Christopher Hitchens once averred that you don't.  Religionists claim that it is divinely endowed. Others claim that all are freelancers subject to subornation by others. Your thoughts?

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Doctor Clark, it seems to me you are invested in the notion of free will.

Yes, addiction is yet another refutation of free will falling under category previously adduced by Christopher. Perceiving an addiction's deleterious aftermath the actor continues to indulge. If the power of the addiction wins out over the power of the will nearly every time is it free?

Changing one's mind or making up one's mind or being consistent in one's decisions first occurs at an unconscious level. Obviously, patently any decision which occurs without our knowledge is not free.

Doctor Clark, it seems to me you are invested in the notion of free will.

Well, no. It's more an attempt to discover why you feel absolutely certain it can't exist.

Free will vs. determinism is an argument that has been going on for two thousand years or more, and when a philosophical question is undecided for that length of time, it suggests the question itself may be wrongly posed.

Consequently I am reluctant to take your word that there is no free will until you offer quite a bit more than just your opinion —an opinion which by your own view is not freely chosen, but the product of your unconscious mind as conditioned by unknown factors.

Changing one's mind or making up one's mind or being consistent in one's decisions first occurs at an unconscious level.

How do you know this is true in every case? Such a blanket statement needs quite a bit of justification to be credible. The implication that all decisions of all kinds are always determined by the unconscious mind would appear to be a very difficult thing to verify.

Please do not put words in my mouth. There is no AHA! moment stumbled on or otherwise that puts this argument to sleep. Lack of free will doesn't win on a technicality.

I'"m saying choices can be limited by both obvious and subtle circumstances. Just because options faced can be restricted, it is the options that are limited, not your determinations on what to do about them.

The boundaries are determined by the physics that happen to you. Not to mention the particular society you find yourself in with its memetic influences and zeitgeist flavouring which could be impediments in exercising your free will.

Free will can be quashed but that in no way extinguishes its existence.

There are obvious limitations to physical existence. Who is to say there are limitations to the imagination. If you limit the meaning of "will" to be applied only to that which can result in achievable outcomes, it is you who arbitrarily decide "free" does not apply.

There are countless examples in the realm of ideas where if it can conceived then it can be achieved.

As humans the physical origins and physical influences on thought still result in thought. We still have the ability to steer our thoughts at will. Free will means the ability to conceive and mitigate control to ourselves the uniqueness of our own thoughts. Mustering this and navigating this in the waters we find ourselves swimming in is admittedly a talent. That could be achieved by what some of us call learning.

You say free will is a religious concept. So is governance. So is philosophy. Religion is the FIRST attempt to make sense of reality. It is the founder of all sciences.Their explanations relied heavily on the supernatural. That was the default categorization of that which could not be explained. Superstition was not their fault.At the time there were no limits to the questions that could be asked, but they were very limited as to what to base there answers.

As knowledge is accumulated and validated we peel back the layers and of course the supernatural category shrinks. As far as I'm concerned it has been explained adequately away out of existence. Free will might be a theocratic concept originally but now used as a useful atheist tool. As a matter of fact we could claim ownership now. Free thinking relies on application of free will, or we will get nowhere.

Credulity is a suppression of free will. It is the only way the religious can maintain a hold on its minions.

You come across like a theist. 

The burden of proof is on the proponent, not the naysayer. 

So are you a proponent of determinism or a naysayer of free will?

It seems that you are the proponent here in claiming that free will is an illusion and I am the naysayer in stating that I am not certain. You've made no attempt to provide evidence or further argument to support your contention. Why not give it a try?

You've claimed without evidence that:

Changing one's mind or making up one's mind or being consistent in one's decisions first occurs at an unconscious level.

Take a simple example—choosing what to eat from a menu in a new restaurant. How does that decision originate in the unconscious? To me it looks as though the decision starts with reading the menu or querying the waiter—both conscious activities and cannot take place without one or the other. Until the conscious mind knows what choices are available, no decision can be made. I might make a choice and then recall that I had that recently and switch to something else, but the recollection is conscious. Undoubtedly my memory has stored previous experiences of good and bad menu choices which influence my decision, but those memories resulted from conscious experience.

So, defend your proposition if you can.

Gentlemen, I am bailing. Too hot for this stuff.

Sam Harris convincingly argues that we don't have free will in his book The Moral Landscape. His thoughts are as follows:

-Brain states result from events and stimuli in the physical world.
-These brain states determine the choices we make.
-We are under the illusion that we have free will because the duration of time between brain state changes and choices being made includes mostly sub- or unconscious processing -- processing which has a physical basis and which arises from induced brain states. Our ignorance of our subconscious processing provides a mysterious and convenient gap in which we can tell ourselves there is free will.

In these ideas, "free will" could be defined as such: having an agency over one's actions which is completely independent from the physicality of the brain and brain states.

Harris tackles the subject again in his more recent book FREE WILL and argues strongly that free will is entirely an illusion, his argument largely based on experiments of Benjamin Libet of the 1980's. He makes the case that even the most heinous criminals bear no responsibility for their automatic and unconscious choices and should be pitied rather than hated. His argument can be read as an enormous extension of the classical notion of conditioned reflex to all human action.

He compares human actions to "neuronal weather patterns"—the development of weather out of a host of untracked factors. We have the illusion of free will because we do not know what is going on in our subconscious—every action results from immense congeries of previous conditionings—but, as he puts it, the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.

The criticism I would make of Harris's argument is not that it is wrong, but that it does not fully describe the situation with the result that its emphasis is misplaced. The human mind is constructed to learn, and far from being an automaton, it responds to very delicate alterations in its environment. It is the exquisite sensitivity of the mind to external stimuli that provides the illusion, if you want to call it that.

Many will come away from Harris's book with the notion that humans are robots rigidly controlled by the subconscious mind, when quite often it is the subconscious which is trained by the conscious mind. Over and over the mind and body are trained to respond subconsciously so the conscious mind is free to focus on other more important things.

The Libet study is the forerunner of the recent experiment that I criticized above.   Please see my comments there.  I agree with your assessment of free will, but I would much more severely judge Harris for resting his case on research that most definitely does not prove what he says it does.

You are quite convincing in your observation that the research results may be given a different interpretation from that in Harris's book. He almost defines free will out of existence by insisting that there is no freedom unless you are conscious of each and every past influence and subconscious motivation, but one could turn this on its head and ask, "How have you established determinism if you cannot show a precise sequence of all the causes behind a given action? How can you eliminate the possibility of an undetermined outcome until you know that sequence?"

I find myself vibrating more to H.E.Price;s tune on this. Examining the mechanics and structure of thought process in the human mind is one thing. But we are debating free will here.

It seems to me to be regress and intellectual navel-staring to dwell on the physical process. Referring all the time to (IMO brilliant) Dr. Harris is to narrow too finely the argument. Sam Harris' journey is an inquiry to map and classify not only human neurological patterns caused by behaviour, but by impulses and thoughts. He wants to encompass the whole of human conscience experience under the empirical regime of provable explanation and testable prediction. A grand and worthy ambition indeed that might prove very fruitful in the future.

It may be pertinent to study that which animate us. It would be a good foundation to start, but the discussion of free will goes beyond that. We are not talking about why schools of fish "school" or why herds of gnu "herd".

Or even why humans form societies. That is under the domain of anthropology.

I am talking about philosophy. I am talking about civilization. I am not talking about how thoughts form, but what is done after these thoughts are focused. The history and present as to what is done with them. It seems to me there is a point in the maturing of the intellect where some autonomy is attained, and some skill and talent can be acquired to "drive the bus", as it were. Ever heard of "thinking outside the box"?



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