12.7. Emergence and Free Will

Many complex systems have properties, as a whole, that their components do not:

These examples suggest an approach to several old and challenging questions, including the problems of consciousness and free will.

Free will is the ability to make choices, but if our bodies and brains are governed by deterministic physical laws, our choices are completely determined.

Philosophers and scientists have proposed many possible resolutions to this apparent conflict; for example:

These arguments reconcile the conflict in opposite ways, but they agree that there is a conflict: the system cannot have free will if the parts are deterministic.

The complex systems in this book suggest the alternative that free will, at the level of options and decisions, is compatible with determinism at the level of neurons (or some lower level). In the same way that a traffic jam moves backward while the cars move forward, a person can have free will even though neurons don’t.

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