(Photo: Don Derosier) Free will. When I think say those two words to myself, I obediently recite the following conceptualization: my thoughts generate from a source, like a spark of self, and that spark is free to think however it wants. Then I ask: "What is the spark?" which leads me into spiritual/religious/scientific analysis about how to conceptualize myself as a spark.
Now, I know there are many ways that people conceptualize the self besides using a "spark" visualization, but I would like to point out that people do conceptualize the self as some kind of source, often within the body, from which thoughts pour outward. Some people designate that source as "free" and some designate that source as "determined"(somehow controlled to think in certain ways). From there, the debate becomes defining the source and then defining rules that the source does or does not abide by.
I chose to begin with this introduction, because I want to clearly establish that I do not subscribe to the conceptualization of self as a source. Instead, I conceptualize the self as body, and the mind as "self-generated sensory experience" (the senses subtly exercise to generate the process called "mind").
Therefore, for me, the discussion of free will takes a different form. I define the self as body. The body has limited knowledge of the world. Body perceives and experiences the world through the senses. Body exercises emotions, including "will," to interact with the world in a way that suits the body. "What suits the body" varies from moment to moment. Body continuously gathers sensory information occuring outside the body, continuously gathers inner sensory experiences, and continuously self generates its own sensory experience. And all of these processes exercise together (sometimes one more than the others) but the procedures rise and fall fluidly composing the rich sensory experience of body.
So if "will" is a body exercise, what is "free will?" I will discuss two ways to conceptualize "free will" within the context of body philosophy.
First, I want to focus on the felt experience of "will." "Will," at its most basic form, is a felt core muscle exercise. I'll give an example. After sitting in a chair for a long time, my legs get restless. The restless activity of my legs directly trigger core reflexes--coordinated felt reflex activity (head to pelvis). I get squirmy in the core. My core muscles want to move in reaction to the reflex activity that causes them to feel squirmy and uncomfortable. In response, the core muscles begin to contract. They want to exercise. It begins a process of mind, a process of self-generating sensory experience. Within this process, I begin to imagine how to change my state of being from sitting to something else. This imagination experience is a full body exercise. It begins as a subtle exercise of body senses (including core muscles) and eventually clarifies over time into stronger action. Eventually, this activity evolves into a strong core movement, in which the core muscles contract together to move the body out of the chair. I stand and walk around. That core muscle activity--beginning with core reflexes, then triggering self-generated sensory experience of the mind process, and eventually clarifying into a contraction strong enough to move a body out of a chair--is an exercise of "will." "Will" is a core muscle exercise and felt experience. In contrast, I don't conceptualize "will" as a microstructure process of the brain; rather it is a neuromuscular sensory process of the body that involves the active participation of the core muscles.
From this understanding of "will," I reason that "free will" describes an ability of the core muscles to exercise "will" when needed. How the core muscles need to move depends on their needs at that moment. The core muscles continuously try to move in ways that benefit them. Perhaps the core muscles need to cease an experience of overwhelming pain, or perhaps they require pain for exercise or sensation needs. Perhaps they need pleasure for rejuvenation and warmth, or need to cease pleasure for quiet and calm. Perhaps they need to cease quiet and calm to exercise in emotion to cry or laugh....You get the idea. The core muscles need to move in a variety of ways to maintain themselves. The exercise of "will" is part of a procedure of core muscles changing from one state of being to another. "Free will" describes the ability to exercise "will" when needed in order to change states of being within the core.
The second way I think about "free will" within the framework of body philosophy regards circumstances that inhibit people from exercising "will." These inhibiting circumstances include people who control others to the extent that the controlled people cannot exercise "will" of their own volition. Another example could be an inhibiting circumstance of life, an illness perhaps, that prevents a person from exercising "will" when needed.
When contemplating how to ethically structure society, I imagine a society that enables people to exercise "will" in a way that generally benefits the individual, and allows for the group to sustainably live. People should be empowered to exercise "will" flexibly and freely, sometimes robustly, sometimes in thought (self-generating sensory experience), as long as they are not disrupting the group so badly that the group is unable to exercise "will." I'm not saying it will always be fair and balanced, but when I look at society as it is now, I see great imbalances between groups of people--i.e. economic disparities between people, as well as power disparities between races and sexes. Many groups of people are being inhibited from exercising free will, so that others can exercise their own greedily and destructively. By conceptualizing humans as bodies and acknowledging that humans naturally exercise an innate process of "will" to maintain themselves as bodies, I want people to rethink society toward empowering people to exercise "will" toward their own well-being and their fulfillment.