What is the connection between consciousness and free-will?
Consciousness and free-will, if we’re interested in talking about those two things and what they mean to each other and how they’re connected; and consciousness and free-will are both logically necessary for each other to exist. In other words, consciousness cannot exist if there’s no free-will and free-will can’t exist if there’s no consciousness.
If you think about it what is consciousness? Consciousness is an awareness so it’s not only self aware but it’s aware of its environment. And what does awareness mean if nothing changes? What does awareness mean if there if we have determinism? See, awareness is a choice maker. Awareness is awareness for some reason. It’s not just aware and that’s it, that’s really not consciousness. You have to have a decision space.
My definition of consciousness is an awareness with a finite decision space. That is how I define consciousness. So consciousness has to be aware and it has to have choices, otherwise it’s not consciousness. Choices require time, so we might as well put time in, two times. Another one of these logical requirements. If you have choices then there must be time, because it was before the choice and after the choice. So if you can ever make a choice then you have to have time because you have a before and after you made the choice. So we need time as well.
So, if you can make choices… If you don’t have free-will, then there are no choices, there’s only “hallucinatory” choices. Maybe you only think you’re making choices but you’re not. But there are no choices, okay, if there is no free-will then choice is an illusion.
So, if indeed consciousness exists and can make choices, and if these choices we’re talking about are real choices – not just pretend choices – consciousness has a finite decision space. It’s aware. It makes choices because it makes choices then there must be free-will, otherwise there are no choices. You cannot make choices and you cannot actually even have awareness without time. You see, if you have an awareness – and there is no time – then every instant is exactly like every other instant. Whatever you were aware of in the first instant is the same thing you’re aware of in the second and the third and the fourth and whatever, because nothing can change; so nothing happens – it’s dead awareness. It’s dead awareness. It has nothing to be aware of because nothing’s changing, you see? Awareness means awareness of how things change, of how things interact, of what’s going on… That’s what awareness is about.
You know, self awareness – it’s just a piece of awareness, it’s just about it’s self. A larger awareness takes in also the environmental awareness. But it’s not just that there is an environment, but it’s how that environment changes and how that environment affects the awareness. It’s the interplay between the environment and the awareness is really what makes an awareness a real thing, otherwise it’s just an illusory awareness.
So we have real awareness and real consciousness making real choices and they’re doing this with real time. Okay, those three things logically have to exist for any of the other two to exist. If there’s no time, nothing changes. If there’s no change, there are no choices; and the awareness is a dead end, it never changes. It’s like looking at one photograph and never seeing anything else but that photograph ever. You see, nothing ever changes. Well, that’s not much awareness. It’s kind of a shadow of awareness maybe.
So awareness and time and free-will all need each other to exist. They’re all co-dependent, if you will. Okay? So that is the fundamental foundation of my model; that there is consciousness. That’s my assumption that I start with. So when you say the assumption is that consciousness exists; that assumption automatically brings into existence free-will and time.
Okay now the opposite of that… If we were to take the opposite viewpoint, that would be the viewpoint of materialism. With materialism you have determinism, and with determinism you can’t have change… Well, I guess that’s not true. You can have predetermined change, but you can’t have choice. There are no choices because everything is determined. Again, you can have an illusion of a choice but that’s not really a choice. So you can’t have choice if you have determinism. If you can’t have choice then there’s really nothing for consciousness to do since consciousness is the thing that’s aware and makes choices. So you can’t have consciousness either. So determinism then requires you to say that if determinism exists, then consciousness has to be an illusion, okay and free-will has to be an illusion. Whereas on the other side, if you say consciousness exists, well then determinism has to be an illusion and materialism has to be an illusion.
So these are two opposite philosophical viewpoints in a fundamental look at reality, at existence. Okay, so if we look at epistemology and we look at ontology – one is about knowledge, the other is about being – we see these are two different viewpoints that one can start with. But once you pick one, if you say consciousness exists, you also have to say free-will exists and time exists. And you also get things like change… evolution exists, things can change; consciousness can make choices and as it makes those choices it’s aware of the results of those choices and therefore it can make change, it can choose differently next time. There’s such a thing as growth. So you have evolution and growth and they go with consciousness, free-will and time. If you don’t start there but if you start in the other corner, then you have determinism.
Okay, now what determinism has to do with materialism is that if you believe in materialism you have to also believe in determinism, because the material world is what Newton called the “clockwork universe”; everything happens for a material cause. So if you just knew the state of things precisely, if you knew the the state of every particle and every place that that particle is, and if you knew this for everything – because it’s just a big clockwork – from there you could compute the future of anything, no matter how far out in front, because it’s all deterministic. The only reason that state B exists is because it’s a deterministic state from state A, you see? So it’s all a deterministic clockwork universe. It’s just a big machine. The machine is deterministic. If you turn this shaft one half a turn then this gear will rotate one turn and the gear that it’s in will rotate one and a half turns, and so on – and no matter how you do that it always works that way. It’s deterministic. So the idea that our reality is a big machine, which is the way people looked at it, philosophers looked at it after Newton – because it looked like there were these laws of nature that Newton had and everything had to act just like that – so it looked like it was a big machine.
So materialism requires determinism. You can’t be a materialist without also being a determinist. And if you’re a determinist you have to say that there is no such thing as time. Well, wait a minute. I back up on that. A determinist could say there’s things, it’s time, the big machine can go forward – but there is no free-will and there is no consciousness. So you could have a machine that is continually running, but the machine would have no purpose. That’s the problem with that deterministic route – there’s no purpose to it, there’s no function for it. It doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t do anything, it just is without purpose, without point, without reason. It just is the way it is; never changes, always is. There isn’t any surprises. There’s nothing new, there isn’t anything that can get off-script. So it’s basically purposeless.
On the other hand, if you go to the other corner, with free-will and consciousness making choices – now it’s open-ended and almost anything can happen, because the free-will can make different choices and grow and evolve and change. So now you have an open-ended thing that is self changing, ok, as opposed to just a dead thing that is just going by one step after the next step after the next in a deterministic way. So there is no point to that.
So anyway, MBT takes the first set of conditions: free-will, time and consciousness, okay – so that’s why we start there. Because otherwise, it’s a dead world with no meaning, no point, no output, no goal.