How Freedom Became the Fable of "Free Will"

1.     In high-school, I read Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols or, How One Philosophizes with a Hammer (Portable Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann trans., 1954). At that time, I was a nascent electrical engineer, absorbed in building a computer from salvaged pinball machine parts. Nietzsche was a bedtime diversion. Adapting the teachings of the book to an engineering style, I decided that I would name my own version " one philosophizes with a soldering iron."

One argument of Nietzsche's is "How the 'True World' Finally Became a Fable." According to Nietzsche, the "True World" and the "apparent world" are delusions and should be abolished. He did not, however, suggest a replacement. In my later years, for that purpose, I have constructed an actual world that is based on muscular movements and related bodily feelings. Human beings share a common anatomical design and a common repertoire of muscular movements — what I call the body — and we all occupy "the same" actual world that is made up of muscular movements and material objects that engage muscles, e.g., when driving a car in traffic. In contrast, people disagree about sensory perceptions, "apparent worlds" and the "True World." Our bodies establish a common and solid actual foundation for shared knowledge and society notwithstanding uncertainties or disputes about higher levels of mental construction.

2.     I suggest that freedom is part of the common actual world that depends on muscular movements and related bodily feelings. Animal bodies move on their own and exercise freedom on their own regardless of involvement of a "mind" or of "images" (which make up contents of a mind). In other words, the capacities for movement of an animal body and many of its actual movements are prior to and independent of mind or images, should they occur. My formulation of a bodily or physical principle of freedom is: during an exercise of freedom, two or more possible movements change into a single actual movement. Images or minds are not essential to freedom, but bodily movements are essential to freedom. Layered constructions of freedom incorporate multiple kinds of freedom, including emotional and mental freedom, but the physical principle is foundational.

The formulation applies to a game like checkers where a player has multiple possible moves but makes a single move. It also applies to a game of "tag," where one child – "it" – chases another child to try to touch and turn into "it." Sometimes, "it" has more than one likely target; then, two or more possible targets turn into actual pursuit of one particular target. The formulation similarly applies to activities of animal predation in the wild that, like tag, encourage development of freedom.

In other words, wild animals with larger repertoires of movements and greater capacities for selecting and combining movements are more likely to reproduce and rear their young than animals with smaller repertoires and lesser capacities. For example, male birds often compete for female mates by displays of aggression or prowess in song or by showing off skills of construction (e.g., bower birds). In other words, freedom is useful for survival and reproduction in the wild. More freedom is achieved by adding new movements to the repertoire and by development of: greater complexity of coordination; capacities for faster and slower movements; inhibitory signals that prevent futile movements and sharpen effective movements; and movements guided by imagery of memories, forms, intentions and plans.

I suggest that, at its roots, freedom operates through bodily movements and does not depend on mental images such as "will." This is not the end of the story and mental images are thereafter combined with movements. Indeed, mental images and activity enlarge bodily freedom and help a person to devise new forms of bodily freedom, e.g., in playing sports and musical instruments. Such mental operations involved in actual exercises of freedom are dependent on the body for their content. Such mental operations can also be developed and expressed on their own and for their own sake through multiple means, e.g., training and discipline, symbolic expressions, ends and means, visions and fantasies, absorption (mental love of the activity) and, yes, "will," giving the word "will" any meaning that is desired, such as extra efforts, strength of character, duty, defiance, infantile stubbornness or Schopenhauerian compulsion. Freedom, based in the body, has a core that is indifferent to mental operations and to mental labeling. Mental operations, however, are not bound by bodily constraints and makes demands upon the body. The body learns to comply and its freedom becomes a tool of mental operations, in which bodily movements are made to fit mental forms. Hegemonic minds exercise their own freedoms but would limit bodies to a robotic repertoire such as entering keystrokes into a document being processed by a computer. It is when freedom is imputed to minds detached from bodies that delusions set in; and, then, actual bodily freedom is turned into a fable of mental "free will."


Copyright © 2015 Robert Kovsky
Creative Commons Attrib-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License