The Open Mind

Cogito Ergo Sum

The illusion of free will

with 3 comments

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again.  There is no way that we can have free will.  I do believe that we have an illusion of free will, but nothing more than an illusion.  With adequate physical determinism as well as quantum randomness as underlying attributes of our universe, there is simply no room to compatibilize a concept of free will.  It seems to me that the majority of people trying to hang on to this free will dream are those people who have religious beliefs which depend on its existence.  Even if mounds of evidence that negate free will are right in front of them, they continue to ignore it for the purposes of maintaining their religious identity.  In all fairness, I did the same thing when I was a Christian in the past.  After all, free will is the bread and butter of any religion involving some ridiculous precept of good and evil, reward and punishment, right and wrong, etc. If you negate free will, the religion as it currently stands goes down the toilet.

If people are merely products of their genes and environment, then we have no choice but to do what we’ve been programmed to do by our parents, teachers, ministers, politicians, television shows, books, etc.  We may feel that we’re doing what we want to do, but if our wants are mediated by our position in a causal chain (where we were born, where we grew up, who our parents were, how we were raised, our experiences, etc.), then we had no choice but to want what we were programmed to want.

Anyone that says that quantum uncertainty provides some wiggle room for free will is also sorely mistaken.  Our uncertainty in the quantum realm relies on two possibilities (or a mixture of the two): either everything in the quantum realm is 100% determined but appears to be random to us, or everything in the quantum realm is random.  In either case, it is out of our control.  So once again, there is no room for free will.

The fact that our faculties of reason and logic depend on causality and thus determinism, illustrates why one must abandon these very faculties if they are to preserve a belief in free will.  The trouble is that even many religious followers that believe in free will are explicitly using reason and logic in their everyday lives (just not all of the time).  Even if they are reading scripture, they no doubt reflect on what they’ve read, and analyze it in one way or another with the mental faculties they possess.  How they reconcile this paradox is beyond me (I think it was mainly “reason” that nudged me over the religious fence years ago).

I manage to appreciate the beauty in the universe, as well as the fact that I’m able to have a human experience filled with love.  I am able to find purpose in life and do not think that it is all meaningless, despite my acceptance of illusionism.  I didn’t even have a choice but to write this post.  Poop!  I had no choice but to write “Poop!” even though it may seem incredibly irrelevant to this topic.  I felt that I had a choice, but whatever I decide to do or not do is a result of mental decision making based on what I’ve been taught (consciously or unconsciously).  I may even delete something I write because my programmed decision making prompts me to do so for whatever the reason.  Is chocolate my favorite ice cream flavor?  Or is it vanilla?  Do I have a choice here?  Nope.  It’s chocolate.  Does anyone have a choice over their likes and dislikes?  If not, then why do people think that their opinions, values or actions are any different.  Any opinion or value you have is a result of something or someone else, even if you forget that fact during your actions.

I am a product of my genes and environment.  I am a link in a causal chain and/or a result of chance.  Bring on the causes and the chance baby!  It’s all a part of life.  Peace and love!

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Written by Lage

July 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I have a question for you as I have no formal training in philosophy. I agree with the absence of free will. However, how does that relate to determinism? Are you referring to causality?

    npresa

    November 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    • Npresa,

      “I agree with the absence of free will. However, how does that relate to determinism? Are you referring to causality?”

      Yes. Causality implies that every event has a cause and is a cause for other events. If our temporal existence is a result of pre-determined events starting with the “Big Bang” (or prior to this), then there was no alternative path that could have been taken (i.e. there was no classical free will to change any outcome in our lives or anyone else’s). Basically, if determinism is an ontological property of the universe, then there is no room for free will. Likewise, if any degree of fundamental quantum randomness is an ontological property of the universe and not just a result of epistemological limitations, there is still no room for free will. Basically, classical free will is screwed either way, because determinism and randomness are both out of our control. The one stipulation I’ll make is that quantum randomness (if an ontological property) would eliminate complete determinism and thus imply that the causal path we take is unique in the sense that if we rewound the universe and “started over”, a different result would precipitate even with the same initial conditions. We’d still have no free will, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

      Lage

      November 19, 2012 at 9:32 am

      • This is make everyone aware of the new book on Free Will called ” The Great Illusion: The Myth of Free Will, Consciousness and the Self” published by Science Literacy Books and distributed by Chicago Press. The book is endorsed by the celebrated Noam Chomsky

        paul singh

        March 27, 2016 at 5:48 pm


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