can be no question of responsibility at all.


Example: The decision of a goalkeeper to exercise and to adopt football-specific reflexes would not (in accordance with perception) be decided by conscious reflection, but (contrary to perception) unconsciously. The reflection would only be documented (more or less precisely) in the consciousness. Possibly the documentation is even produced according to Freud's criteria, i.e. facts are distorted or withhold to meet unconscious wishes. The steering role of consciousness in decision-making is the subject of a controversial discussion (see Epiphenomenon, Wikipedia).




7.2 Semantics




Even if the brain researchers were right, we still need – in everyday life and jurisprudence – the concept of responsibility, which includes unconscious motifs.

1)   If a person says that he/she has freely and consciously decided, then we should accept this way of speaking, because we know what it means. Consciousness in this sense is an intuition, which we all know [Bieri, 222-226]

2)   According to current legal practice, a (fully sane) person is responsible for his/her unconscious decision-making processes.


The question whether we explain human actions in the light of reasons and justifications, or in the light of natural laws is fundamental (...). The question here is whether we allow a language at all, where something like (responsible) actions exist. As soon as we explain actions with natural laws, they become natural events [Hampe 2007, 177].


It would be difficult to organize a society without the concept of responsibility and without taking into account the reasons and justifications arising from the inner perspective. [Singer] [Pauen]. The concept of guilt will perhaps disappear from the language of the courts, but not from everyday language [Singer] [Pauen].




The fear that only scientific languages will be accepted is nurtured by the increasing societal relevance of scientific descriptions. On the other hand there is a fear that scientists, who deny the existence of a free will, are attacked by religious fundamentalists. From the perspective of societal interests the freedom-skeptics are ill-equipped. The interest of society that there is a freedom of will and a responsibility is overwhelming:

   The belief in free will strengthens self-consciousness and the belief in the influenceabiliy of personal and social development. It obviously acts as a positive feedback and provides an evolutionary advantage.

   Conversely, the message of the freedom-skeptics is unpleasant to such a degree, that the transferees are often confused with the message. They are not burned (yet) on the pyre as certain representatives of predestination in the Middle Ages, but the result of their research is not welcome in many circles.


Amongst the secular promoters of the concept of free will, those which use a formal language are of special interest. John Searle weist darauf hin dass – wenn man die Bedingung der Letzt-Urheberschaft fallen lässt – theoretisch auch Roboter mit einem freien Willen konstruiert werden könnten. John Searle points out that – if the condition of ultimate-origination is dropped – then it is theoretically possible to construct robots with a free will. This argument does not seem to trouble computer scientists, for example. Researchers in the field of artificial intelligence prefer a language rule according to which they will create beings who have an ego-consciousness and a free will [Metzinger, 279-282].


Obviously, in the interpretation of the term free will, there is not only competition between the internal and external perspective, but also a competition between individual sciences. While brain researchers eliminate the concept of free will by describing the brain processes with natural laws, it is reintroduced by AI researchers using programming languages. Rather too much free will than too little.





8. Conclusions


Most cultural pessimists assume that man can not significantly influence evolution (in particular the evolution of suffering). They refer to the complexity of biological and cultural systems and to the lack of conscious decisions.



Type of Problem

- What is the exact meaning of free will?

- To what extent is the freedom of the will restricted by external and internal conditions?

- What is the responsibility of man for his actions?



Freedom of Will

Libertarians speak of freedom of will only if man is the ultimate originator of his decisions, i.e. if he can break through the causal chain of the physical brain processes. This definition agrees with the intuition that we can decide against our own preferences within a "causal gap".


Naturalists postulate that all decisions are based on physical brain processes, have a temporal extension and do not interrupt the causal chains. The intuition of the "causal gap" would therefore be a deception.

1. Naturalists, who insist on the ultimate origination, see no basis for the existence of a free will (hard determinism)

2. Compatibilists consider the idea of an absolutely free will as a linguistic aberration. They postulate that a correct concept of freedom of will is compatible with the known natural laws (soft determinism )

3. The scope of the compatibilist freedom of will is a controversial issue. The skepticism with regard to the freedom of will has been reinforced by brain researchers, who postulate that consciousness is only an epiphenomenon.



Restrictions by the outside world

This paper is not about the conscious and well-known cases of political deprivation of liberty. As far as social structures can be reflected, they are also open to criticism and resistance. The point here is that freedom of the will is already restricted by the repression of wishes and possibilities. There is a social production of unconscious thoughts and emotions, which serves the control of instincts and the consolidation of the ruling power.


When structures serve the control of drives, they often have a dual function: they limit freedom in one area, but enhance them in a different area. Fort hat reason they resemble rather a monastery than a prison. The monastery restricts freedom, but also protects from the dangers of the outside world and allows undisturbed meditation. Just as the pianist gains artistic freedom by anchoring the keyboard technique in the unconscious, a culture gains freedom by curbing certain agressions in the unconscious.



Restrictions by the inner world

The long-term established, only slowly in the course of life changing zones of influence of the psychic instances define the measure of inner freedom. These zones of influence can be regarded as a basic limitation of individual freedom, but also as a specific adaptation to the environment in which individuality – and thus a piece of freedom – is expressed.


Despite the biochemical control of feelings and evaluations, there is a certain freedom in the choice of aims in life, because the mental and physical occupation with an aim also retroacts on the biochemistry. How great this freedom is and which role the individual constitution (genetics) and the consciousness play is still hardly clarified.




One can only be held responsible for something one can decide about. According to the currently most plausible hypothesis, responsibility must be based on the compatibilist definition of free will.

In essence, it is assumed that the iceberg model applies, which means that only a small proportion of the decisions is consciously controlled. Whether and to what extent the unconscious proportion may be attributed to the decision-maker is disputed.









I would like to thank Michael Hampe for the valuable comments and suggestions in the context of this paper.









1.      Ananthaswamy Anil (2012), New chapter opens in free will debate, New Scientist, London, 11 Aug

2.      Bauer Joachim (2015), Selbststeuerung. Die Wiederentdeckung des freien Willens, Karl Blessing, München

3.      Beckermann Ansgar (2005), Haben wir einen freien Willen?, in Philosophie verständlich

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