This week’s Nature magazine (14 May 2009) has an essay on free will by Martin Heisenberg (son of Werner), chair of the University of Wurzburg’s genetics and neurobiology section of their BioCenter.
Since the indeterminacy principle was his father’s work, the comment that the physical universe is no longer determined and that nature is inherently unpredictable comes as no surprise.
What is unusual is that Heisenberg finds evidence of free behavior in animals, including some very simple ones such as Drosophila, on which he is a world expert.
"the activation of behavioural modules is based on the interplay between chance and lawfulness in the brain. Insufficiently equipped, insufficiently informed and short of time, animals have to find a module that is adaptive. Their brains, in a kind of random walk, continuously preactivate, discard and reconfigure their options, and evaluate their possible short-term and long-term consequences.
"The physiology of how this happens has been little investigated. But there is plenty of evidence that an animal’s behaviour cannot be reduced to responses. For example, my lab has demonstrated that fruit flies, in situations they have never encountered, can modify their expectations about the consequences of their actions. They can solve problems that no individual fly in the evolutionary history of the species has solved before. Our experiments show that they actively initiate behaviour."
When you combine some randomness with some "lawful" (read evolved and adequately determined) behaviors you get something like free will.
This is more or less exactly my work of the last few decades. Free will is a two-stage process.
First there is a random generation of alternative possibilities, some of which may be truly creative in the sense that they are new information in the universe.
Then an adequately determined will selects, from among these possibilities, the one best suited to one’s character and values, along with one’s current desires.
First free, then will.
It is not that the will is free in the sense of random. The will is determining and adequately determined.
Several other philosophers and scientists have had something close to this idea since William James in 1884, including Henri Poincaré, Arthur Holly Compton, A.O. Gomes, Karl Popper, Henry Margenau, Daniel Dennett, Robert Kane, and Alfred Mele.
For more details, you might want to look at a few of the web pages on informationphilosopher.com.
There you will find web pages on the above thinkers and over one hundred others who have considered the problem of free will, including several gardeners.
I am working on a history of the free will problem here (a very long page).
Here is my version of the two-stage model (a much shorter page).
Compare the standard argument against free will, which separately attacks randomness and strict determinism. Taken together, randomness and adequate determinism suggest that many compatibilists might consider a merely adequate compatibilism?