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Dr Dan Kuebler and Dr Stephen Barr on Purposeful Lab podcast
Purposeful UniverseAugust 5, 20231 min read

The Human Animal: Reason and Free Will

This episode of Purposeful Lab invites listeners to take a deep dive into the subject of consciousness with Dr. Stephen Barr, professor emeritus of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware. Dr. Barr is also the founder and president of the Society of Catholic Scientists and a leading Catholic voice on the interplay between faith and science. Dan speaks with Dr. Barr about free will, rationality, and how consciousness relates to, or perhaps defies, the laws of physics that govern the natural world.

Human Language and Rationality

Dan and Dr. Barr begin their discussion with the many differences between humans and other animals, tracing these differences to two powers unique to humans: reason and free will. This sparks a fascinating exploration of language and its critical role in human rationality. Beyond the animal world, human language and rationality are also remarkably distinct from the linguistic capabilities of computers and technology, which do not come from a place of self-awareness.

Consciousness and Quantum Mechanics

The distinctiveness of human consciousness and where it comes from is a mystery, but Dr. Barr sheds light on how the laws of physics fall short of explaining the phenomenon of consciousness. Additionally, he discusses how the non-deterministic nature of quantum mechanics is compatible with the concept of free will in rational beings.

Free Will and Determinism

Finally, Dan and Dr. Barr look at the argument against free will based on physical determinism. Dr. Barr offers compelling reasons why free will is separate from physics, and argues that there must be something beyond physics alone that explains the mystery of human consciousness.

Listen to Find Out:

  • What is the mystery of consciousness and rationality? (00:00:00)
  • How did human rationality emerge? (00:03:43)
  • What is the relationship between physics, quantum mechanics, and free will? (00:18:23)



Purposeful Universe

The Purposeful Universe seeks to explore and present, through award winning videos, the abundant order in nature that funnels biological systems toward increasing levels of complexity and sophistication—suggesting that human life is the purposeful outcome of a complex, ordered system.