"I think therefore I am." Descarte's most basic tenet of free will. But how "free" is it?The more I study this and make observations of the people around me, the more I am convinced that free will is nothing more than an illusion.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke.
Now let me rephrase Clarke's third law in context of this discussion:
"Any sufficiently complex memoryplex is indistinguishable from free will."
Note the phrase memoryplex, not memeplex. I'm referring here to our collective memories from the earliest retained memory right up to this instant. That instant has now passed (a few milliseconds ago) and as you continue to read, those instants are similarly passing into your collective memoryplex.
If our decisions are based on what we know (assuming that we're not mentally ill) and what we know is the memories we have formed, then free will simply isn't.
I've thought about this for some time now and I'm only summarising here, but if this is correct, it has frightening implications. For instance, what you've just read, based on what you already know, has influenced you - and you have no choice in what you're about to do: reply, ignore, digest, etc... everything is based on your experience to date plus this last few dozen words of argument.
So how "free" is your will?
Michael wrote: "If randomness existed, basic epistemology would fail..."
I would say it doesn't fail too much because we are practically always dealing with stable systems, whose average properties change only little when there's a small perturbation. I'm personally comfortable to think that when we go beyond this realm, we have true randomness and that the causation in the strict sense of the word doesn't extend to extremely long time scales. In the pencil example, when a specialist would have balanced out all the other known influences, this "quantum factor" would boil down to some random asymmetry in the incoming or outgoing photons.
Michael wrote: "You also seem to equate complexity and randomness."
It's true that I wasn't very precise with what I meant by randomness.
I was thinking that most of the time the brain operation is based on memory and sensory input and all the other factors can be labelled as randomness. These other factors probably vary over time in a way that can't be relied on in the decision making process and which probably don't play any role unless the memory and the sensory input are not enough to yield a decision. So in the end I pretty much agree with you - practically speaking all these factors are causal from the physics perspective and even if they weren't, it wouldn't really make much difference.
Human memory is frail and perception is poor and unreliable - the simplest example I can recall is the Chinese Whispers game as played by children.
If we can't carry an accurate message over just a few generations how can we expect to recall anything with accuracy.... this, in essence is the human condition. (And I love it!)