What is consciousness?

Consciousness is a philosophical and scientific axiom. It requires a brain. It is real but not material. It is our means of knowing reality (though existence is the primary axiom). The conceptual (rational) faculty builds on the material provided by the senses. Consciousness as a faculty includes the conscious mind and material stored in the subconscious, which can become conscious. Both aspects work together, with the conscious mind being active and the subconscious relatively passive. Reason is fallible and requires an epistemology and the choice to expend effort. Consciousness is our main means of survival and of human progress.

Edwin A. Locke, The Illusion of Determinism

This is a nice little summary of the objectivist view of consciousness and free will. I share this view, but I have to say that I still think that the term “free will” is misleading and redundant.

First: People tend to understand the word “free” in an anarchist kind of sense (just as the free-market economy is often understood as anarchism), as if the will was completely detached from existence, i.e. context-free. That this is not the case, and that this circumstance is no proof of determinism, is what Edwin Locke explains in the book quoted above.

Second: It is simply unnecessary to put the adjective “free” before the term “will.” Through our capacity for conceptual thinking, we are able to make choices, so, unlike animals, we can consciously choose between alternative actions. This constitutes our freedom, because we are not completely determined by causality.

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

But we have to consciously set and pursue goals based on a moral code. That’s our will. In other words: The will is free by definition, otherwise it would not be will.

This also raises the exciting question of whether AI can ever develop a consciousness without (free) will (if it is even possible to produce a consciousness or an awareness process with algorithms).

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