On free will


It is possible that I have shared this link before but I will share it again because it deals with one of those topics in which I have a very keen interest in especially as what it would mean to our legal systems to finally admit that there is no freedom of the will. What has piqued my interest today is

a weaker belief in free will correlates with poor academic performance.

and

Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.

which made me ask myself if this is really the case. I have no belief in the existence of freedom of the will and i find these findings don’t reflect my position. I know. Statistics and all. But I know there are a majority of my readers who are freewill skeptics. How do you judge yourselves? Poor academic performers? Lack creativity- Jeff I am lookin’ at ya?

I will conclude as Tolstoy does in War and Peace

It was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.

Tolstoy, War and Peace

Have a freewill free day.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

27 thoughts on “On free will

  1. John Faupel says:

    As I see it: the term ‘free will’ is subject to interpretation. In an indeterminate world, in which the future is never certain, there are an infinite number of possible ‘so-called’ choices, so in that sense we’re infinitely free to choose. But what makes us ‘choose’ any one begs an infinite-regress inquiry into the past, about which we know less and less, so in that sense we’re innately ignorant too and therefore have no real choice at all.

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    • makagutu says:

      I think the first problem is a definition one.
      And the rest I agree with you. But then why is it our societies are not organised along this path?

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      • Barry says:

        But then why is it our societies are not organised along this path?” If none of us have free will and societies are made up of people with no free will, then it is the very fact that we have no free will that has caused us to organise societies the way we are. In other words your question is pointless even though you had no choice in posing the question, and there is nothing we can do about it as we don’t have free will to change it.

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        • makagutu says:

          Haha Barry.
          Our societies and especially law and justice is modeled around the idea that we are free agents with freewill otherwise I don’t see why such punitive measures should be meted.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Barry says:

            However, our societies, law and justice are modeled around the idea that we are free agents with freewill because we don’t have the free will to do otherwise. In terms of absolute determinism, our belief in free will, even though it doesn’t exist, is a direct and inevitable outcome of the Big Bang.

            And if at some time in the future, we decide to model our societies based on there being no free will, that too was determined by the inevitable chain of events starting with the Big Bang.

            I’m not an absolute determinist, however I have no firm commitment either way on the existence of free will.

            Perhaps free will is a bit like random numbers. Computers can’t produce true random numbers. It is impossible to determine the next number in the sequence unless you know the seeding number and the algorithm used to calculate the pseudo random series. When it comes to natural events, we’ll probably never discover the algorithm nor the seed.

            We have free will in so much as that is what our senses tell us. Our choices feel like choices. I think we have all agonised over making a decision at some time in our lives. So while the final choice (and the agonising for that matter) was inevitable, to us and to any observers, it didn’t appear that way.

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            • makagutu says:

              I find this

              We have free will in so much as that is what our senses tell us. Our choices feel like choices. I think we have all agonised over making a decision at some time in our lives. So while the final choice (and the agonising for that matter) was inevitable, to us and to any observers, it didn’t appear that way.

              to quite represent our position. That while it appears that we have freewill, there is an inevitability that remains almost unknown to us.

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  2. Tish Farrell says:

    Even if we think we have free will, we have had plenty of examples this year of how most of us are disinclined to apply it. Fear mongering and social shaming work a treat. They always have.

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  3. My disbelief in “freewill” in no way hampers my creativity and the like. But this may be because I’m a devout Muslim and a staunch atheist, like President Obama was before me. My will is worth at LEAST 6.50 and there’s no way in hell I’d part with it for less than that!

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  4. Ron says:

    Help me out here. Am I posting this comment because I chose to do so of my own free will or because I was destined to do so?

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      What do you think?

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      • Ron says:

        I think we have free will, but not determined enough to find out whether or not that’s true. 🙂

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        • makagutu says:

          Hahahaha. You win on that part. Do we have it in different degrees? Some more than others in the way some are tall and others short?

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          • Ron says:

            I’m inclined to argue that those who are mentally or physically incapacitated definitely possess little to no free will. But if the study cited in the following article is correct, neither does anyone else:

            https://www.firstpost.com/tech/science/researchers-map-free-will-choice-seconds-before-making-decisions-in-brain-scans-6244621.html

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            • The fact that the decision is calculated by functions operating beneath consciousness doe not change the fact that it was that brain that made the choice. And consciousness of the decision will arrive in awareness in due course. If it didn’t, then the person would have a mental illness. Imagine, for example, that your unconscious brain decided to rob a bank. Is there any way for the conscious brain to escape going to jail along with the rest of the brain? I don’t think so.

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              • Ron says:

                The issue isn’t that your brain made a choice (it did), but whether your brain had any real choice in deciding differently. That is to say: what control can you exercise over the thoughts and impulses occurring within your brain– especially if you’re awareness comes after the fact? And I submit that mental illness further highlights this lack of choice at a more pronounced level, because one cannot simply “will” oneself to override one’s biological or genetic constraints.

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                • If choosing happened in empirical reality then that is as real as anything gets. The notion that it wasn’t “really” a choice is using figurative language, “it is AS IF you didn’t make a choice”. People use figurative speech all the time. But figurative speech has one serious drawback: every figurative statement is literally false.

                  We control our thoughts by shifting our attention. A college student is invited to a party, but she has a Chemistry exam in the morning. So, she chooses to study instead.

                  As she is reviewing her lecture notes and the textbook, she is deliberately modifying her brain to recall the information she needs as she encounters questions on tomorrow’s test. This is top-down causation.

                  As to significant mental illness, that would be an undue or extraordinary influence upon a person’s ability to make a rational choice for themselves about what they will do.

                  Free will is a deterministic event in which someone decides for themselves what they will do, while free of coercion and other forms of undue influence.

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                  • Ron says:

                    I sense we’re talking at cross-purposes. The discussion is not about “free will” in a legal sense (i.e., giving your wallet to someone holding a gun to your head), but about whether or not it’s possible to make a decision absent of any influence at all. To which I say: no, every decision you make — whether you’re cognizant of it or not — is influenced by outside forces, be they environmental or genetic, and undue or otherwise. For example, few people would willingly choose to amputate their limbs for no compelling reason (though a fair number of healthy people have in fact chosen to do just that), but if you find your hand trapped between a rock and a hard place (as Aron Ralston did on April 26, 2003) your decision changes to: do I want to save my life or die with my limbs intact. He chose the former. Likewise, every other decision is made by balancing the pros and cons of the situation. That is to say: your decision is influenced by external factors — and usually weighs in favor of preserving or enhancing one’s own health, wealth and happiness.

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                    • I don’t think anyone expects to be free of all influences. The simple fact that you encounter a situation in which you must make a choice is itself an influence. But this influence does not compromise your ability to decide for yourself what you will do.

                      There is no such thing as absolute freedom. There is no such thing as “freedom from causation”. There is no such thing as “freedom from oneself”. There is no such thing as “freedom from reality”. So, free will cannot mean any of those “metaphysical” notions.

                      But the common understanding of free will is that it is a choice we make that is free of coercion and other forms of undue influence like a significant mental illness, or manipulation by deception, or hypnosis, etc. These are things that we can in fact be either constrained by or free from.

                      And that is how most people view the notion of free will. There have been a number of studies on this. Here are a couple:

                      Click to access nahmias.pdf


                      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027714001462

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  5. basenjibrian says:

    Ron was destined at the beginning of time, before the Big Bing, to post his comment here.

    Seriously, I think pure determinism is pretty much useless as a way to structure a society. And, we will never be able to nail down the details of causality which the hard core determinists demand. Plus, pure determinism skates too closely to the nastier side of Christianity (Reformed sects like Calvinism) and can very much be a “conservative” viewpoint. Maka: Your glorious LEADER in Kenya was destined by the universe to rule. Get with the program and obey. As the quantum foam demands!

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Quantum indeterminism doesn’t help us with this either.

      Plus, pure determinism skates too closely to the nastier side of Christianity

      You are right on this, Brian. The question is why would society not be organized on pure determinism?

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  6. All freedom, including free will, is deterministic. Freedom is the ability to do what we want. Everything that we want to do requires reliable cause and effect. So, the notion of freedom logically implies the notion of reliable causation.

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