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Do we have a self (ego, soul, actor, etc.) that exhibits free will?

After doing a little studying on ego and bundle theories of self, I have come up with two arguments on these topics.

The first argument is pretty simple and supports ego theory of self:
All of my actions, decisions, and desires stem from a nonphysical "experiencer" inside of me. Therefore, I must have free will and I must have a self.

The second argument supports bundle theory:
All of my actions, decisions, and desires are the form of emergent properties of my brain which are manipulated by the environment. In this case, I do not have free will (since the environment is causing my actions and making decisions on my behalf) and thus, I can not have a self.

Which of these arguments do you agree with more and why?

Could these arguments be more refined to give a better understanding of the self and free will?

What might be a more sound argument regarding this issue?


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  • Apr 21 2013: Hi Paul,
    I think it is worth considering the process of choice. It seems to me that choice involves the presentation of alternatives and then the weighing of these against criteria. This is an orderly process that can be replicated by a computer.

    The choices people make can sometimes seem mysterious because the criteria against which they are made are not known, and sometimes the situation is so complex that we use strategy. When people habitually makes mistakes (or act according to strange criteria) we say they are irrational.

    It is my understanding that, when people decide, the neural process for initiating movement begins at the same time as the neural process for initiating language. Decisions are often underlined by affirming emotions so I would guess that the process for initiating the perception of emotion also begins at this time.

    Traditional philosophy has regarded thought and emotion as existent. These are what we perceive when we choose and so we misunderstand them as agents in the process of choice. Quite simply, traditional philosophy is wrong: thought and emotion are not existent, they are not entities, they are not agents. The correct way to express our experience is to say, for example, "I perceive an emotion" NOT "My emotion exists". The actual process of choice lies in brain mechanism and this we don't perceive because it would require further brain mechanism to do so.

    It should be clear from the above that the decider is the brain, it is the brain that initiates the action and initiates the communication of that action (if it so chooses). It may be possible to identify a module of the brain as the decider but this is where the identification of the decider ends.

    Free will is not an issue except to the extent that it captures the understanding that there are situations where it is ethical and important for others not to threaten consequences on an individual making a decision.

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