The Two Faces of Prudence: The Phenomenology and Neuropsychology of Free Will
Perhaps the most brilliant defense of free will in 20th century philosophy is offered by Jean Paul Sartre in a chapter entitled "Being and Doing: Freedom" which comes toward the end of Being and Nothingness, his crucial and comprehensive treatise on phenomenological ontology. Here Sartre argues, through a description of the structures of human consciousness and its dynamics, that the human beings not only possess free will, but that freedom is an ontological fundamental of human existence and consciousness. More recently, an equally convincing argument for the existence of free will has emerged from the field of neuropsychiatry. In The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Jeffery M. Schwartz, M.D and Sharon Begley demonstrate that obsessive compulsive patients can alter their behavior and their brain structure by exercising a four-step cognitive-behavior intervention based on what they calls "mindful awareness." They further argue that the reality of free will evident here is best explained by recognizing that quantum mechanics forms the basis of the neurology of the human brain as opposed to the outmoded system of Newtonian physics which they suggests forms the underpinning of deterministic theories of brain function and psychology. This paper will explore the striking parallels that exist between Sartre's phenomenology and his concept of free will and Schwatz and Begley's more recent explanation of consciousness and free will in terms of a neuropsychology based in quantum mechanics. Beyond establishing points of similarity between these two parallel views of human consciousness and free will, the goal of this study is to provide scientific support for Sartre's philosophical defense of free will and to provide a philosophical confirmation of Schwatz and Begley's scientifically based understanding of human consciousness and freedom.
Keywords: Free will, Consciousness, Existentialism, Neuropsychology, Neuroplasticity, Quantum mechanics, Phenomenology, Ontology
Dr. Joseph Gerard Dreiss
Professor of Art History, Department of Art and Art History, University of Mary Washington