I've given a great deal of thought to the concept of "free will" and have determined that there really is no such thing. Logically, all of existence is a matter of cause and effect, and since we have no control over the causes (we weren't even present at the time they originated), we obviously can have no control over the effects.

An easy way to prove this precept to yourself is to look back over your life; see that turning point that changed the course of your future? How many people, how many uncontrollable events brought you to that point? See how you really had nothing to do with the path you trod thereafter?

Another interesting side effect of this train of thought is to realize that everything in the universe is interconnected and influences everything else. A simple exercise: look at what you're wearing, then trace each item (and everything in and on it) back to its origin. You'll find people who grew fiber plants (think sun, climate, soil, etc.) in one place (and you can think about what brought them to that time and place, too), factories and workers in other places from whence buttons, zippers, shoelaces, etc. came, and of course the vast array of geographic areas in which the various items of your attire were assembled. Getting aboard this train of thought will allow you to see yourself as a tiny portion of the immense universe, both impacting and being impacted upon by every other entity, from the sun, moon and stars to the ant queen that just laid a thousand eggs in your front yard.

Tying this into the "no free will" argument is simple logic. All the people and elements that went into your appearance today pushed you to make the decisions you made, totally without your knowledge or collusion. Everything that happened everywhere in the universe today will affect what you do tomorrow. Or in the next moment. And you will have absolutely no control over it!


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Not sure I agree with your argument but I do agree with your conclusion but for a very different reason. Your argument shows that the influences in your life are beyond your control and I suspect everyone will agree with that. But this is not your freewill in action. What you do in respect to your influences is what is usually defined as freewill.

Now if you approach the issue of freewill from a neurological/psychological standpoint you can approach the issue of whether it is there or just an illusion. And the current trend of research does seem to suggest that the things which drive our decisions happen deep in our subconscious long before our waking mind has a chance to weigh in on matters. And it further seems that the brain deliberately encourages this sense of a self driving the whole thing while performing the bulk of thought in the deeper psyche.

Now this is not to say that we are off the hook for our moral decisions. Even if freewill is an illusion it is an illusion which we cannot experientially pierce. We are still responsible for our decisions in any way or consideration that matters.
Hi Az and Ruth,

It seems to me that, between the two of you, we have the conundrum of free will completely surrounded . . . by confusion. At the heart of this confusion is the conviction that free will is a cause instead of an effect.

I have tackled this issue, with the essay, "Free Will: Explained", in "Free Will: (Literally) An Intelligent Choice Discussions" group.

For convenience, I duplicate that essay here . . .

This post takes my latest arguments for free will and tries to address all the feedback I've received recently.

Over the course of a year or so, as I blogged and debated about free will, I came to realize that the term, "free will", misleads the debate. People think of free will as will power or volition or some other concept that requires an active, conscious, "free", choice. Such thinking inexorably leads to the philosophical problem of (mind/body) duality. Duality contradicts determinism by breaking the chain of causality. Causality, in turn, is the foundation of our physical laws and can be empirically confirmed by anybody, anytime, by observation. Contradicting causality is an invitation to argue nonsense.

Despite these seemingly iron-clad reasons to deny free will, I've always believed in free will. Not unbridled free will; rather, free will constrained by causality. Such a free will is better thought of as self-determinism: the ability to understand and anticipate causality and, by doing so, influence our futures in self-determined ways. Most of what follows will attempt to clarify what that means.

I'm a compatibilist. I believe that free will is compatible with causality/determinism. In fact, I will argue that free will is a consequence of human interaction with the world around us. This is a key concept. Free will is a consequence (effect): not a goal we pursue or stance we adopt (cause). Free will is an integral part of the human condition because of our human imagination. Imagination gives us a temporal advantage over causality by mentally playing out potential scenarios that might occur. This process is automatic. We're inured to it. By thus anticipating the future, this information becomes an important part of the causal factors flooding our brains. Prescient imagination is a process of mental feedback that (usually) prepares us for the future -- it's at the heart of self-determinism. And self-determinism IS free will.

Because time is linear, the future hasn't happened yet. Future events unfold everywhere simultaneously, yet are locally unique. The birth and death of an entire galaxy is irrelevant to us if it's so remote we can't even see it. While the senseless death of a starving child in Africa is tragic and heartbreaking, you'll undoubtedly never know about it. The point is that causality permeates the entire universe and makes its mark on everything: whether or not any particular event seems momentous or even noteworthy. But how do these events affect the future? Will anything we do make a difference in the grand scheme of things? The Big Bang has predetermined the demise of the universe . . . so aren't our own lives equally predetermined?

With this frame of reference, I propose that the future does NOT exist and can only be predetermined for inanimate objects (unless they fall under the control of animate beings). I would go so far as to claim that intelligent life can't be intelligent without a temporal advantage over causality. Wherever intelligent life leaves an impression, the future is far from predetermined. What I'm talking about is the distinction between animate and inanimate modes of response to causality -- the difference between us and rocks. This distinction is most clear when we use humans as our example. This is because humans, unlike other life forms, clearly manifest ALL the key phenomena of life -- motility, consciousness, intelligence and, yes, free will.

The law of causality states that: "every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause". This is true of both animate and inanimate objects. The difference between the animate and inanimate modes of response to causality is that inanimate objects have only one potential reaction to an event while animate beings have variable potential reactions to an event. One major reason for this is that animate beings are complex systems. They have many functional parts that integrate, holistically, into single entities. Animate beings are much more complex and much less predictable than inanimate objects. Although this distinction is important, it's not essential to my argument for compatibilism.

Human identity and experience presents a problem for determinism. We all live as if we have free will: we work, play, think and plan as if we have free will. On the other hand, we can see that causality determines all events. How do we reconcile the difference? First, we need to acknowledge there might not be a difference. What if human interaction with the world around us (causality) actually creates free will?

Allowing no exceptions to causality, we must accept that effects can't exist without a cause. Therefore, the processes of the brain, such as memory, thought, analysis and imagination, can be thought of as effects caused by the brain. Of these effects, imagination is most relevant to free will . . . because imagination can be prescient. We can extrapolate cause and effect into the future to imagine potential scenarios that might occur. We then evaluate these potential scenarios and gauge the likelihood (and to what extent) they might actually happen. This is, essentially, the process of planning. We use our experience and intelligence to estimate future outcomes, then plan the steps and contingencies necessary to best ensure -- or avoid -- those outcomes. Of course, short term, simple, plans are more likely to succeed than long term, complicated, plans. Depending on our skill at prognostication, our success rates vary from person to person. But, on the whole, short term plans usually succeed. I know this, without question, from my professional experience as a project manager.

How does planning relate to free will? Here's the interesting, awesome, part. Our ability to mentally anticipate cause and effect represents a temporal advantage over causality. Causality must wait for the future to unfold in the present but we can keep steps ahead of causality by extrapolating it into the future. In other words, we can (in our imagination) go where causality can't . . . and bring back conclusions that greatly affect our actions. Steered by these conclusions, our actions take us, step by step, through specific futures.

We all act based on forecasts of events likely in our potential futures. There are other causal factors involved, like experience, heredity, education, circumstances, etc., but it's prescient imagination that steers our actions in self-directed ways. When determinism meets human imagination, it becomes self determinism: free will.

The claim that free will (volition) is antithetical to determinism is a false dichotomy stemming from any assertion that assumes free will violates causality/determinism. If that's how you define free will then, of course, free will would be impossible. After all, EVERYTHING is determined. Right? Free will is not a conscious process or goal of itself, requiring effort to exercise: it's an on-going, natural, human, reaction (effect) to the world around us (cause).

Volition, of itself, is not free will. That would make free will indeterminate -- and we know that's not possible: EVERYTHING is determined. Volition, desires, plans -- whatever you want to call them -- are just causal factors (albeit, important ones) that combine with a flood of other causal factors to influence our actions.

The compatibilist view sees free will as natural and within the confines of physical laws. Undetermined or indeterminate actions would be anything but free will: acting without reason or purpose is not free will. Neither is acting randomly. So, claiming that free will is not deterministic means that, if we do have free will, then we must act without reason or purpose, or we must act randomly, or some combination thereof. This is, of course, nonsense.

We KNOW we act with purpose. We don't stumble through life continually shocked to find ourselves doing things we don't want to do. That would make planning impossible! We KNOW we've planned our own dinners, careers, families, retirements and funerals. Our experiences represent continuous empirical evidence for free will.

Our ability to plan is so natural and human that we take it for granted. We're inured to it. The future and planning is a larger consideration in our lives than most people realize. Planning, as a prescient form of imagination, is caused by the brain's interaction with the world around us (causality). Free will is the effect -- the consequence -- of our prescient imaginations.

It's a paradox. We have no choice but to exercise free will. We are causally self-determined. Free will is a necessary and natural part of our humanity.

Our individual destinies are NOT written in the stars (may the force be with you) -- our destinies are ours to make. We (as well as ALL life forms) might eventually face extinction as the universe grows cold and fades away. Human destiny might be extinction but our individual destinies are ours to make. Most of us will die obscure deaths but a select few -- as long as humanity survives -- will be remembered by history because they exercised their free will to fundamentally change our world.
Contradicting causality is an invitation to argue nonsense.
This sounds a bit like poisoning the well.

What about uncertainty as an inherent property in quantum mechanics? Even if you don't find it convincing, would you call it nonsense?

Excellent and true. You stated the case beautifully. Add to this the physics viewpoint that time is a block, with the past, present and future all there, all happening at the same time and eternally, and free will disappears. If the future is already there, surely there's no free will. Still, as you say, we find ourselves in this construct and we will always perceive our reality as one that involves choice. It's a lovely delusion and a joy, really since it adds to life's meaning (without the oppressive call for gods).

Looks like I don't know how to use this reply thingy yet. I was trying to reply to a specific response. I'll get the hang of it, and at least I presented my view. Interesting discussion with many informed comments. I like it.

Even looking at time as a crystaline structure rather than a linear one does not kill the idea of free will. If I were able to see the entire structure of time and tell you what will happen to you tomorrow, it need not be because those actions are your destiny, but rather, that is what you will choose to do. That I can remember tomorrow as clearly as yesterday does not change whether or not you were free to make a decision. This argument has been going around for ages, but it does not truly follow. Of course, non sequiturs are to be a common error when looking at time as something other than linear. But it does not actually eliminate choice, only your perception of it.

If you chose to burn your house down yesterday, and today, I recall that it happened, we can say you did it because you chose to do it. If I recall that you will burn your house down tomorrow, and you do, it is still because that was what you chose to do.

Of course, all this volition seems like free will. But is it really? I'm not convinced either way.
I have to say that I don't agree. I see where you are coming from, one of those determinists which are so common around here. I am more for chaos theory, randomness. You call it cause and effect, a straight line, I am rather thinking possibilities in which causuality is a part of. Therefore I believe in a free will as such, because we can in my choose pinion, if we are aware ignore to walk that straight line determinists are so happy to define.
Are there a lot of "determinists around here"? I'd love to chat with some. Maybe we need to start a group?
Determinism seems obvious. Time/space infiltrated the singularity causing the expansion we know as the big bang and the trajectory of every particle in our cosmos was set on the only course it could possibly follow... even the course that forms us and set us to write exactly what I'm writing now.

Or not.

It doesn't seem inconceivable that, once consciousness is achieved, and patterns sought, we do have options and must choose from among them, often with not enough data to do so rationally or successfully or consistently.
Oh you are more that free to disagree. Agreement tends to be boring after all. Leaves us so little to talk about. :-)

As to chaos theory I quite like it myself. However a thing to keep in mind the issue behind chaos theory is that from collections of small predictable events the increasing complexity renders determination of the outcome beyond our ability. The limiting factor here is not the predictability. It is our ability that is the limiting factor.

Chaos theory and its implications are at the basis of why we cannot personally pierce the veil the illusion of freewill. What goes on within our brain is beyond our ability to predict. Therefore the sense of making decisions forever feels to us to be something we consciously come up with.
Yes, with that I have to agree with, well, I just personally find chaos theory to be more ideal and suiting my beliefs more, while I personally understand why some people would like determinism for being realistic and proven that it works to some extent (however it is hard for us today to say exactly how well, as when it comes to distinguish whether there are any true choices or not). If you want to look into more deterministic people, join the Philosophy group, like Waldheri pointed out. (Lea +1 Waldheri 0 :)) ).

I guess one of the reasons why I would prefer chaos theory would be the fact that I, unlike many others here, is a pagan, and chaos is a sort of ideal force in my view, somehow chaos represents the very power of the universe in my eyes, you could almost call it THE power. From chaos anything can done, due to its random nature. Yes, I also very much like quantuum mechanics for the same reason :)
You seem to be misunderstanding Chaos theory. Chaos theory does not state that everything is all higgledeepiggledee (techincal term). It states that our ability to make sense of complex ordered systems is limited and that we lose track of things in quick order due to this limitation. Chaos theory is a subset of deterministic thinking and does nothing to introduce chaos into the equation.
Oh right, then I indeed did misunderstand, the term is nice though, however the name seems to have nothing to do with what it means according to you? Seems a little missleading.


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