I recently held a seminar on the subject of Free Will. The main point I tried to get across was that if the mind is produced by the brain (or that the mind somehow is the functioning of the brain), then free will is impossible. Others have of course come to the same conclusion, for example Sam Harris in his blog. But since free will seems to be necessary to make sense of almost anything that humans do - hold each other accountable for our acts, for example - maybe we have to accept that there is something irreducible and nonmaterial to consciousness. This to me seem rather obvious. If the brain, which is a material thing ruled by material laws of cause and effect produces consciousness, then how can this consciousness be in any meaning free? Daniel Dennet, for example says: "There is only one sort of stuff, namely matter — the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology — and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon. In short, the mind is the brain ... we can (in principle!) account for every mental phenomenon using the same physical principles, laws, and raw materials that suffice to explain radioactivity, continental drift, photosynthesis, reproduction, nutrition, and growth."
And again Steven Pinker: "The mind is a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors.”
One of the participants said that he didn't see any contradiction between the notion that the mind is the brain, (or that the brain "produces" the mind), and the notion of free will. He suggested that even though material processes are determined by strict cause and effect, there is also randomness at work - random fluctuations on a quantum scale as well as macroscopic randomness of complex systems (as theorized in chaos theory).
But this, to me, seems more to confuse than clarify the matter. Will is purposeful and intentional and therefore the very antithesis to randomness. And Free (in "free will") means unrestrained and is therefore an opposite of determined. All physical processes are seemingly a mix of random and determined, but how such a mix can give both freedom and will is beyond at least my ability to reason. Wether it is a predetermined chain of physical events in my brain or if it's a random release of chemicals in the brain, that forces me to choose tomatoe soup rather than mushroom soup in the supermarket, doesn't seem to matter. Both alternatives leaves me and my intentions out of the picture.
And it also seems to me that there is something suspiscious to locate intentionality in the physical realm. If somenone tells me that this house or this forest (or this car or this computer for that matter) has ill intentions, I would believe the person saying this to be somewhat deluded. Because mental states do not have locations. Places don't have intentions. But if someone says that free will is located in the prefrontal cortex it's suddenly ok? It sounds like animism to me.