As already noted in “An Epistemological Argument for Free Will” we seem to have free will. But this mystery, that is the mystery of how there can be genuinely free will in an ultimately deterministic universe (QM not withstanding) has yet to be explained. I say “QM not withstanding” because even if the universe is properly said to be non-deterministic at its fundamental core, this non-determinism is also fundamentally random, while free will is intrinsically purposeful. Quantum phenomena are strictly causless, but free will is not. Creature purpose is rather causally efficacious in the absence of any otherwise sufficient material cause. Even a non-deterministic-but-random universe does not (metaphysically cannot) give us purposeful-free-will.
To understand why my ontology makes room for a personality who is the agent of free will exercise, the owner of it, I have to explain what it is about human experience that demands our acquiescense to including it. To do this, I must begin with mind in general and not personal mind. The higher animals give us what we need here. Mind broadly speaking is purposeful. Animals have purposes for which they engage in their various behaviors. They do not articulate these purposes as such but it is clear that there is a reasonable sense in which higher animals can be said to be both minded (having some content of consciousness) and “act with purpose”. Indeed it can be said that life in general, even non-minded life (say bacteria) act purposefully and indeed they do. But lacking consciousness, it is less reasonable to say that such animals “act volitionally” and more reasonable to say that human beings impute purpose to life in general. Bacteria act, but the purposes of those actions are not the purposes of an individual, as these become in the higher animals. It is consciousness generally that adds both individuality and purposefullness.
But we notice limitations in animal mind that are absent in humans. Animal purposes are always local, limited to the present time. To find food if hungry, reproduce, shelter, even to socialize, all of it for its own sake. Humans by contrast exhibit all of these same sorts of local purposes, but they also exhibit purposes extended in time, purposes for next year, or a lifetime. Secondly, animals do not appear to perceive anything of values, truth, beauty, and goodness. Local acts are always for their own sake and not for the sake of any of these values.
An animal eats, if it can, when it is hungry. It does not seem to have any sense of whether or not this act is good, it merely does it. Animal purpose is amoral. They find no goodness (or truth or beauty) in their acts any more than we find purpose in the laws of physics. By contrast human purpose, local or extended in time, is often value entangled. Although much of what we do is amoral not all of it is, indeed a great deal of our purposes local or extended can have moral implications (whether good, true, beautiful, or all three) even when those entanglements are not the primary purposes of a given free will act. Finally animal purpose is not evaluated recursively. It isn’t deliberated abstractly. A lioness, being hungry, engages in the hunt for food. She deliberates on the specific course that hunt might take as new data emerges to her senses concerning the presence of food. But she certainly does not deliberate on the purpose of hunting in the abstract. Humans do exactly this. We are said to be “self conscious” and are able therefore to deliberate not only on the process of executing a purpose, but on the purpose itself.
It is these three qualities that signal something special about human consciousness that needs explaining in terms of how it is that human consciousness in particular has such powers. At the same time, I have to explain how it is that we cannot locate this entity in a recursive examination of consciousness. Our self-consciousness does not permit discrimination of the personal from consciousness as a whole, even in the first person!
To see how this all fits together it will be useful to review my theologically-based theory of mind. My first book covers this in more detail, but in brief it is this. God is the source of the physical universe of timespace. Into this universe he also adds something I have called “Cosmic Mind”. Cosmic Mind is not a person, but rather a sort of field pervading space and time analogous to an electromagnetic field. Important here is that the field is in space and conditioned by time. It is non-material however. It does not convey any sort of proto-consciousness or panpsychism on the universe, but interacts only with certain complex organizations of matter-energy that we call brains. When nervous systems (of animals) become complex enough they are able to be perturbed or in some manner affected by Cosmic Mind and it is this interaction that manifests subjectively as consciousness. The point of Cosmic Mind in the theory (it may have other roles in the universe) is to effect subjective experience in sufficiently evolved nervous systems. Brains are, in effect, detectors of Cosmic Mind. Evolving mind at first detects very little of this signal producing minimal consciousness — perhaps a “what it is like to be” a fish or a lizard. More evolved brains are affected in richer ways and the nature of those individual minds deepens.
When we reach the human level, indeed the definition of humanity from a God’s-eye-view, the brain begins to feel the impact of parts of the Cosmic Mind signal not detected by any other animals. Specifically human brains begin to detect what the Cosmic Mind signal conveys of spirit, the hypothetical stuff of which God is made and the antecedent source of both physics and mind. From the subjective viewpoint, spirit is conveyed in the form of the values, truth, beauty, and goodness. But something else happens when brains and therefore mind reach this level of physical complexity and signal-detecting richness. Such minds are personalized by God directly. That is, God configures each such individual mind with extra information that becomes fused with that consciousness in such a way that from any individual perspective (even in the first person) it is not possible to tell what part of consciousness comes from Cosmic Mind detection alone, and what part from the fused-in personality. No other mind in the universe, personal or otherwise, can make this discrimination, but it cannot be lost to God. He alone knows what was done to each and every mind to personalize it.
The idea of a substantive personality within the mind is derided in philosophy as a homunculus, a little controller commanding the rest of the conscious arena like the captain of a ship. This model proves to have many philosophical problems, but it is an incorrect model. When a captain steps onto a ship, you have a ship and its captain. The captain is added to the ship and remains distinct. But personality is not added to mind in this sense. Rather mind itself is personalized in the manner of a lump of clay turned into a statue. One does not “add statue to lump”, but rather transforms lump. Once transformed, there is still nothing but a lump of clay albeit in a more structured configuration. From any viewpoint other than God’s, “personalized mind” is only enhanced mind. Even the individual (the person) whose mind it is cannot segregate itself from the mental arena as a whole that includes it. While even we, subjectively, cannot find personality through self-examination, we do experience its presence in the capacities it enables in us.
It can be useful to express all of this from an information perspective. In physics, information is another way to express the structure and function of physical things. The more structured they are, the more information they contain. Stars are information-rich compared to clouds of hydrogen gas, but in the case of stars, the information added comes from nothing more than macroscopic and deterministic behavior described by natural law. Life is far more information-rich than stars and it is not clear that all of life’s information assembled itself from nothing beyond the operation of natural law. There are those who quite reasonably suggest (having math to support it) that life’s information is unlikely to have assembled itself accidentally.
As we move up the evolutionary chain we encounter artifacts of mind. A beaver dam for example is a configuration of sticks, logs, and other natural products suitable for habitation and young-raising by beavers. We can examine such a dam and quantify the information it contains in its configuration, but it is clear in this case that the specification for that information came from outside. The dam didn’t build itself. One way or another, the specifying information was imposed on the physical ingredients by the labor of beavers. If there is something it is to be like a beaver, then that information, the information to cut and configure the trees, originated (from our third-party perspective) in “beaver mind”.
Beaver mind emerges from beaver brains plus (I suppose) its contact with Cosmic Mind. There is no doubt that the structure of brains can be described in information terms. Brains have all the information contained in life and then some. There are those who claim there is nothing more to mind than information coded into brains, but this is controversial. Nevertheless, from stars to life to brains we grasp that information is expressed in physical structure of one kind or another.
On my “Cosmic-Mind-Perturbation” model, can consciousness itself be understood in information terms? The structured perturbations of electrons by an electromagnetic wave in an antenna are information. Whatever goes on in the interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains it is reasonable to suppose that information is being added. If the interaction affects any part of the physical (electro-chemical) resonances of the brain we would expect to be able to measure it, though there is no guarantee we would recognize the significance of what is being measured. In any case, it does seem like the content of consciousness is information rich. Qualia and values can both be cast in informational terms.
It isn’t as clear that information constitutes consciousness per se, but as concerns animal consciousness it is plausible to say that there is nothing more there than the present content of consciousness (memories are present contents of consciousness), and so, information. Consciousness is a configured (information rich) non-material phenomenon. Lastly we come to human mind, mind plus personality. The information specified by personality doesn’t configure anything physical, but further configures something already non-physical, the emergent consciousness itself.
We can say that personality is an additional configuration on top of mind analogous to the way brains are a configuration on top of life. But even if life origin involved some purposefull addition of information to the universe, life remains self-sustaining from that point forward in time. Consciousness, by contrast (with or without personality) is dynamic and depends on the constant interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains. Mind’s presence (at least in animals on Earth) cannot be maintained in the absence of a properly functioning brain. If the brain fails or becomes functionally distorted in some way, consciousness is impacted and in severe enough cases disappears altogether.
The specifics of the addition being a non-material extra-configuration of a non-material entity cannot be measured by any instruments. Any third party distinction has to be forever out of the question. Even to our view, personality isn’t segregated from mind. God can distinguish it, but we experience nothing other than the mental arena that results from the fusion. From a phenomenological viewpoint it is all “merely mind”, in the same way that a lion’s mind is all merely mind. Personality is epistemologically transparent in the first person because we cannot distinguish its information as such. We cannot distinguish where mind leaves off and personality begins. Everything that we do and experience as persons takes place in and through mind. We are forced (discussed further below) to infer that personality must be real and distinct, ontologically, from mind as such, but even the evidence that this inference is valid is experienced only in and through mind. It is a metaphysical inference made with some phenomenal, but not epistemological support.
The Metaphysical Requirement for Personality
The evidence for our inference comes down to recognizing that the content of human consciousness contains qualities that cannot take origin in mind alone. This is the phenomenal evidence that something is going on besides mind. There are three such qualities: self-consciousness, persistence without change in time, and libertarian free will. As one might expect all three, originating in the qualities of a unified God, are related.
— Recursive self-consciousness
Animals experience contents of consciousness and can evaluate those contents. They have limited free will. A lioness can choose between two zebras, one a bit nearer but appearing younger and faster than another somewhat farther away. She is quite able to evaluate both and make a decision (perhaps in error) concerning which is easier to catch. But the lioness is not able to evaluate consciousness as such, she merely accepts its nature and content as given. Only humans are capable of making this second-order evaluation and we are able to make it because our consciousness contains the extra personal information. Although we cannot find that extra information, its presence enables recursive evaluation.
Self-consciousness is the most uncontroversial of the three qualities personality contributes to consciousness. That is, it is uncontroversial that we, humans at least, are self-conscious. There is some dispute over this matter as concerns some animals, but I believe that these cases constitute a reading-in, an anthropomorphic imputation. Most of this controversy comes from observation that animals exhibit complex emotions including abstract feelings of compassion, affection, and even awareness of the possibility of other selves when they are not immediately present to the senses. At the same time, there is no direct evidence of self-evaluation. In humans self-evaluation seems to compel attempts at expression. It is one of the drivers of language development. We see no evidence of a “compulsion for expression” in any animals. Animals who have shown remarkable ability to acquire human languages do not seem to use what they acquire to construct abstract propositions concerning consciousness itself. If an ape, taught to spell English words, in blocks wrote out “is my green the same as your green?” I would have to sit up and take notice!
If from our viewpoint we cannot discriminate personality from mind what then is contrasting about it to us? There may be more than one facet to this answer, but perhaps one of them is the contrast between the ever-changing consciousness and the changelessness of personality. Even Cosmic Mind lies inside time and is subject to it. While personality, in humans, resides within a temporal mind its direct source, God, lies outside the temporal. Personality, originating directly in the antecedent changeless God transcends mind originating from the interaction between temporal physics (brains) and temporal Cosmic Mind. I turn to this feature of personal experience next, but here I note it because that difference, the changeless within the ever changing might be a, if not the, difference that results in self consciousness.
— Changeless identity
The person of God is changeless absolutely and for all eternity. Such changelessness, absolute persistence, is one of the qualities conveyed by personalized consciousness. This needs some elaboration. Persistence in the material universe is not ever absolute. We say that material objects persist even though we recognize that they slowly undergo change over time. Not only material objects, but consciousness too changes with time. The contents change of course, but the overall quality of the arena undergoes change as well. Yet the part of the “personalized mind” recognized by God as the person never changes and this self is but vaguely sensed by the subject as that entity takes and has taken ownership of that conscious life in and through all of the changes it otherwise undergoes.
We know that there is no direct third-party access to subjective consciousness. To phenomenal experience, the person, my “I” is even more private than consciousness. This subjectivity distinguishes personality from character, that which the person expresses through mind and body. Character is what third parties can measure. It is the expression, the output, of the internal personalized mind acting to control a body, evolving and changing along with everything else in the universe. Because consciousness (and more obviously the body) changes, character changes. The persistence of a changeless self throughout the history of that character is even more invisible than the presence of a consciousness behind its expression in character! But the owner of those changes remains the same throughout. Despite having traversed many changes in character (and physical characteristics) over the course of our lives we are perfectly aware, under normal circumstances, that the same person owns all of those changes.
In theory, if we had an instrument that could measure, perhaps make graphic, a subjective viewpoint without personality, and then the same individual mind personalized, it would be possible to subtract the first measurement from the second and identify what it is about consciousness that constitutes its personalization. That is, it would be possible to recover the information difference between the two. But there is no such instrument nor can there ever be because the only detector that exists in the universe for this phenomenon is the personalized mind. But there is yet another reason why such a subtraction would not be possible. Human mind, mind capable of detecting value, is always personalized. Value detection (or its potential) appears to be the necessary and sufficient condition for the immediate awarding of personalized status. This is another one of the reasons for the phenomenon’s epistemological transparency. We cannot have even a memory of a time when our consciousness was not personalized.
I think the quality of changelessness has something to do with our special relation to time. Humans alone among the animals can project purpose into the future as such. There are examples of what appears to be such capacity among the animals; squirrels storing nuts in the fall to eat in the winter come to mind. But I question whether the squirrel is projecting a purposeful self into a future time or merely following biological imperatives at any given time-of-year. Humans uncontroversially project themselves, their “I” into the future and choose courses (in the present) to affect that future as such. If I am a competent architect with many successful projects, I do confidently project myself, that is the same self that today begins a new project into a future time when that project will stand completed. Of course I understand that contingencies beyond my control might block the future I envision. My present choices do not determine that future, but much experience supports our confidence that we can, under most circumstances, bring about that which we project and that the same “I” will own the completed project in the future as now takes ownership of its beginning.
Many people tell me that their identity is not changeless. They look back and remember themselves as much younger people and declare that, of course they have changed since then! But when I point out that they also remember being the person who was once “that way”, the person who owned those differences at an earlier time they admit that this is so, but attribute this seeming merely to memory. This is not correct. They, along with most others confuse character with personality. Yes, their character has changed, and yes, they remember their old character. But they are also aware that a single entity has been present throughout those changes, an entity that owns and is responsible for them all. That entity is the person.
The problem here is that memories are, as it were, complicit in our sense of identity because even that sense is had in and through consciousness. Personality is the reason the identity is changeless, but it is that plus memories that constitute the sense of identity. That memories are not the sole source of our identity becomes plausible when one considers that even in normally-minded people there are wide gaps (years perhaps) in memories of early childhood, and yet we retain the sense of ownership over all of them. Even when my memories of some particular event completely disappear, for example as concerns my very young childhood of which few memories remain, there is nothing in my experience to suggest that I was literally a different person at that time. We have a very strong intuition that in that past we were still the same self as we are today even if everything about that self, memories, character, etc, have changed. But memories are important to our integrated mind/person sense of self. Without them, the personality has no purchase on what, exactly, it is a changeless core of…
— Free will
Of the three fundamental qualities personality makes possible in consciousness, libertarian free will is the most difficult to unpack. What is most significant about it is its causal-capacity and that this efficacy is purpose-driven. Its freedom is exhibited in being a purposeful original cause. As concerns the material universe, physics long ago abandoned talk of purpose, and only a short time later abandoned causality as well. This is not to say that physicists don’t use the word cause in ordinary speech but as concerns the strict doing of physics they notice that the mechanisms of the physical universe are purposeless. What we see when observing the cosmos (and any physical process-subset of it) are behavioral regularities described by natural law. Notice we do not talk any more of the laws causing the behavior, or even controlling it. The behavior merely happens, and it also merely happens that its regularity can be described mathematically.
Clearly we can do this in physics. Even as concerns the behavior of higher animals, we can comfortably get away with saying that it is us, human beings, that impute purposes (and causal efficacy) to what appear to be choices freely made. The hunting behavior of a lion appears to be purposeful. Certainly we believe there is a “what it is like to be” experience that belongs to a lioness as she hunts and clearly selects from the various pragmatic alternatives present in her consciousness. But it is not at all clear that a lioness’ decision is “a cause” or “the cause” of its having choosen a particular zebra to charge. Perhaps’s the lioness’ action is nothing more than unfolding purposeless mechanism in this case described by natural law covering lion-biology.
While causal-purposefulness might be controversial in lions, it does not appear to be so in human beings. Among the contents of our consciousness are our purposes, our intentions, and these appear to us to be directly causal. I do not impute purpose to myself or to you as I might to a lioness. I experience the fact of my having purposes directly. I have a yard with no shade and in the middle of that yard I would like to arrange for some shade some years from now so I plant a tree. This is not like physics. My desire for shade, my formulation of a strategy to produce it, and my action in relation to that strategy, are not merely the unfolding of purposeless physics described by natural law, they are also, at least in part, the result of my having a purpose formulated and elected, owned, by my-self. It is because of that purpose that I act. Of course the act itself, the physical planting of the tree, is physical and it is this physical association to which physicists point. But apart from what ever neuronal processes go on in my brain, that purpose, as such, is a cause.
Subjectively, we have a natural and intuitive sense that it is (or was) our will that did, strictly speaking, initiate the physical act. Whatever particular strategy I have chosen, and however I elect to physically carry it out (driving to my local garden center, buying a small tree, digging a hole in my yard, planting, watering, etc) my actions are caused to happen by me for a purpose. This sort of cause is original and that is what separates it from the unfolding of the cosmos whose particulars at any given moment depend only on what was the case in the prior moment. As concerns a purpose freely elected there was literally nothing in the state-of-the-universe, prior to that purpose becoming a part of the content of my consciousness in conjunction with my choice to attempt its fulfillment.
This is worth emphasizing. There are no causes in fundamental physics because every state of the universe can be traced back to every prior state through to the big bang. But in the human case (at least if not in a more limited way for animals) there is no relevant prior state in the past of the decision, the choice, to be traced. But surely there are prior influences? My history, my up-bringing, my beliefs, etc. do indeed influence my choices and perhaps make one choice or a narrow range of choices more probable than some other. Yet the probability of my choosing some one particular alternative is not a determination of that alternative. The choice itself, the personal decision, is both causal and original. Causal because its occurrence is sufficient to bring about an event in the physical world — my acting to fulfill a purpose. Original because, although influenced by the prior-state of the universe (in this case my life and the physical circumstances surrounding the decision) it is not determined by that prior state. It is free because under most circumstances the choice not to do that, or anything, was actually open to me. The volitionally-predicated act amounts to the injection of a novel chain of unfolding regularity in the physical universe, a chain that had no starting point prior to the decision both necessary and sufficient to fix its beginning in time.
Even if “causal talk” is naieve or inappropriate as concerns physics it isn’t inappropriate as concerns the free will exercised by personality. Personality is a true cause in the strict sense because it has the power to initiate causal chains having no prior cause. Although personality-based free will is beset by prior influences, none of them, even taken together, is sufficient to account for all the causal contributors to the personal decision. Even if all prior contributions could be enumerated we would always discover a non-prior influence, the one whose presence along with the others suffices to initiate the act. Although the degree of originality in any given free-willed decision might be minor, it is nevertheless present and supplies the sufficient condition for the initiation of the novel causal chain. To be sure we can speak of that chain’s subsequent unfolding as nothing more than the reliable behavior of physical systems (setting aside for a moment the impact of the decisions of others) described by physical law. But the initial event of that unfolding, in this case, was the uncaused (that is undetermined by the prior state of the universe) decision of a personalized consciousness.
How is it that personality embodies this power to be not only original cause, but purpose-directed cause where the purpose itself is freely chosen by the causal agent? Animal freedom (one can argue for it) is limited to the act itself. The lion’s purpose is [perhaps] imputed by us and in the lion is no more than the constraints of its biology. But humans, persons, not only exhibit freedom to act, they also possess the freedom to select their purposes; purposes that are genuinely purposeful and not imputed to ourselves by ourselves. Physics cannot be the source of this capacity. Physics is a source of randomness and that is perhaps what provides room for a volitional act to generate something unique. Given the right conditions a lump of clay might morph itself (over time) into the form of The Thinker. This is possible (however unlikely) because taking the form of The Thinker is an open future possibility for the clay no matter by what means it is brought about. But humans can choose, select, or more appropriately elect to create that form from out of the total potential the lump has.
The statue’s appearance then is no longer a mere contingency. It didn’t merely happen as one possibility out of many by accident, but was projected into the future by purposes elected in some present. An event is no longer purely contingent if, in its past, something purposefully acted to bring it about. Of course some contingency remains. The sculptor might not have the skill to execute precisely her vision, or perhaps she is hit by a bus before completing the project. But under normal circumstances, not only is much contingency removed, but our causal chains come to shape the future in ways that a naturally unfolding contingency is unlikely to do.
The future has been open since the big bang but not until consciousness comes along is there something in the universe that can take advantage of its openness. Not until personalized consciousness comes along is there something in the universe that can freely elect purposes with which to direct action; to constrain the future and shape novel outcomes that are the end-products of those purposes plus our skills in acting to fulfill them.
This sort of freedom cannot come from physics. It has only one source, that being a “free God” who chooses to exercise his power (via mechanisms unknown) to share that freedom with living and conscious entities inside the physical universe. God is the original cause. We, being persons (“after his image”), are also original cause albeit constrained in action within the timespace universe and the bodies we control. Notice also that while our acts are constrained both by the scope of our creativity (mind) and the physical universe in which our bodies are embedded, our purposes are constrained only by mind! Our freedom as concerns purposes, though not unlimited in any sense, is far more expansive than our freedom of action.
How does the connection between the personality’s power of libertarian free will and the body work? How does a non-material addition to a non-material phenomenon (mind) cause an event in a physical brain? The answer is it does not. Personality is not a cause in the physical, but a cause only in and to non-material mind. Remember mind is a non-material emergent phenomenon stemming from an interaction between Cosmic Mind and material brains. It has a connection to its physical root (brain) and non-physical root, Cosmic Mind. Personality is a cause in mind, in subjective consciousness. That effect, in mind, has causal impact on the brain thanks to mind’s connection to both sides. Here is where the “interaction problem” lies, a subject I tackle in more detail (and do not resolve) in my books. But there is no interaction problem between the non-material subjective mind and the person. Both are non-material, and personality is given the power to be just that cause.
The metaphysical inference
Neither of the three contributions of personality to consciousness appear to exist in animal consciousness. If consciousness is an emergent combination of brain resonances and Cosmic Mind, personality is a further information imposition on that consciousness. From our viewpoint, it all just looks like consciousness. Only God knows what part of our phenomenally unified consciousness is “the person”. That explains personality’s “epistemological transparency”.
Constancy is nowhere to be found in the physical universe except in personality. That constancy is personality’s distinguishing passive characteristic. Changelessness in time, in turn, sets up our capacity to understand the relation between past, present, and future. Our present experience has a fixed point of temporal reference in the past that permits projection into the future. Animals have only the present and memories. It isn’t clear that their memories engender any intellectual sense of an abstract past in animal experience, but clearly we have one.
Self-consciousness is a property of the relation between personality and consciousness. Personality provides the contrast, the transcendence, needed to reflexively examine our own consciousness. What we find in that examination is of course partly the person indistinguishably (from the subjective) fused with the consciousness being examined. But that we have this recursive ability at all can only be because something about the fused entity transcends consciousness simpliciter. Changes in the content of consciousness of all kinds can be viewed abstractly thanks (in part at least) to the contrast generated by personality’s constancy.
Finally libertarian free will is personality’s distinguishing active power. Persons are free to become purposeful original-causal agents in an otherwise deterministic-random universe because God has that power absolutely. Our freedom is limited, but within the constraints of time, space, and the capacities of human mind it is genuine nevertheless. Yet again as with changeless identity and self-consciousness, as we experience the exercise of our will (both electing purposes and acting to fulfill them), we experience only the activities of consciousness. The closest we come to experiencing personality itself is our awarness that, subjectively, we (the changeless agent-identity) own (are the starting point for) our free willed decisions.
Personality therefore belongs in our ontology. It must be real even though we cannot identify it directly and it must come from God because he is the only source of both changelessness and freedom. It is transparent, in the final analysis, because nothing transcends it in subjective experience. Personality permits mind to recursively examine itself, but there is nothing further to provide contrast to personality — and this puts paid to the homunculus problem. We experience it within the fused whole of our consciousness.
In a wider theological context there is more to be said about personality, but that “more” has nothing to do with our present [phenomenal] experience of the phenomenon. I will discuss it in another essay.