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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I have one question for everyone. Where does suicide fit in all these?
Suicide may be one of the most obvious examples of determinism. If ever effects could be traced to causes, the taking of one's own life is certainly an obvious illustration of the concept. Why do you think it doesn't fit the parameters of the theory?
I agree. And I disagree with Albert Camus' defense of free will on this example.
Yet, the only living thing on this planet that ever makes a decision to terminate its existence is the human animal. We don't find rabbits in nooses dangling from branches or whatever the rabbit variant might be.

Man, the only animal with the volition necessary to commit suicide, is the only animal that ever does so.

Or, man is the only animal with a brain complex enough in its chemistry that it can operate and execute that program.

But what feels like pondering and deciding is just an electro-chemical reaction... the only one possible.

But if that is the definition of thinking and deciding, does that not redefine will? Or just make the concept moot?
We've evolved to escape suffering, as suffering (whether it be a broken leg or a big cut or what) meant that our chances of surviving went down. Its a survival instinct. When in extreme emotional distress, you look for a way out. Knowing that that distress comes from within, causes you to want to get rid of it, to want an escape, hence, suicide.
Yea, I don't buy arguments that are so neat and concise. This kind of All or Nothing argument is an artifact of the human mind. Reality is messy.

While there huge areas of our lives that are ruled by determinism, we occasionally escape. We can and do transcend ourselves at times, through struggle, determination, even faith. The brain is a machine. But it is a machine that, with a little luck, can break the curve and push back against the deterministic forces that shape our lives.

I can and do argue both sides of the issue. Maybe I have no choice in the matter!
The functioning of any known human society relies on the tacit or explicit recognition that responsibility for actions must be attributed to individuals. This foundational thesis promotes the idea that responsibility for action is a result of a free choice to act at will. In recent work, philosopher John Searle takes a non-commital position on this issue because, one assumes, it cannot be avoided in the elaboration of a theory of the constitution and maintenance of human societies and civilisation itself, which is one of Searle's projects. That this constitutive attribution of responsibility through the assumption of 'free will' may be a necessary illusion remains controversial, but the fact of the matter which is visible wherever one looks is that the social ontology it purports to explain is pervasively real. Searle argues that this social reality, which he traces through its evolutionary origins, obliges us both to presuppose free will and to experience it as freely exercised. On his account, there are 'causal gaps' in the cognition/volition chain leading from our perceived reasons for an action to its completion, and he sees it as an unresolved question whether out experience of this process as one of free choice is illusory (Making the Social World, Oxford University Press, 2010: 40/41). Neuroscientist Christof Koch argues that we must distinguish between the perception of will and the force of will, and emphasises that we must have a sense of behavioural autonomy simply for survival (The Quest for Consciousness, Englewood, Col: Roberts and Company, 2004: 324/5).

My thinking on this issue, which is certainly far from original and runs along the lines of the well known Butterfly Effect, is that the causal manifold involved in any human action is simply too complex and intractable for something like Searle's 'causal gaps' to be readily explicated in terms of physics, although we may have good reasons for thinking that such a reduction is plausibly theorisable and may one day be better understood. As in the case of many other aspects of our psychological and social lives, an evolutionary reading is informative. To have been obliged by our neurophysiological architecture and constitution to explicitly and directly register every minute detail of our motivation for action would not only have made any normal activity ponderously slow but would have hastened our extinction as a species. It is true that we may sometimes achieve a phenomenological grasp of the mechanics of the sense of personal autonomy, and this aspect of the phenomenon is explored from different neuropsychological perspectives by Daniel Wegner in The Illusion of Conscious Will (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2002). For a broadly philosophical treatment, I can recommend Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves(New York: Viking, 2003).
Free will is not the ability to operate free of all influence, that would simply be a mind (or will) in isolation. Free will is the ability to freely choose an action or reaction in a set of circumstances. While the operation of the brain suggests that all all future action might be predictable if all future circumstances are known (which in classical physics is at least plausible), the uncertainty inherent in quantum mechanics provides a possible escape from that.

As to things pushing you to action, things may push but is the reaction always certain. Consider someone on the verge of "fight or flight", quite possibly a life or death decision; would you say any given human, even knowing their history and circumstances makes their choice complete predictable to the point of certainty?
The idea of free will is not simply an esoteric interest of philosophers but part and parcel of our self-concept as humans. Some of us might agree that we are intuitively convinced that we have it, but even if we deny that this is the case, we are still likely to behave in everyday life as if we had it, thereby begging the question about what it is exactly that we have. The question that some scientists, philosophers and others feel obliged to seek answers to is basically whether what we intuitively experience as 'free will' has any other discoverable properties that can contribute in a useful explanatory way to our understanding of it. Neuroscience and neuropsychology both can make and have made significant contributions, but as in other areas of science, they are usually strongly counterintuitive and struggle to have any influence on our perception of its self-evidential aspects in daily life.

But I'm not sure that it's really helpful to consider free will predominantly from the point of view of the individual. We have good reason to discard the idea that some systematic introspective process can claim the kind of absolute certainty about our cognitive fundamentals to which Descartes aspired, and this applies aptly to an assumption of free will. We are social animals, and there is a good argument to be made that it is the social ontology of free will that is decisive. For this reason, a possible alternative approach might be to acknowledge that humans have the biological evolutionary inheritance of a powerful neocortex and neuronal plasticity interacting with a 20,000-year (or so) cultural evolutionary inheritance, which together have favoured instilling in children from the earliest possible age a self-concept and modes of behaviour that they are acculturated to consider as voluntary, both so that reasons for behaviour can be asked for and insisted on and so that responsibility for actions can be attributed.

As we're talking here about the constitutionally normative in human social interaction, it might be objected that this is to change the subject from what is assumed to happen in the mind to that of a pragmatic use-formula which helps to explain how societies and intersubjective cooperation work. My view, though, is that this is the subject. True, neuroscience and other sciences, at their appropriate level of description, will continue to reveal correlative substrates of the 'free will' we experience intuitively and know as a socially constitutive phenomenon, and we may discover new interesting relationships between these new findings and our intuitions, but it is difficult to foresee how or if this will impact on social realism or practice.
"If my soul could revive from my carnal remains, what does it matter to me?
If it all fades to black, if I'm born once again... then no one really is free."

I can relate to your argument, at least to some extent. Many people speak of the soul, and the conscience, and of course, free-will, but all are either non-existent or limited. We can make choices, I believe that much, but we can't influence a lot of what happens to us, and our opinions and actions are always influenced by something else.

Our personalities are based on our genetic profile and life experience. Whether there is some magical inherent thingy like a soul, I don't know, but it seems unlikely. I come from my parents. Their genes I had no choice in, yet it made me everything I am. And then that person they made me, combined with the situations I'm faced with, led me to where I am. None of us has absolute freedom.

Ruth, you have spoken my mind, or rather our mind, since we can't really claim that it belongs to us, as we have no control over it. It is the universe's words and the universe's mind. We are only confused to think that it is ours because of the limit of our senses, memories and attention. These limits create the boundaries of "me" and "you," but there is no separation really, and there is no special "soul" or "spirit" or "will" or what have you, that can reach into causal reality and change it at whim.


I read articles all the time about experiments that explain the underlying process of some aspect of human behavior, thought or action, and the more I read, the more words like "choice" and "will" and "control" become ridiculous to me. They don't even make any sense.


There will be a robot on Jeopardy soon, playing aginst the all-time winners, and it will be capable of giving them a run for their money, perhaps besting them. That's coming pretty close to passing the Touring test, and I think to myself 'when we have a robot that is indistinguishable from a human, how will we then cling to ideas like choice and control? If it look like a turd, smells like a turd and floats like a turd, that doesn't mean that unicorns are playing poker on Venus. Choice and control will become totally unfounded notions that have no basis in the observations we have made. In my opinion, they already are unfounded, but because we can't explain absolutely everything to everybody yet, people insist on clinging to this arcane notion because the implications of being slaves drives them crazy.


I suspect that, not only do we not have control over anything we think or do, but we don't even have control over whether we exist. Since we already exist, we will go on existing in one form or another, and since existence seems to be causal, we will go on doing only as we must....forever. It's an end-of-the-line conclusion that most people hate to make, but I too think it is probably correct.


However, I also suspect that, if we can invent virtual realities and convert ourselves to digital beings (or quantum beings, since we will have quantum computers soon), we might be able to have something accurately considered "control" inside of those virtual realities. And I suspect that technology will be available in our lifetimes. We'll see.





If it's going to become available in my lifetime, it had better hurry.  I'm looking at my 86th birthday next month.



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