Do We Have Free Will?

It’s a question that man has pondered since the dawn of time, and has been the crux of philosophical debate for the past few millennia.

There are three main views that have been developed in an attempt to answer this ever-prevalent question:

1. Determinism

This is the view that, due to the causal laws of the universe, the fate of what happens is predetermined and always has been. But realistically, what does this mean?

Imagine you’re playing pool with a friend and you hit a ball with the cue. You’d, naturally, expect the ball to move. A cause has led to an effect; that is, the hitting of the ball with the cue has led to the effect of the ball moving. In the same sense, it can be said that the laws of the universe work in his way, but obviously on a much much more complex scale.

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It’s all very well to say this because it seems to make sense, but this view holds adverse implications. Firstly, since it can be said that every cause leads to an effect, we could say that, if we knew exactly all of the causes that occurred at any one point in the universe at any one point in time, we could predict the outcome of everything. Similarly, if we knew every cause and the way that this led to an effect, if we went to the first point in time when the universe had presumably just begun, we could predict very precisely every single outcome from the first second of the universe existing, to the last second of the universe existing (if it were to end). Now that’s a very heavy handed presumption. Put into context, I’d be able to predict the rest of my life without having lived it, purely on an understanding of the complex movements of atoms.

The second implication of determinism is that of morality: The philosopher Galen Strawson holds the view that since there is only one possible line of things that will happen, there is no such thing as free will. Since morality hinges on the idea of freedom of choice (I could harm someone but I choose not to since I consider it immoral), then there is no point in holding someone accountable for any action. Very complicated stuff. The ‘ought can distinction’ helps us understand this point. It makes sense to say to someone ‘you ought to wash the dishes,’ because it’s very much within their skill set and is something that they can’t do. However, we cannot say to someone ‘you ought to walk through that wall.’ It sounds absurd. In the same way, we cannot say ‘you ought to act morally’ if we were to accept the idea of determinism, since they do not have the free will to do so.

Determinism itself is a philosophical position, but it may be compared to theological beliefs like predestination and fatalism. Predestination posits that God has already decided our fates and that no matter what we do our fate has been decided (a view called Calvinism holds the same position but also claims that God can intervene to change our fates). Fatalism is considered more of a superstitious belief from a philosophical viewpoint; is is like predestination but replaces God with supernatural forces.

Throughout time there have been various interpretations of the concept of determinism. Aristotle, in the fourth century BC, claimed that in a sense every statement about the future is either true or false. It’s going to rain tomorrow. This may be true and it may be false. Simply, the validity of this statement has already been decided, so the weather tomorrow has been determined. Karl Marx believed in economic determinism and claims in some of his earlier writings that the actions and characteristics of individuals are determined based on their social and economic circumstances.

Bear in mind that these two philosophers posited determinism way before the modern view involving atoms, was developed.

Because of the implications that determinism carries, it has faced a lot of opposition. Arguments against it state that the idea outstrips the evidence available. The philosopher David Hume claimed that we cannot observe this causal link that determinism balances on, so there is no reason to believe it.

 

2. Libertarianism

The second viewpoint is called libertarianism, which is essentially a fancy word for the belief in free will. It stands exactly in contrast with determinism, so the two are incompatibilist theories (philosophers like to throw an ‘ism’ on the end of everything to make it seem fancy). The challenge with libertarianism is that it has to develop a strong argument against the very logical position of determinism. Because determinism relies on cause and effect, which is something irrefutable..unless you’re Hume, libertarianism starts from an unstable point. If none of my actions were caused by anything, then nothing would make sense. Think about it. I wouldn’t understand cause and effect. I wouldn’t understand that eating led to survival, or that walking led to me getting to a place. Nothing would work. So libertarians try to be more subtle with the idea of free will.

The renowned philosopher Descartes posited famously that there are two types of substance; anything with quantity (‘res extensa’) and anything without quantity, which is basically the mind (‘res cogitans’). Because he believed that the mind was in a realm not governed by the laws of space and time, it was not bound by deterministic causality. The mind is free to make choices, and the body in the real world just does it’s thing based on what the mind tells it. This avoids the problem of not having free will, so morality still makes sense? Problem solved, right? Not quite. There’re a bunch of flaws here. Firstly, how are the mind and body interacting? Descartes says it all happened in the pineal gland at the back of the head. Unfortunately, we now know that’s not even slightly true. The second problem is substantially larger: if the body is bound by causation then it doesn’t matter what the mind tells it..it’s just going to do what the external world leads it to do.

Not looking so good for libertarianism so far.

Luckily, the modern philosopher Robert Kane comes in to save the day. He uses the idea of quantum mechanics..as if you thought the article could only get simpler. Quantum mechanics at the crux of it claims that on the minutest level particle movement is random. This means that an event may happen, or it may not – it all depends on what the particles end up doing. This means that free will still exists because an event may or may not have happened. Yay for libertarianism. Almost, but no cigar. This doesn’t really pose a threat to determinism, because you could just argue that the way that the particles randomly moved was in accordance with deterministic laws, and you can’t prove otherwise.

Libertarianism is held by the majority of the earth’s populus, but looking through it it may seem less logically convincing than you would hope.

 

3. Compatibilism

What did I tell you about philosophers and their isms. As you can guess, compatibilism aims to find a common ground for the incompatiblist theories of determinism and libertarianism. There are two main philosophers who build up the crux of the argument.

Thomas Hobbes believed that the only things that prevent my free will are ‘natural I capabilities’ and ‘external impediments.’ For example, water does not have the free will to flow upstream, because it is incapable of doing so. However, it is perfectly free to flow downstream. A rebuttal to Hobbes’ perspective would be to say that water is free to flow downwards, but only in a stream. In the same way we are not perfectly free agents. We can only genuinely be considered to have free will when we are the only factors involved in deciding something.

Another compatibilist was David Hume. In Enquiry, he wrote that ‘by liberty, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will.’ What on earth does that mean? If I want to move, I can. If I don’t want to, I don’t have to. Hume goes on to argue that there is a difference between voluntary and involuntary action. Imagine you’re at the doctors and he’s doing a patellar reflex test (knee jerk reflex text). If you end up kicking the doctor in the face because he stimulated a reflex to make you involuntarily move, then it’s hardly fair to blame you. However, if you really don’t like him and decide to voluntarily give him taste of your shoe, then boo you, but also it is fair to hold you accountable. What does this have to do with compatibilism? Well Hume claimed that voluntary action is distinguishable from involuntary action because involuntary means that you are psychologically or physically constrained. Involuntary action is one of the only times you do not have free will. Otherwise, you are entirely free. Hume doesn’t seem to bother with tackling determinism in the modern sense – just that within involuntary action lie deterministic qualities.

 

And that’s it for the three main viewpoints.

Phew. You got to the end, and that was just a brief introduction into the arguments surrounding the idea of free will.

Comment with any flaws you think you spotted in the arguments and we’ll see if we can’t tackle them. Also, if there’s enough support for the article I’ll try and rack up another philosophical one.

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40 Comments

  1. Depends on what you mean by “Free Will”.
    If you mean that there is some non-physical, non-deterministic part of us that drives our body around and makes decisions, than probably not.
    If you mean free will as the ability to experience a thing we call “choice” then sure, why not. Determinism does not prevent free will in this case. We still make choices, they just happen to be the choices that we would always have made in that specific circumstance.

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      • Yep that’s still determinism.
        The compatiblist attempts to say that we have free will because we do what we want, but what we want is determined by causal factors. So if I want to eat a sandwich, I can do that, *as long as there is nothing external stopping me (eg coercion, lack of resources, etc.). But I only want to eat in the first place because my stomach is empty and I’m being told that I’m hungry.
        To me it seems like compatiblism just uses a fast and loose definition of Free Will that doesn’t capture what we want it to.

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    • If you mean free will as the ability to experience a thing we call “choice”…
      Presumably the compatibilist requires more than merely that we experience a thing we call choice. Namely, the require that we in fact have agency and can be validly imputed with responsibility. The fatalist can agree that we experience something we call choice, while still denying that we validly impute agency and responsibility, for instance by maintaining that this experience is misleading or that we are wrong to call it “choice”.

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      • Yes, sort of.
        I am a Compatibilist in the sense that I believe that we do make choices that effect the world around us but that those choices are the choices that we would always have made in that situation.
        If you want to call that determinism, that’s ok. In the end i believe the world is deterministic, but that we make choices (free will) in that deterministic world.

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          • I’m not sure why we would bother calling it a choice though, since it’s not like we could choose otherwise.
            That depends on exactly what you mean by “choose otherwise” there. There’s a lot of ways we use that notion, and “actual realisable alternative with everything the same” is probably the least common of them. There’s also the notion of counterfactual alternative choices – ie. if I had been less angry, or something minor about the world was different, I would have acted differently. This is clearly fully compatible with determinism – a different world can lead to different choices, and I think is very closely related to what we mean by “choosing otherwise”. If you ask someone if they could have done other than they did, they’ll likely say “yes”. If you then ask them what might have made the difference, they’ll often talk about “Well, if I hadn’t been so cranky from lack of sleep” or “If I’d remembered my anger management lessons”. We often implicitly envisage differences in their mental state as part of these realisable alternatives.
            Similarly there’s the somewhat related notion of epistemic alternative possibilities – ie. what I could have chosen “for all I know”. Here we have our model of the world, and of ourselves, and we can envisage a raft of alternatives that might be chosen. Because our model isn’t the full fidelity representation of everything, it involves which alternative actually being picked as still unknown. There’s a very meaningful sense in which, when we select which of these envisaged possibilities we actually take, we are making a choice. The fact that we’ll always make the same choice doesn’t change this – indeed, it just makes us consistent – it means our will is being unaffected by outside random factors, and so, if anything is more fully freely willed.
            I’d also say that determinism clearly isn’t a factor in most of what we refer to as choices anyway. Consider someone saying “Applicants will be chosen based on who has the highest test score”. At the time the test has been made (but the mark is not yet known), this is a fully determined criteria. There is no possibility that things will be otherwise than they currently are, yet this still very clearly fits the notion we think of as a “choice”, and I don’t see anything contradictory about that phrase, or reason not to bother calling it a choice. It’s a choice made on fully determined criteria, but clearly recognisably a choice – a selection between alternatives. Thus I don’t see anything that makes other selections non-choices either, even if all of these things are determined.

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            • Not only this but there are no choices B or C since there is no way in this Universe that they can happen over the determined A. C and B are just things our mind can think of just like a rock able to think could imagine to fall in place B or C instead of the fixed location A.
              So not only that we don’t make choices in a deterministic universe there are no choices to makes. People are just trying to cope with this by claiming that they have some sort of free will. We do or not.

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            • I agree with most of what you are saying: we intuitively know when a choice is being made, and when I say “i’ve made a choice between A and B”, we will both understand what I mean. I guess I’d just like to separate the everyday usage of “choice” from that of “Free Will”.
              it means our will is being unaffected by outside random factors, and so, if anything is more fully freely willed.
              When you say that, I can’t help but notice that our will is being affected by outside factors. We don’t choose our will, it simply forms in our mind as a result of whatever chemical or mechanistic things are happening at the time.
              I suppose that “actual realisable alternative with everything the same” is exactly what I mean when I think of Free Will, but I still use the everyday sense of making choices. If you asked me if I chose what pants to put on today, I’d say “You fool, I chose not to put on pants today!” At the same time I would know that I haven’t really done anything that could have been different.

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              • When you say that, I can’t help but notice that our will is being affected by outside factors.
                To some degree. However, there’s certainly a matter of degree here. There’s a proportion of what decides the outcome going on inside our heads, and a portion being decided by external influences, but there are situations where the balance between these shifts more to the “my decision” region over the “outside influence” region (eg. classic “gun to the head” scenarios). I think it’s reasonable to characterise the degree of control here as the degree to which we have free will.
                We don’t choose our will, it simply forms in our mind
                This is problemmatic – our mind is us. Something forming in my mind is me making that choice – those processes going on are the very process of making a choice, just as the marking of the test and finding the highest is in the previous example. Now, it’s true we don’t choose our will in the sense that we don’t choose to be the person whose mind makes that choice, but that’s a red herring because the notion of free will doesn’t entail choosing who we are, but of choosing what to do. And since to ask what someone will do is to already identify that “someone”, removing that “who I am” from the picture makes no sense – we’re no longer talking about the very thing the question is about.
                I suppose that “actual realisable alternative with everything the same” is exactly what I mean when I think of Free Will
                Well, that’s really the issue at stake – is that really what people mean when you get right down to it? There have been various surveys done (eg) and these tend to show that things are not as simple as you might think. People seem to implicitly take a compatibalist view in concrete scenarios, with incompatibalist approaches coming out when phrased abstractly. Ultimately, I think the notion of rejecting the everyday meaning of “choice” here is a very misleading one, choosing a far stricter (indeed, possibly incoherent) standard rather than what we actually mean by choices. In many ways, I think incompatibalism is falling victum to the same “wretched subterfuge” of word usage that compatibalism is so often accused of.
                At the same time I would know that I haven’t really done anything that could have been different.
                I’d agree with this, but really, this is exactly what I want out of free will. If things could have been different with everything the same, then really, that seems to mean I’m less in control. If my thoughts, desires, emotions and everything that makes me me are identical, then any difference in behaviour must be coming from somewhere else – something outside my will. This shouldn’t be viewed as a problem, but rather as a neccessary (though not sufficient) condition for any free will we’d actually care about.

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      • To say that we validly impute agency would be to say that we are able to act in a way we call “choosing” that impacts the world around us one way or another, correct?
        I believe we do do this.
        It would be hard to argue that had one made a different choice at some point that the exact same outcome would have happened, thus the choice made caused things to happen that otherwise would not have happened. The fact that the choice being made would always have been made(in that very specific situation) is not particularly relevant. The fact is that we make choices and they in turn change the world around us.

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  2. I’m a determinist. Here’s my take on two “problems” of determinism mentioned in the article. 1) if a person gains an ability to predict their future in deterministic model, the fact that such an event happened with create the cause within itself, the system will then either oscillate to a stable state (eg. Me finding my future, cause me to do something, which changes my future, which causes me to do something else, until my doing something about finding out my future does not alter my future), OR oscillate to an unstable state where the system collapses, and becomes unpredictable (a paradox). 2) I don’t think determinism obfuscates morality because morals are just means to evaluate quality of sub-systems(people). For example, we send a person to prison not because they “chose” to commit a crime, but because we decided that the state of this subsystem is dangerous to the rest of subsystems and their inputs must be changed (put to prison) to modify the sub system. In a way, this is similar to the minority report, except their methods of determining the future were corrupt.

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    • In many people’s views, determinists are social apologists that refuse the notion of personal responsibility by “explaining away” a person’s guilt through arguments about his genetic makeup and environment. But if you take a step back and look at the justice system itself, it is its own deterministic mechanism based on its history of religious prescriptions, humanist reforms and so on. As such, it metes out punishment as deterrent and exemplifies the guiding toward the stable subsystem that you describe.

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  3. The compatablist view falls down upon the understanding that what you want to do is also inherently deterministic for the same reasons that caused Libertarianism to falter in the first place. How do you have a rational decision from in a non-determinisitic mind/soul that can be applied in a deterministic way to a deterministic body in a deterministic world? Either the lack of causality in the decision making process renders the choice without meaning, or the lack of ability for that non-deterministic choice to be implemented in deterministic space prevents it from playing out in the physical realm; either way it adds nothing.

    Now the qualitative experience of choice-making certainly exists. To us limited humans without the ability to know the future or the intricacies of all past causes, we have to weigh the pros and cons and make a choice as if we had free will. To that extent I will agree with the compatablists.

    As for QM being the savior for free will – it’s Hidden Variable theory without the understanding of the last 80 years of research rejecting hidden variable theory. The tiny world of the weird appears by all counts to be actually random, and not influenced by some background force or purposeful will. Random action is inherently not willed action, and in no way gets you closer to agency or the desired freedom to have or exercise will. It’s a Free Will of the Gaps ideology, not an accurate interpretation of modern physics. There is one more known possible loophole to Bell’s inequalities, which may very well be closed this year. http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2014/03/cosmic-experiment-aims-to-close.html Any hidden variables beyond that would need to be so outside of our current understanding of physics that today’s understanding of QM would be nearly meaningless anyway.

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  4. I believe that we do have free will, but only at one point. This one point would be the very first decision that we make, because that decision would lead us to a life where we will always make the same decisions.
    But the main problem with everything I just said is that there is no way to pinpoint your first decision. It may already be pre determined before you can make one, through living circumstances and parents. This is a very tricky subject to talk about.

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  5. I always thought it was interesting that there is a necessary epistemic distance between us and determinism. The second we know our future, we seem to be able to alter it using free will. As a result, determinism is almost trivial, because regardless of what we believe about causation, any time we make a decision it is necessarily impossible for us to know the outcome beforehand.

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    • “The second we know our future, we seem to be able to alter it using free will.”
      No, there’s lots of times when we can know our future and not be able to change it. If I jump off a building, I know my future involves hitting the ground, but this doesn’t mean that I can change that future.
      And according to the determinist, we can never change our future.
      “any time we make a decision it is necessarily impossible for us to know the outcome beforehand.”
      No, there’s lots of times we make decisions and are able to know the outcome beforehand. Like when we play pool, we know that the decision to move the cue in a certain way will cause the eight ball to roll into the right corner pocket.
      If this wasn’t true, we’d never be able to act rationally, since we’d never be able to expect any outcomes of anything we do.

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  6. I agree with you insofar that this is a very tricky subject. I struggle to understand your position, however, because you understand the concept of determinism but you have selected the first division to be an exception to the deterministic rules of the rest of the universe.

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  7. To be fair, it seems like any definition of Free Will that “captures what we want it to” necessarily falls into the first category i stated. Namely that there is some non-physical part of our self that drives our bodies around and makes decisions.
    Any other definition would have a self subject to the laws of physics and to a deterministic world.

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  8. But even an compatibilist admits that things are deterministic. The entirety of compatibalism is trying to reconcile the two without contradiction.
    Regardless of the question of free will in the end the world either is deterministic or it is not. If it is not then the entirety of human understanding is questionable.

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      • I am sorry, i misunderstood your first response.
        I agree that there are definitions of free will that fall into the second category i stated above, otherwise there could not have been a second category. The reason i said
        “it seems like any definition of Free Will that “captures what we want it to” necessarily falls into the first category i stated.”
        with quotes around “captures what we want it to” was because i do not think that incompatibilist free will actually captures what we want it to. It certainly doesn’t capture what i want it to as a (in my mind) compatibilist. It was in response to Aelfhere’s post:
        “To me it seems like compatiblism just uses a fast and loose definition of Free Will that doesn’t capture what we want it to.”
        and I was trying (unsucessfully I guess) to use his language to point out the strangeness of arguing that a certain definition doesn’t capture the meaning that everyone means when it was clear that I, as a part of everyone in fact think that the compatibilist definition captures exactly what I want it to.

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  9. To me it seems like compatiblism just uses a fast and loose definition of Free Will that doesn’t capture what we want it to.
    Compatibilism might not capture what you want the idea of free will to capture, but it doesn’t fail to capture what people in general want. Compatibilism doesn’t capture what you want presumably because you’re an incompatibilist–but we can hardly hold it against compatibilism that it fails to please incompatibilists.

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    • what do people in general want then? Just the idea that as long as we are able to fulfil our desires, we have free will? If that’s what we’re calling free will, then I can get on board. I can completely agree with that.
      On the other hand, if that is what we are calling free will, then there’s an important line to be drawn. anything short of coercion is “free will”, whatever that means, but at what point aren’t you being coerced? The laws of physics are just coercing you into having wants and desires.
      Lastly, I don’t think appealing to the fact that a lot of people think something should be a good reason to accept it as true. Most people support Libertarianism, but you and I don’t think they are right.

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      • what do people in general want then?
        Regarding the idea of free will, people in general want a notion which describes events where agency is enacted and responsibility can be validly imputed.
        anything short of coercion is “free will”
        No, we need not accept that everything but coercion is free will. For instance, most people do not regard acts done accidentally as acts freely willed.
        The laws of physics are just coercing you into having wants and desires.
        No, we need not accept that the laws of physics are coercive, since we are capable of wanting to do and planning to do things which are determined by the laws of physics to be done.
        Lastly, I don’t think appealing to the fact that a lot of people think something should be a good reason to accept it as true.
        You’re the one who appealed to “what we want.”

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        • No, we need not accept that the laws of physics are coercive, since we are capable of wanting to do and planning to do things which are determined by the laws of physics to be done.
          I don’t understand this point. The fact that physics makes me want to do something means I’m not being coerced by it, even though it gives me no choice in the matter? I guess it’s sort of like a weird stockholm syndrome, but I don’t see how it’s any less of a coercion. I certainly don’t have a choice in the matter, and sometimes I truly wish I could break the laws of physics.

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          • The fact that physics makes me want to do something means I’m not being coerced by it, even though it gives me no choice in the matter?
            I don’t know what you’re talking about here. The comment you were responding to was my suggestion that we can want to do and plan to do things which are determined by the laws of physics–the implication being that some act being determined by the laws of physics doesn’t entail that it was coerced, since acts which we want and plan to do are not acts which we’re coerced to do.
            I guess it’s sort of like a weird stockholm syndrome…
            I can’t think of anything even remotely resembling Stockholm Syndrome in the vicinity of any issue we’re discussing.
            I don’t see how it’s any less of a coercion.
            You don’t see how what isn’t any less of a coercion? Acts that we plan to do and want to do? They’re not coercion by definition: coercion is when force is used to compel us to do acts we don’t want to do.
            I certainly don’t have a choice in the matter…
            In what matter?

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            • I probably misunderstood you. Thanks for clarifying.
              I think I would like to make a different point, getting away from coercion since it feels like the wording is implying things I don’t want it to.
              The things that we want to do, which we are able to do, are nevertheless causally determined, right? We are in some sense enslaved to the laws of physics, since we don’t have any way of breaking them. So the acts that we want and plan to do are still caused.
              My point is merely that I have no choice in which acts I want or plan to do. Despite the fact that I want to do them, I have no choice in wanting to do them. The main point of concern, obviously, is that choices regarding my wants have been completely stripped of me. I only want to pick up this piece of paper because of the way my brain chemistry is currently configured. My brain chemistry is currently configured in that way because of causal events which happened before.
              It seems as though I’ve once again lost any grasp I had on Free Will. If I can’t choose my WILL, then it isn’t free, even if I will it.
              Let me know if you disagree with any of the points I’ve made. I enjoy the conversation, and I’d rather this not turn into a heated argument.

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  10. Decent article, although the section on libertarianism has little substantial argument against it.
    First of all you can’t call a position irrefutable if you just pointed out a refutation in the previous section. Irrefutable means that it is logically inconsistent to refute it. This article obviously doesn’t argue that Hume’s argument is logically inconsistent.
    The secondly, I want to point out that libertarian free will doesn’t reject cause and effect. Free will is a cause in itself. I don’t know any libertarians who believe that there is no such thing as causation.
    Thirdly, the refutations of Descartes don’t actually address his argument. A) just because he was wrong about the biology of the connection between the mind and the body doesn’t mean that he is wrong is saying that there is one (argument from fallacy). B) the body may be bound by causation, but that does not refute the possibility that the mind is the cause of the body’s action.
    The supposed refutation of Kane is the worst one. It makes no consideration for the burden of proof. The interactions between quantum particles are described as random because there is no way to predict their actions. To say that randomness is controlled by deterministic laws requires an immense amount of proof. Making that claim does not place the burden of proof on the libertarian, but instead back on the determinist. The determinist would have to provide some experiential or a priori evidence that suggests that the randomness is not actually random. Unfortunately, quantum physicists say that the interactions are random because there is no evidence that they can be predicted (with certainty).
    I’m not making any argument for or against libertarian free will, I just wanted to point out that the argument in this article against it is largely fallacious.

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  11. Freedom is an illusion of the human mind. Our will is essentially an ongoing set of falling dominoes where one thing determines the next. All previous experiences and ideas shape future experiences and ideas. To have free will, we would have to say that nothing is affecting our judgment – but that is impossible. There is always something affecting our judgment; it’s just a matter of universal causation.

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    • I’m tending towards this argument. The fact that there are so many variables, so many previous influences and THEIR variables and so on, means that we cannot deconstruct the effect. It’s simply too complicated to trace back. Everything must be tied together given its origin, so you could be going back a very long way before finding the “start”.

      Anyway, it doesn’t matter if we do or don’t. We have to assume free will does exist (or at least act as if it does) for the sake of society.

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  12. No we don’t have it. The physiology of your brain and all the information it holds determines what you “choose” to do. The nature of the interactions in your brain are so complex that they give the illusion of free will, however ultimately they are all governed by the fundamental laws of nature and so you cannot be said to truly have any free will.

    There was a thread on this a while ago, and someone very eloquently quoted Sam Harris. The idea went along the lines of “If you have free will, you are free to choose to attempt anything. However, are you, the reader, free to choose to do something which has not occurred to you?” The answer to this question is obviously no – you are unable to do something you haven’t thought of. This limits your “choice” to the spectrum of things which you have thought about. It is my belief that this spectrum, as I have said, is determined by your brain chemistry and the way your mind operates on a fundamental level. You have no choice in this process.

    To quote an inspirational but sadly deceased fellow, his very apt answer when asked if he believed in free will was;

    “I have no choice.”

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  13. Whenever anyone exercises free will in a particularly notable way in Britain, people tend to go ‘Oh they’re crazy’. This is supposed to be an island of eccentrics. But the eccentric is often regarded in suburbia at least as a bit odd, someone a bit too decadent for these supposedly austere times.

    How awful to think that, because of the nature of Britain where unexpected acts are so often mistaken for drunkeness / drug induced / impolite behaviour, it is possible for so many people to go through so many years doing so very little different to what they ever did before. Which is OK if what they did before was great. But on the whole they are ground down right from the start. Britain, having an older than average population who cling on to wealth and a ‘pull the drawbridge up’ mentality hate the young. Ever since the permissive 60s/70s this has further contorted this nature in to now often intractable shapes. It is literally impossible to please older people. To the Abba generation, you’re either being too ‘beyond the pale’ or too ‘square’. The Abba generation have very strange, hypocritical tastes which are both tackier than The Beatles generation and less precise than the New Order generation.

    So society -the culture it supports, the psychological landscape that a small island allows in and around itself – is a huge burden on free will. It’s a prison really dressed up in pretty chocolate box villages and the compromised, silent, landscape of suburbia, its only ‘entertainments’ being a police tent housing another murder.

    I suggest that thinking people move to America and the question of free will , whilst still at the back of the mind, will be less of an immediate concern to thinking people.

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  14. We have free will within a restricted environment and a state which controls the way we think and what we want. Our actions of freewill are influenced by this state and the media. Also, how do we really have free will if we live by laws that punish us if we exercise our free will badly going against these laws by doing things such acts like murder? You could say we don’t have free will at all because of how mankind has oppressed itself

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  15. I don’t think we do, not in the sense that is meant in this discussion. I think determinism is true, because every decision we make we base it on something, and as we base it on that “something” that something is based on another “something” (an experience, an action, an influence), so while we have the illusion of decision, we have the illusion of free will. And this follows a chain of cause and effect. When we look at a pool table, when billiard balls, hit each other and bounce off at pre-measurable angles, one who looks might think that the way they spread is completely random, impossible to calculate, however it actually is possible to calculate, and quite accurately too, because we understand the causes of physics better than we understand the causes of human decision, it is wrong to conclude that because we dont understand the causes they dont exist.

    This creates an issue however, is it fair to punish someone for their actions, if they could not have done otherwise? In other words, would it be right to blame a fig tree, for not bearing fruits in winter? (This example is straight from Think by Simon Blackburn)

    One way to argue that it is fair, cold as it may be, is that while it is not one’s fault, by punishing them you are altering the factors influencing them, deterring them from committing the crime a second time. This was something presented in the book as well, but to take it one step further, if determinism is true, then can you really blame the judge for punishing the criminal? Aren’t his actions set as well? Can you really blame anyone? In fact the concept of good and evil becomes blurry when things are put this way, what are your opinions?

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  16. I’m not sure how you can say that the random properties of quantum mechanics are somehow bound by some greater law of determinism, especially when you can’t point to the mechanism of action of that enforces that reality on the quantum scale.
    The problem is also more complex than the mere movement of particles. Let’s say you have 1 electron and 2 positrons. They’re all flying towards some fixed point in space at a velocity and distance that will bring all three particles to this same point at exactly the same moment in time. Now, 1 electron and 1 positron are going to collide and react by annihilation. The real random variable here is which positron continues to exist and which doesn’t.
    There does not appear to be any force which can be used to manipulate the outcome, except one that exists purely in the imagination. But, if you want to skip that detour (jury’s still hung on non-locality), then I can just suggest that the “force” that decides which reality comes to light is actually the result of a completely random function itself, and you can’t prove that wrong anymore than I can.
    As for compatibility arguments that actually focus on objective reality, then the best one would be: The universe is mostly determined, but due to the random nature of events, there exist a small (relative to the size of the universe) number of constantly occurring opportunities for non-determinism to exist. Which you can then take to either extreme and suggest that the size of the universe and number of opportunities for non-determined action to occur are actually incredibly large as far as human experience is concerned.
    I don’t know.. I guess.. I don’t know how you can be a determinist and still want to live.

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    • I saw a study somewhere that suggested that our thought processes worked on a level larger that quantum particles, and so quantum mechanics collapse to just usual laws of nature.
      I don’t see how being determinist should affect my will to live, as I think determinism is simply saying that my future can be predicted using very complex calculations that we don’t know now.

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      • The link between quantum mechanics and classical mechanics is actively being sought, I wouldn’t put it to rest just yet.
        It’s also equivalent to admitting that your image of yourself is a fabrication and entirely meaningless to the outcome of the universe. It would depress me to have to think that way.
        EDIT: When astronauts sleep in space, they can see high-intensity bursts of light even with their eyes closed. These are high-energy particles that are interacting with particles in their matter. It’s a presumption to assume that our brain is self-contained at this level.

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