Freedom as a Natural Phenomenon

Foundations of Science 20 (3):1-10 (2015)
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“Freedom” is a phenomenon in the natural world. This phenomenon—and indirectly the question of free will—is explored using a variety of systems-theoretic ideas. It is argued that freedom can emerge only in systems that are partially determined and partially random, and that freedom is a matter of degree. The paper considers types of freedom and their conditions of possibility in simple living systems and in complex living systems that have modeling subsystems. In simple living systems, types of freedom include independence from fixed materiality, internal rather than external determination, activeness that is unblocked and holistic, and the capacity to choose or alter environmental constraint. In complex living systems, there is freedom in satisfaction of lower level needs that allows higher potentials to be realized. Several types of freedom also manifest in the modeling subsystems of these complex systems: in the transcending of automatism in subjective experience, in reason as instrument for passion yet also in reason ruling over passion, in independence from informational colonization by the environment, and in mobility of attention. Considering the wide range of freedoms in simple and complex living systems allows a panoramic view of this diverse and important natural phenomenon.

Author's Profile

Martin Zwick
Portland State University


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