free will is a false assumption

Free will is a topic that has been covered in depth on the internet pretty intensely, but it has a special place in my heart because of the amount of time I’ve thought contemplating it. During my undergraduate studies, free will occupied my thoughts during times of boredom (which was substantial) over several years, and I came to the conclusion on my own without much input from my favorite philosophers or mentors.

I’ve written a twenty-three page paper delving deeper into the arguments of determinism and free will, but the argument can ultimately be summarized into:

  • Every decision animals make is due exclusively to the animal’s personality
  • Every personality is due exclusively to a composition of genetics (nature) and upbringing/experiences (nurture)
  • A person has control over neither their genetics nor their experiences
  • Therefore, a person has no control over their personality
  • Therefore, a person has no control over their decisions

Obviously this is an oversimplification and ignores counterpoints, but even by itself this logic holds up neatly. The only possible rebuttal is that a person does have control over their experiences, but that argument already assumes the existence of free will capable of influencing the experiences.

3 Comments

  1. Free will is what we call the mental process of deciding for ourselves what we will do, free of coercion or other undue influence. When forced by coercion (e.g., gunpoint) or by undue influence (e.g., hypnosis, brain tumor, authority) to act against our will, our will is subject to that coercion or influence, and thus not free. But when it is authentically us that is doing the choosing, then it is called “free will”.

    Our choices are always reliably caused, but the most meaningful and relevant cause is usually us: our thoughts and feelings, our beliefs and values, our genetic disposition and prior life experiences, and so forth. These things are not external influences coercing us against our will. They actually are us.

    The fact that (a) our choices are made by us (free will) and the fact that (b) we reliably choose according to our own purpose and reasons (determinism), are simultaneously true. And have never really been at odds.

    The paradox arises when confuse “free will” with “freedom from reliable causation”. The latter is an oxymoron, because without reliable cause and effect we cannot reliably cause any effect, and thus have no freedom to do anything at all!

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  2. I would argue that you don’t have control over who you are, which is the basis of much of your argument. Even if you had complete influence over your decision, what would influence your influence? Genetics and experiences in the past exclusively. For example, you have obviously thought about free will. Was that your choice? No; your intelligence, your curiosity, a mentor your were exposed to, etc. combined to create these thoughts in your mind. You had control over none of these contributors.

    The problem inherent in free will is that because we can IMAGINE other scenarios, we think that they were POSSIBLE.

    There is only one outcome in the universe, physics dictate only ONE outcome is possible. Your mind is made of neurons, of the physical world, and is subject to the same rules of physics. That will actually be the subject of the next post here.

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    1. I believe you are assuming a dualism that does not exist. For example, when you say, “your intelligence, your curiosity, a mentor your were exposed to, etc. combined to create these thoughts in your mind. You had control over none of these contributors” where is the other “you” coming from that is somehow separate from “your intelligence, your curiosity” etc.

      All of these things that you say are controlling you, actually ARE you. You ARE your beliefs and values, your thoughts and feelings, your genetic dispositions and life experiences, the mental processes running on the hardware of your brain, etc. Remove all that and there is nothing left that can be called “you”.

      Also, it’s not just physics. Physics can explain why the apple fell on Newton’s head, but it cannot explain why the apple showed up in Johnny’s lunch box fifty miles from the tree. Nor can it explain why the car stopped at the red light. It is not that the laws of physics are ever violated, it is just that they don’t cover everything. As soon as living organisms appeared, you get goal directed behavior. As soon as intelligent species appear, you get imagination and deliberate choosing.

      Determinism holds at all these different levels, of course. But the list of causes must expand to include both purpose and reasons.

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