Life, agency, and the evolution of free will

How lifeless matter gained the power to choose

Traversing billions of years of evolution, Kevin Mitchell tells the remarkable story of how living beings capable of choice arose from lifeless matter. 


Across a billion years of Earth's history, life evolved the power to choose. Most things in the universe are caught up in the flow of physical causation around them but life doesn’t like to be pushed around. Life holds itself apart. First, living beings maintain a barrier with the outside world – this is what distinguishes them as entities. And second, they do work to keep themselves organised, and in doing so seem to resist the second law of thermodynamics.

Living organisms are thus causally insulated from the rest of the universe. They are buffered from the effects of all kinds of physical and chemical goings-on outside them, not pushed around by every passing potential cause. Instead, they become causes in their own right. Not merely as complex mechanisms, which you mig

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