Free-Will, the Concept and Aliens
For this piece I am entirely indebted to the great, even divine, Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher so great but neglected that he rivals his true master Plato.
I assume, perhaps problematically, that free will exists. I, however, see no problem myself. It is too self-evident from my own perspective that I am the master of my life, even given the infinite chain of causes beyond myself that determine the substance of my daily life. No matter how deterministic or probabilistic the universe, I can decide to take action in a peculiarly Adam-fashion which in no way follows strictly from the burdensome external world.
So I will now elaborate on the philosophical underpinnings of free will. Free will itself is a transcendental faculty beyond space and time. The essence of free will is possibility. I am only free to make decisions if I have different options from which to choose. In the negative, one is a slave to nature if I only have one choice at any given time. Animals beneath us exhibit this trait. But why, you may ask, is free will transcendental in the first place?
What separates humans from animals is the existence of abstract cognitions, or the reality of the concept. It is with these abstractions that I may recall, reflect and plan ie navigate the past, present and future. Combine this with memory or an ability to keep concepts within the mind and you have the ability to reconstruct the ever changing world around us into principles and general axioms.
Schopenhauer makes a clear distinction between understanding and reason. What I have elaborated is his conception of reason. Understanding is universally held from the lowest plant to the highest prophet. Understanding is the immediate perception of cause and effect. Reason is the use of abstract cognitions. It is for this reason animals can navigate the world and interact with it but to a far diminished extent.
But where do abstract cognitions come from? How are humans accessing the ideal part of the universe? Self-consciousness or an ability to see oneself, to know oneself, to investigate the inner essence of the universe, allows us to see the constructed nature of the universe. That is, what we are made of, reason itself, permeates every aspect of the universe.
As to how we are doing this, or how we did it first, beating out every species on earth is a mystery. From a naturalistic perspective evolution would explain the quantum leap of consciousness. But that fails to explain why other species haven’t developed to the same extent. From a mystical standpoint perhaps God himself gifted humans with this consciousness, a version of events that would accord with the Biblical story of God breathing (read giving divine consciousness) life into Adam. And if it were according to this mystical interpretation, we must say that free-will still arose out of a naturalistic method, i.e. there must be a science to giving free will to creatures with lower intelligence.
I tend to think a version of events that combines the two. Evolutionarily humans reached a stage in their development where self-consciousness, and hence access to the world of concepts, materialized. But there is a qualitative difference between accessing the Forms of Mathematics and Logic and the highest type of knowledge which is knowledge of the Lord. Adam, whether he was real or not, represents the first person who knew the creator of the universe, and indeed all universes.
Another digression I would add. Since the Forms are eternal and universal we may state that alien worlds will look very similar to our own, provided they are in the same stage of development. Aliens will develop their own mathematics ( hilariously depicted in Rick and Morty by a parallel earth filled with sentient snakes), their own systems of logic and science. And what’s more they will have their own religions. The universe most probably does look a lot like Star Trek’s depiction of multicultural and multi-species collaborating, or fighting, together.
The universe is created according to an ideal, unchanging blueprint. The Jewish sages in their typical wisdom, and perhaps arrogance, stated as much when they said that God looked through the Torah and created the world. And once a species reaches sentience, they are exposed to the same eternal truths and axioms.
Therefore human life, society and culture is a particular expression and hence a good reflection of the universe’s other sentient creatures. Love, tragedy, war, death, birth, sex, money, power all will appear in other alien society’s in a way very familiar to us.
Or as a friend morosely and pessimistically put it, earth is probably a reality tv show for aliens. I guess we just have to wait until we have the technology to watch other aliens to enjoy the same feelings sentience creatures have to watching each other.