In a non-lucid recurrent nightmare, I keep running away from a monster, screaming and frightened. These are conditioned behaviors: I am not really exercising free-will when I run away, I can't help it because I am so afraid. However, if I become lucid in the dream, I can CHOOSE to REACT DIFFERENTLY: instead of running away screaming (which I can still choose if I want), I can also choose to go against the conditioning and instead of running away, I can face the monster and hug it. To me, this is exercising free will instead of conditioned reaction: I could choose to keep running away, or to face the monster.
Another example, in a recurrent nightmare I keep strangling that elderly lady because I hate her. I can't help it because I am so enraged, and after she's dead, I feel so guilty. If I could become lucid in the dream, I might choose differently, and hug her in spite of my rage, instead of killing her (or talk to her and ask her why I hate her so much, etc...).
To extend the analogy: in real life, every choice I make is conditioned by my brain chemistry (e.g. if my neurotransmitters are low I'll be depressed and react negatively to everything), and/or by social conditioning, how I was raised, things I believe in, etc... So even though it feels like I am exercising free will when I choose to react one way or another, in fact I react out of conditioned response based on my brain chemistry and my mind programming (brain wiring, whatever). Now in my hypothesis, if there is an unconscious source of us, beyond the brain and the mind, let's call it soul/spirit, that is outside of matter and thus not subject to brain wiring and mind conditioning constraints, and if that soul/spirit 'becomes lucid' in real life, the human being might take decisions from that part of himself that is beyond the brain and mind, from the soul/spirit part (which normally we are unconscious of, just like a DC normally has no clue it is being dreamed by a real self), and in this way it is BYPASSING all the conditioning, brain wiring, brain chemistry, etc...
For example: someone might get out of the vicious cycle of depression, by recognizing at a higher level that there are unconscious thoughts that keep perpetuating: I hate myself so much, I'll never get better, everything hurts, etc... and then being able to exercise free will and CHOOSE to short-circuit these thoughts and CHOOSE to give myself a chance, and love myself no matter what, and allow myself to know that can get better. And see what happens.
In other words: What is free will? Maybe the ability to make a choice from a perspective beyond the conditionings?
I was daydreaming of a bumble bee today, and what choices it makes when deciding on a flower to land on or whether to zig left or zag right. It too makes choices, and can be predicted. Although a much simpler life form than us, it is still extremely complicated. They certainly seem robotic don't they in their behavior? We are no different, just more complex, and can't see the forest for the trees. You would have to literally think faster than your own thoughts to recognize it, which is a paradox.
Speaking of dreams I had a lucid one this morning. I saw a wall with shelves and many odd items on it, like a phone, fax machine, printer, and electronics like that all with a similar theme. I chose to look around and see what else was there, but I found nothing so I looked back. Now it was completely different! (Common for lucid dreams). Now it was filled with different food items, corn, raisins, apples, a package of cheese etc. (Still all with a common theme coincidentally, which is interesting for another topic).
I chose to turn my head and look elsewhere and back again, but I had no choice whatsoever what changed and filled those shelves so quickly. My sense of self identity and self awareness (lucid dreaming is like becoming self aware) made decisions, which I still think are coming subliminally under the radar so to speak, but after that experience it further reinforces my belief that our subconscious self is like a program with it's own agenda running in the background of our self aware selves.
Does your subconscious have free will? If not, why do you think 'you', a concept created by it, has free will either?
This can drive people nuts if they think about it too much. I don't live my life thinking I'm a robot, but only think about it from time to time when a question like this is posed and I'm in the mood. If we indeed have no free will, then just buckle up and enjoy the ride of life and feel confident about every decision you ever made without second guessing and putting yourself down! You can even change the program with positive thinking and make it a habit. Some good can come from this way of thinking, and improve everyone's lives
But that takes WILL POWER, not free will.
Lucidity is still a condition whilst dreaming which influences how the dreamer feels and subsequently behaves. There are occasions where the dreamer continues to run from the monster despite realising the true nature of what is perceived. In such DILDs, running away isn't much of a choice. It can even be argued that when one runs feeling threatened, one has no choice. (Or the individual feels like there is no choice but to run! Take your pick if you want to play with semantics.) However you describe it, it is still a conditioned behaviour stimulated by an extant irrational fear which can also exist in waking states and exert constraining power. In most oneiric cases, however, such fear which urges the dreamer to run is most prevalent before lucidity and during its incipience. With practice we may be able to mitigate the emergence of irrational fear in lucid dreams, and practice takes repetition! (Some oneironauts nail it quite quickly.)
The main point I'm making is that all behaviours are permissible insofar as the compatibility of the causal brain states manifests at the right time - something the sense of self does not control - in order to obtain a positive sensation and a strong illusion of free will. In other words, all behaviours are conditioned by feelings that can be described by the following adjectives which you cannot help but have (some desired, some unwanted): afraid; brave; happy; sad; angry; excited; euphoric etc.
The unknown can often incite fear in people. So can false belief, eg. you believe the dream to be really happening. But if you see through the illusion, then the reason for the illusion-based fear is likely to vanish because you have now stumbled upon a new perspective of clarity, i.e. you know you are dreaming and this causes you to feel playful. Knowledge influences behaviour and clarity is not control, it may only be conducive to the reinforcement of the illusion of such. Having attained lucidity in a dream, what you do next is then influenced by unconscious urges - just like any other state of consciousness - whether or not you happen to recall your plan of action that you devised before bedtime. All the scenarios presented here, so far, lack liberty propre. They merely spell out conditioned behaviours devoid of free will. The concept of free will can't even be defined coherently because it is so absurd.
If ordinary dreaming means NOT breathing, then lucid dreaming is breathing, and the latter, as you know, is a necessity (for there is only so far a person can inhale before feeling compelled to exhale). If you become lucid, turn around, and embrace the monstrous pursuer, it is only because the dream figure is observed in a different light which encourages a friendly approach. (Other areas of the brain are triggered.) But having done so, you may ask yourself why you didn't transform the monster into a delicious chocolate fountain. The answer is as follows: it didn't occur to you at the time. This reality is the source of quotidian exclamations such as, "Why didn't I do that," "I regret what I did," "I wish I had acted differently," "I lost a perfect opportunity."
The perceived freedom to ask a dream character why you feel hatred towards it (see, you don't even know where this comes from!) is an action which is also conditioned by a state of curiosity and concern preceded by a recurrent, stimulating nightmare of the non-lucid realm and of which you absolutely had no control over. This also reminds me: to say that dream characters don't have a clue about their origin (dreamed by us) is to imply that they are sentient beings, too. There is no evidence for this and observations that such mental forms transmute into inanimate objects strongly suggest the opposite. The dream world is merely representative of the mind and its information content. It is more likely that "dream matter" emulates things real and imagined.
Now, about your Cartesian hypothesis, Karin...
Sorry to break it to you but it has already been considered earlier in this thread. I did say that even the concept of a soul cannot salvage and coherently preserve free will. Presumably, a soul would also be swayed by feelings and thought processes whose origins would remain obscure and would beg the question of a metaphysical mechanism behind it. In other words, a soul would still perceive environmental events, feel something at the exposure, and subsequently act in influence. Anyway, I disbelieve in souls for the same reasons as Spinoza, Hobbes, Hume, and, ironically, the compatibilist Daniel Dennett. (One of the things I agree with Dennett is his view on consciousness derived from cognitive science.) But I won't go into my reasons rigorously so as to prevent divagation. I will only recommend Susan Blackmore's thesis on consciousness.
I wish to ram this home, though. Your hypothesis violates everything that has been observed so far in the field of neuroscience. Brain functionality, whether one likes it or not, dictates a person's conduct besides the presence or absence of consciousness and self-awareness. To reiterate, free choice is an illusion. You might egg yourself on to adopt a particular code of conduct "no matter what," but this is nothing but conditioned planning (whose success is measured by the strength of the urge and degree of motivation - do you feel motivated?) after having been exposed to unsatisfactory outcomes of the former behaviour that you were so accustomed to. Even resolutions based on learned lessons in life translate as conditioned behaviour, conduct influenced by memories and the mnemonic impact upon the rest of the cerebral cortices responsible for emotional states and caused intentionalities. Again, I pose the libertarian the question: Where is free will?
Here's a little something from biology I would like to point out in addition. Free will is in violation of the blind mechanism behind genes and their effects. Free will cannot withstand the reality of phenotypes in living things. The fact that our DNA, which carries "instructions" for how an organism should develop (that we are mostly unaware of as we go about our day-to-day lives) and play their role in evolution beyond our control, is another demonstration of free will not fitting in. If free will could be demonstrated, Darwinism wouldn't even take off.
Our molecules are simply arranged in more complicated patterns than non-living things - but rest assured that we had non-living simple beginnings, too! We may be warm, we may appear to possess some sort of "living spark" inside us, we may display erratic behaviour, we may even feel capricious at times, we may be very different from rocks - but, in reality, we are simply bundles of complex matter set in motion by natural selection. We - with our cellular factories containing proteins, amino acids, chromosomes, genes, and all - are really analogous to digital machines with sets of instructions that we did not select. The relationship between RNA and DNA inside cells and how they effect the rest of the organism really isn't that much different from that of a computer. We are dictated by our insides as well as impacted upon by the external world.
Free will is a persistent myth.
In fact, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I will either be alive tomorrow, or dead.
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
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― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
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