EXPLORING THE ILLUSION OF FREE WILL
 
 
  George Ortega
Creating a world of far less blame, guilt, arrogance and envy

The world's first, and already successful*  initiative, including two TV shows, to popularize the refutation of free will  *How it happened  

John Searle, the13th ranked post-1900 philosopher, says that our world overcoming the free will illusion "would be a bigger revolution in our thinking than Einstein, or Copernicus, or Newton, or Galileo, or Darwin -- it would alter our whole conception of our relation with the universe." 

The Washington Post, The New York Times, Psychology Today, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, USA Today, The Telegraph, Time Magazine, Scientific American, NPR Radio, The Economist, and Science Magazine  all affirm that free will is an illusion

 

Exploring the Illusion of Free Will is two TV shows - WHITE PLAINS NY TV and NYC LIVE CALL-IN TV,  two books - Mine and  Enel's,  two meetups - NYC, and WHITE PLAINS NY, one website, and Internet video and audio - BLIP.TV    YOU TUBE  iTUNES AUDIO PODCAST  PUBLIC DOMAIN VIDEOS & MP3s   and one blog for discussions - EXOGENOUS AGENCY

 
Quick Links to YouTube Episodes: 01-10  11-20  21-30  31-40  41-50  51-60  61-70  71-80  81-90 91-100  101-110  111-120  121-130  131-140  141-150
 

Quick Links to 18 Episode Transcripts: ( by title 01   02   03   04   05   06   07   08   09   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18

 

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Site Features
 

Free Will Refutations in Major Publications

 

Free Will Refuted in the Blogs

 

Free Will Refuted on YouTube

 

Recent books for the public and academia refuting free will

 

Edited and Revised Transcripts of the First Eighteen Episodes

 

Quotes Disaffirming Free Will and Affirming Determinism by the Famous

 

Absurd Free Will Defenses by Major Institutions and Publications Who Should Know Better

 

Claiming credit for public awareness that free will is an illusion

 
 

More Featured Episodes

10. Why Change as the basic Universal Process Makes Free Will Impossible

13. Overcoming Blame, Guilt, Envy and Arrogance by Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will

16. Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will as an Evolutionary Leap in Human Consciousness

17. Revitalizing Religion through Transcending the Illusion of Free Will

26. Because Essential Elements of Every Decision are Stored in Our Unconscious, Free Will is Impossible.

38. The Messenger and I Have Evolved Human Consciousness

50. Freud Popularized the Unconscious.  Ortega is Popularizing Unconscious Will

60. Ten Ways to Refute Free Will

 
 

Landmark Coverage Refuting Free Will

 

USA Today - "Why you don't really have free will by Jerry Coyne January 1, 2012

"The debate about free will, long the purview of philosophers alone, has been given new life by scientists, especially neuroscientists studying how the brain works. And what they're finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion."


Time Magazine - "Think You're Operating on Free Will? Think Again" by Eben Harrell July 2, 2010

"In an intriguing review in the July 2 edition of the journal Science, published online Thursday, Ruud Custers and Henk Aarts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands lay out the mounting evidence of the power of what they term the 'unconscious will.'...John Bargh of Yale University, who 10 years ago predicted many of the findings discussed by Custers and Aarts in a paper entitled "The Unbearable Automaticity of Being," called the Science paper a "landmark — nothing like this has been in Science before."


The New York Times - "Your Move: The Maze of Free Will" by Galen Strawson July 22, 2010

"Some people think that quantum mechanics shows that determinism is false, and so holds out a hope that we can be ultimately responsible for what we do. But even if quantum mechanics had shown that determinism is false (it hasn’t), the question would remain: how can indeterminism, objective randomness, help in any way whatever to make you responsible for your actions? The answer to this question is easy. It can’t."

The Atlantic - "The Brain on Trial" by David Eagleman July/August 2011

"In modern science, it is difficult to find the gap into which to slip free will—the uncaused causer—because there seems to be no part of the machinery that does not follow in a causal relationship from the other parts."

The Telegraph - "Neuroscience, free will and determinism: 'I'm just a machine'" by Tom Chivers October 12, 2010

"The philosophical definition of free will uses the phrase 'could have done otherwise'... "As a neuroscientist, you've got to be a determinist. There are physical laws, which the electrical and chemical events in the brain obey. Under identical circumstances, you couldn't have done otherwise; there's no 'I' which can say 'I want to do otherwise'."


The Guardian - "Guilty but not responsible?" by Rosiland English May 29, 2012

"The discovery that humans possess a determined will has profound implications for moral responsibility. Indeed, Harris is even critical of the idea that free will is "intuitive": he says careful introspection can cast doubt on free will. In an earlier book on morality, Harris argues 'Thoughts simply arise in the brain. What else could they do? The truth about us is even stranger than we may suppose: The illusion of free will is itself an illusion'"


Psychology Today - "Free Will Is an Illusion, So What?" by

If you think carefully about any decision you have made in the past, you will recognize that all of them were ultimately based on similar—genetic or social—inputs to which you had been exposed. And you will also discover that you had no control over these inputs, which means that you had no free will in taking the decisions you did.

Complete List

 
 


A brief history of determined vs. free will ideas

Cause and Effect – At about the 5th century BC, in his work On the Mind, the Greek Philosopher Leucippus penned the earliest known universal statement describing what we today understand as determinism, or the law of cause and effect

“Nothing happens at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity.”

Human Will – The concepts of will and free will are actually Christian in orgin. It was Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans, which is dated at about 58 A.D., who first discovered this thing we call human will. He came to it by recognizing that he could not often do as much right as he wanted. Saint Paul wrote in Romans 7:15 that:

“I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t.” I do what I don’t want to – what I hate.” (Translation – The Living Bible)

Free Will -- Nothing new was said on the matter for the next few hundred years until St. Augustine grappled with the concepts of evil and justice. Saint Augustine wrote in his book De Libero Arbitrio, 386-395 A.D., (translated as “On Free Will”)

“Evil deeds are punished by the justice of God. They would not be punished justly if they had not been performed voluntarily.”

The problem he saw was that if human beings do not have a free will, it would be unfair for God to arbitrarily reward or punish us. St. Augustine concluded that God could not be unfair, and so he created the concept of a human free will, whereby we earn our reward or punishment by what we freely do.

Scientific concepts relating to the determined will vs. free will question

Classical Mechanics -- In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton publishes his “Laws of Motions” that mathematically describes the physical universe as acting in a mechanistic manner according to the principle of cause and effect.

Classical Mechanics is a completely deterministic theory

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle -- In 1925 Warner Heisenberg describes mathematically that…

We can measure the position of a particle or the momentum of a particle (momentum meaning its direction and velocity), but we cannot simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle.

Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics -- Niels Bohr and others make the following assertions;

1) Particles do not have a simultaneous position and momentum.

2) Elementary particles behave indeterministically, and are not subject to the principle of cause and effect.

Believers in free will saw the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics as providing a possibility for free will to exist. They asserted that if elementary particles behave indeterministically, they are not subject to the principle of cause and effect that prohibits free will.

But, as noted above, it eventually became apparent that indeterminism also prohibits free will.

 

Edited Transcripts of the First Eighteen Episodes
01 How I came to see my causal will

02 Proving causal will in real time

03 Morality within a causal will perspective

04 What it all means

05 We Do Not "Experience" Free Will

06 How the Hedonic Imperative Makes Free Will Impossible

07 How the Unsolicited Participation of the Unconscious Makes Free Will Impossible

08 Asking When a Child Gains it Illuminates the Incoherence of the Concept "Free Will"

09 Overcoming our Reluctance to Overcome the Illusion of Free Will

10 Why Change as the Basic Universal Process Makes Free Will Impossible

11 The Absurdity of Varying Degrees of Free Will

12 Why the Concept of Free Will is Incoherent

13 Overcoming Blame, Guilt, Envy and Arrogance by Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will

14 Why Both Causality and Randomness Make Free Will Impossible

15 Why Frankfurt's “Second Order Desires” Do Not Allow for a Free Will

16 Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will as an Evolutionary Leap in Human Consciousness

17 Revitalizing Religion through Transcending the Illusion of Free Will

18 Why Humans Cannot Circumvent Natural Law to Gain a Free Wil
l
 
 

YouTube Collection

Episodes on blip.tv 
Distrusted for  tabletop television devices like Roku

1-10   11-20    21-30    31-40


 
Produced by George Ortega, Exploring the Illusion of Free Will premiered on January 6, 2011, in White Plains, New York. It also cablecasts weekly in other select Westchester County, New York communities and at least every other week at MNN in New York City.

Wow!  All of our video episodes on one page at Yahoo! Video Search

Wednesdays at 7:30pm and Thursdays at 9pm ET on White Plains, New York Cablevision 76 and FiOS 45, or streamed at that time through The White Plains Media Center website and most Wednesdays at 11pm on NYC's MNN on Time Warner 56, or streamed at that time through MNN's website.

 

Featured Episodes

 

16. Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will as an Evolutionary Leap in Consciousness

Producer George Ortega explains the significance of humanity fully understanding that our wills are causal rather than free.

94. Free Will -- What Sam Harris Gets Right and Wrong Part I

Hosted by George Ortega and Enel, this episode reviews neurologist and three times New York Times best-selling author Sam Harris's March 2012 landmark book Free Will.

 

 

 

Exploring the Illusion of Free Will  causalconsciousness.com   Manhattan NYC
Exploring the Illusion of Free Will at Meetup.com  Founded by George Ortega on April 7, 2010

Join us every first Saturday of the month at 2pm, at the Sony Plaza, 550 Madison. (between 55th and 56th). 

This is the Meetup that started the explosion of coverage on the illusion of free will between 2010 and 2012.

 

Exploring the Illusion of Free Will  causalconsciousness.com   White Plains, NY
Life After Free Will at Meetup.com

Join us every third Thursday of the month at 7pm, at the Barnes and Noble coffee shop at the City Center at 220 Main Street.

 

Free Will Refutations in Major Publications - complete list

The New York Times' Sunday Book Review - "Have it Your Way; Free Will by Sam Harris" by Daniel Menaker  July 13, 2012

"However correct Harris’s position may be — and I believe that his basic thesis must indeed be correct — it seems to me a sadder truth than he wants to."

Historic 2012 Cover Story  Scientific American Mind - "Who's in Control - How Physics and Neuroscience Dictate Your 'Free' Will" by Christof Koch May/June 2012

Free Will Refuted in the Blogs
 

The sublime irony, great fun, and pragmatic necessity, of claiming credit for spearheading the explosion in public awareness that free will is an illusion, that began in the spring of 2010.

by George Ortega

 

 



Exploring the Illusion of Free Will, Second Edition
by George Ortega, June 24, 2013

$6.99 paperback or 0.99 Kindle at Amazon
  
 

Free will an illusion?

"That would be a bigger revolution in our thinking than Einstein, or Copernicus, or Newton, or Galileo, or Darwin -- it would alter our whole conception of our relation with the universe."  John Searle - American Philosopher (Quoted by Susan Blackmore in Conversations on Conciousness 2005)


What do top philosophers conclude? 

In his 1943 book Physics and Philosophy, British physicist, astronomer and mathematician Sir James Jeans writes,

"Practically all modern philosophers of the first rank -- Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Alexander, as well as many others -- have been determinists in the sense of admitting the cogency of the arguments for determinism, but many have at the same time been indeterminists in the sense of hoping to find a loophole of escape from these arguments.  Often they conceded that our apparent freedom is an illusion, so that the only loophole they could hope to find would be an explanation as to how the illusion could originate."

 

How to disprove ANY free will argument in 2 easy steps

1.  Ask the free will believer to give an example of a choice they consider to be freely willed.

2.  Ask the free will believer to say whether or not that choice was caused.

Congratulations; you’ve won!

If the free will believer says the choice was caused, the causal regression makes free will impossible.

If the free will believer says the choice was uncaused, that would mean the choice was random.  Random thoughts are not what we mean when we say we believe a thought is freely willed.

You can easily apply this two-step refutation to any, and all, free will arguments

Why Free Will is Impossible

1.  Causality, or Cause and Effect.  Because everything has a cause, every human choice  manifests a causal regression stretching at least as far back as the Big Bang, or about 13.7 billion years.

1a.  Even if true randomness were possible in the strongest sense of "uncaused" at the quantum level, (it is not, quantum uncertainty notwithstanding) random decisions are certainly not freely willed, as the notion is commonly and academically understood.

2.  Our Unconscious.  Because the data upon which we base decisions is located in our unconscious (it must be, because we could not store all of that data in our conscious mind at any given moment) then that data must only be accessible to our unconscious, wherein must therefore also reside our brain's decision making. 



"This is the big one.  The notion that we have free will -- the ability to exercise conscious control over our actions and decisions -- is deeply ingrained in us...  We all have a sense of agency -- the conviction that even though we did one thing, we could have done another, and that at any given moment we have free choice of any number of actions.  Yet it seems that this is an elaborate illusion created by your brain.  The conclusion is inescapable.  We really are deluded."     

Graham Lawton -
Deputy Editor of New Scientist  weekly
May 14, 2011, page 41.

 


 


FREE WILL?
Sometimes live call-in television series

Every Wednesday at 11pm ET

NYC's Manhattan Neighborhood Network

MNN Lifestyle Channel 2 -Time Warner 56

UNDEFEATED
 

 


After cablecasting in preview since September 22, 2011, our sometimes-live call-in TV show, now called Free Will?, premiered as The Myth of Free Will,  on New York City's Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), on January 18, 2012.  Don't live in Manhattan?  Watch and, if we're live, call us from anywhere in the world through MNN's live streaming.  Just go to the Lifestyle Channel 2 on the MNN homepage, or click to Watch us at 11pm ET every Wednesday.


 

 

Absurd Free Will Defenses by Major Institutions and Publications Who Should Know Better

NBC News.com - Study: Fruit flies may have free will  Aired on July 29, 2012

"Do humans really posses free will?  Do we control our own actions?  Well, some new findings could shed some light on the debate...A team of researchers glued the insects to small copper hooks in an environment where they couldn't see.  They found that the flies could still beat their wings and turn back and forth just as they do when they search for food.  The researchers say the pattern isn't just random." 

Someone should explain to NBC's science editors that if a pattern is not random, not caused, it must be caused.  Randomness and causality both refute free will, and there is no third option, either logically or scientifically.  As for the "new findings" claim, msnbc.com originally published the story on May 15, 2007.  Yes, that's 2007.

Scientific American - "How Free Will Collides with Unconscious Impulses July 30, 2012

"But if we define free will as the power to do otherwise, the choice to veto one impulse over another is free won't. Free won't is veto power over innumerable neural impulses tempting us to act in one way, such that our decision to act in another way is a real choice."

What Shermer misses is that vetoing impulses is either a causal or random process, and either prospect makes free will, and "free won't" quite impossible.  This piece is particularly embarrassing because Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine.   Ouch! 

American Medical Association Journal of Ethics - "Determinism and Advances in Neuroscience" by Nada Gligorov, PhD  June 2012  (Volume 14, Number 6: 489-493) 

"It seems, then, that in order to establish a clear conflict between determinism in science and free will one must make as yet unsupported assumptions about both."

Gilgorov fails to appreciate that the only alternative to determinism is randomness, or our decisions happening without any cause.   Randomness actually more strongly refutes free will than determinism.  Imagine what our lives and world would be like if our decisions were uncaused, however internally inconsistent, and incoherent such a prospect is, both logically and scientifically.

Science Daily - "Quantum Physicists Show a Small Amount of Randomness Can Be Amplified Without Limit"  May 16, 2012
 

 



Proving, according to scientific method,
that free will is impossible

There are at least two aspects of reality that are more fundamental than, in that they are absolutely required by, scientific method for it to work. The first is that reality, or the universe, exists. The second is that change is the fundamental process in the universe. Change is an expression, or result, of causality, or the law of cause and effect, (i.e. no change is possible without causality). We can therefore prove, through scientific method, that free will is impossible by invoking these two axiomatic, a priori, facts in considering human will . Game, set, match - proof that human will is causal, and free will is an illusion. - George Ortega

 


Recent Books Refuting Free Will

For the Public

January 13, 2014 (first published in 2012) Brain Choices & Free Will - Getting To Know Ourselves Using Concepts That Are Not Well Understood Or Accepted by Kip Koehler  $2.99 (Kindle edition)

December 18, 2013 - The Illusion of Free Will (Book of Lists) by I.M. Probulos  $2.99 (Kindle edition)

October 24, 2013 - Without Free Will by D.S. Sampson  $0.99 (Kindle edition)

June 24, 2013 - Exploring the Illusion of Free Will, Second Edition by George Ortega $6.99

May 16, 2013 - You're Determined: This Explains Everything You Do by Theodore Stern  $18.00

January 17, 2013 - Free Will: The Ultimate in Nonsense (first published in 2012) by Enel Vale $17.99

November 9, 2012 - Destiny and Free Will by Edward Mullen  $2.99 (Kindle edition)

November 3, 2012 - Cómo Vivir Feliz Sin Libre Albedrío (Spanish Edition - How to Live Without Free Will) by Jan Bover $0.99 (Kindle edition)

October 2. 2012 - The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing Up to a False Belief  by Richard Oerton  $15.95

May 10, 2012 - The Newer Testament: The Bible of Unfree Will by The Master Teachers  $23.99

March 6, 2012 - Free Will by Sam Harris, Ph.D.  $9.99

December 2, 2011 - Exploring the Illusion of Free Will; Eighteen episodes from the world's first television series about the causal, unconscious nature of human will by George Ortega  $7.04  (out of print)

November 3, 2010 -
Free Will?: An investigation into whether we have free will, or whether I was always going to write this book by Jonathan Pearce  $15.00 

August 11, 2010 - The Myth of Free Will, Revised and Expanded Edition (first edition published in 2007) edited by Cris Evatt  $9.95


For Academia
  

March 28, 2014 - Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life by Derk Pereboom, Ph.D.  $38.41

  July 5, 2013 -  Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility edited
  by Gregg D. Caruso, Ph. D.  $85.00

May 28, 2013 - The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will  by Heidi Ravven Ph. D.  $23.45

February 23, 2012 - Free Will and Consciousness; A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will by Gregg Caruso, Ph.D.  $56.47

September 5, 2011 -  Hard Luck: How Luck Undermines Free Will and Moral Responsibility by Neil Levy, Ph.D.  $47.51

October 21, 2010 - Freedom and Belief, Second Edition (first edition published in 1986) by Galen Strawson, Ph.D.  $30.61

November 2, 2006 (first published in 2001) - Living Without Free Will by Derk Pereboom, Ph.D.  $48.82



Other Post-1900 Works

2007
(Revised Edition issued on August 11, 2010) - The Myth of Free Will, Revised and Expanded Edition  edited by Cris Evatt  $9.95

June 30, 2006 - The Really Bad Thing About Free Will - by Martin Zender  $

June 1, 2005 - Conscious Robots by Paul Kwatz  $1.51 for the Kindle edition (bound edition is out of print)

August 11, 2003 - The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner, Ph.D.  $16.84

September 26, 2002 - Free Will and Illusion by Saul Smilansky, Ph.D.  $46.67

May 23, 1991 - The Implications of Determinism by Roy Weatherford (out of print)

November 22, 1990 - The Non-Reality of Free Will by Richard Double  $104.50

July 1989 (Reissued October 22, 2012) - The Spontaneous Self: Viable Alternatives to Free Will by Paul E. Breer  $26.99

June 1989 - Free Will by Robert E. Brooks (out of print)

1964 - Human Freedom and Responsibility by Frederick Vivian (out of print)

1961-1988 (October 14, 2009) - Decline and Fall of All Evil: The Most Important Discovery of Our Times by Seymour Lessans. This 614-page compilation of Mr. Lessan's seven works between 1959 and 1988 by his daughter Janis Rafael is of special historical importance because, while I cannot accept some of his rationale, Mr. Lessans was the first person in our world to clearly understand the significance and profound comprehensive utility of humanity transcending the belief in free will.

1919 - Determinism or Free Will by Chapman Cohen $0.00 (Kindle edition)

1918 - Not Guilty: A Defence of the Bottom Dog by Robert Blatchford. $2.99 (Kindle edition).
This excellent book more than any other yet published highlights the profound immorality that results from our mistaken belief in free will.



Classic Free Will Refutations


1839 - Essay on the Freedom of the Will (Reissued on May 6, 2005) by Arthur Schopenhauer  $6.60

1754  (Reissued on November 10, 2010) - Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards  $.95 for the Kindle edition. (The bound edition, published on September 1, 1997 is out of print) free online version

 

 
 
Edited and Revised Transcripts of the First Eighteen Episodes

01 How I came to see my causal will

02 Proving causal will in real time

03 Morality within a causal will perspective

04 What it all means

05 We Do Not "Experience" Free Will

06 How the Hedonic Imperative Makes Free Will Impossible

07 How the Unsolicited Participation of the Unconscious Makes Free Will Impossible

08 Asking When a Child Gains it Illuminates the Incoherence of the Concept "Free Will"

09 Overcoming our Reluctance to Overcome the Illusion of Free Will

10 Why Change as the Basic Universal Process Makes Free Will Impossible

11 The Absurdity of Varying Degrees of Free Will

12 Why the Concept of Free Will is Incoherent

13 Overcoming Blame, Guilt, Envy and Arrogance by Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will

14 Why Both Causality and Randomness Make Free Will Impossible

15 Why Frankfurt's “Second Order Desires” Do Not Allow for a Free Will

16 Overcoming the Illusion of Free Will as an Evolutionary Leap in Human Consciousness

17 Revitalizing Religion through Transcending the Illusion of Free Will

18 Why Humans Cannot Circumvent Natural Law to Gain a Free Wil
l
 
 

 

Definition, Refutation, Science, History, and Significance


The term FREE WILL is generally taken to mean that we human beings would be free to think, feel and do whatever we want regardless of --

1) Whom we were born to, and how they raised us

2) Where we were born, and where we grew up

3) What we learned, or didn't learn, in school and from life in general

4) How young or old we are

5) How smart or not we are

6) What experiences we’ve had, or haven’t had

7) What type of personality we have

8) What our genetic makeup is, including whether we were born male or female

9) What our unconscious mind happens to be doing

10) Our preferences, needs and desires

11) And various other factors of which we are not in control

That’s what the vast majority of philosophers and scientists, and the public mean when they say free will.  The basic reason we human beings do not have a free will is because of the principle of causality, which is better known as the law of cause and effect, and is also referred to as determinism. It basically says that everything that happens is caused. Things don't just happen.

The most general understanding of this principle is that the state of the universe at one moment is the cause of the state of the universe at the next moment and the effect of the state of the universe at the previous moment. This chain of universal causation stretches back in time to before the Earth was created and forward in time into the indefinite future. That’s basically the reason free will is an illusion. Through the process of cause and effect, the universe before we were born has predetermined everything that happens in our universe now, including everything we think, feel, and do. But there are easier ways to understand this.  In science there was once a debate over whether what we human beings do is the result of nature or nurture. Scientists ultimately proved that human behavior results from both our genetic endowment AND our environment. But, neither nature nor nurture, nor their combination, allow for a free will.

If you are beginning to see why we human beings do not have a free will, this is a good place to consider two important caveats. Understanding that we human beings really do not have a free will… …does not give us permission to do whatever we want.

…does not mean we’ll accept bad behavior from others

…does not mean we will do away with our rules, governments, and systems of law

…will not cause civilization to crumble.

What did our greatest modern philosophers think about free will?  In his 1943 book Physics and Philosophy, British physicist, astronomer and mathematician Sir James Jeans writes:

Practically all modern philosophers of the first rank -- Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Alexander, as well as many others -- have been determinists in the sense of admitting the cogency of the arguments for determinism, but many have at the same time been indeterminists in the sense of hoping to find a loophole of escape from these arguments. Often they conceded that our apparent freedom is an illusion, so that the only loophole they could hope to find would be an explanation as to how the illusion could originate.

Why were these philosophers forced to admit that free will is, in fact, an illusion?  In the late 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton developed Newtonian or Classical Mechanics and it said that nature is governed by the principle of cause and effect, or determinism. Quantum mechanics came along in the early 1900s, and some scientists and philosophers thought that cause and effect might not govern the quantum world of elementary particles. They thought that maybe nature was inherently indetermanistic, and things happened at random rather than by cause and effect.

They eventually realized that an indeterministic universe where things happen at random, and for no reason, didn’t help their case. How could we call our will free if all of our choices were random?  During the last several decades, the idea of free will has been repeatedly refuted by geneticists, neuroscientists, sociologists, and psychologists, who have devised many experiments to explain why we do not have a free will. Let’s look at one from neuroscience.

In 1964, neuroscientist Hans Kornhuber discovered “the readiness potential.” He used an electromyogram, or EMG, to measure the muscle activity of a person’s finger as it flexes. He used an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to measure the person’s brain activity. He detected brain activity before the finger flexes and called that activity the readiness potential. The readiness potential signals that muscle activity is absolutely and irrevocably about to occur.

In the 1970s, neurophysiologist Bejamin Libet used Kornhuber’s findings to explore the determined will vs. free will question. Like Kornhuber, he attached an EMG and EEG to his subjects. He instructed his subjects to flex their wrist whenever they wished, and to tell him exactly when they made their decision.

Libet found that the readiness potential occurred about 550 milliseconds before the wrist flexed. But the subjects became aware of their decision to flex their wrist about 300 milliseconds before they flexed their wrist.  This experiment showed that the subjects had unconsciously decided to flex their wrist 200 milliseconds before they were consciously aware of their decision. Since their decision was initiated at the level of the unconscious, flexing their wrist could not have been freely willed.

Now let’s explore some recent findings from psychology.  During the mid 90s, Yale psychologist John Bargh and his colleagues studied the effects of priming on our human will. Bargh assigned two groups of subjects the task of making sentences from scrambled words.  The target group’s words -- gray, wrinkled, wise, Florida, and Bingo -- were chosen to prime the stereotype of “elderly.” The control group was given neutral words. After finishing their task, the two groups were observed as they walked toward an elevator to leave the building.

Bargh observed that the target group consistently walked to the elevator at a slower pace than did the control group. His experiment shows how our unconscious is responsible for behavior we ordinarily assume is under our conscious, or free, control.  In a second experiment, Bargh and his colleagues primed his target groups for either rudeness or politeness. Again, Bargh assigned the scrambled word task to each group. The “Rudeness” group was assigned words like aggressively, bold, rude, annoyingly, interrupt and audaciously. The “Politeness” group was assigned words like respect, honor, considerate, appreciate and patiently.

After completing the sentence task, the subjects from each group were instructed to notify one of Bargh’s colleagues that they were done. Bargh, however, instructed his colleague to remain busy in conversation for ten minutes, so that the subjects would either have to wait a long while or interrupt the conversation.

As it turned out, before the ten minutes had elapsed 67 percent of the subjects primed for rudeness interrupted Bargh’s colleague, while only 6 percent of the subjects primed for politeness interrupted. Also, very interestingly, when Bargh asked his subjects why they interrupted or why waited, they offered creative answers, but none showed any awareness of the unconscious priming that had compelled their actions.    These are just a few of the dozens of scientific experiments from various disciplines that reveal that decisions we ordinarily attribute to a "free" will are actually caused by factors completely outside of our control.

Okay, now let’s explore why all of this matters.  Let’s look at two individuals, John and Grace. Grace learned from everyone she ever knew that voting is the right and moral thing to do. John learned from everyone he ever knew that voting is wrong and immoral. Grace always votes. John never votes.  Should we consider Grace praiseworthy for always voting? Should we blame John for never voting? Should Grace feel proud of always voting? Should John feel ashamed or guilty of never voting?

Let’s explore this idea of accountability through another example.  Ten big guys walk into a room, take hold of a person, force him to grasp a magic marker, and despite his resistance, make him scribble FREEBIRD in large letters on the floor in front of him. Would it right to hold him accountable for this action?

Basically all of our choices are as completely forced or compelled as the person in our example.

On a personal level, the belief in free will leads to irrational blame, guilt, arrogance, and envy.  It causes blame rather than understanding or problem solving. It causes guilt rather than acceptance. It causes arrogance rather than gratitude. It causes envy of others rather positive self-regard.

On a societal level, the belief in free will leads to irrational condemnation, punishment and indifference.  The U.S. accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, but is responsible for 25 percent of incarcerations throughout the world. During the last hundred years, our criminal justice system has moved from reform (as in reformatory and penitentiary) to condemnation, retribution and punishment. Regrettably, those prisoners had no choice but to do what they did.

While we must protect ourselves from those who pose a threat, if we were to acknowledge the true causal nature of our human will, we would do so with more understanding and compassion. Also, we would better appreciate the value of reaching potential criminals when they are still young, thereby lessening the likelihood that they will resort to crimes as adults.

In our world, every day 29,000 children aged five and under die of largely preventable poverty-related causes. Many of us from rich countries justify our indifference toward them by blaming their parents for having them, or for not working hard enough to feed and care for them.

How would transcending the illusion of free will create a better world?  It would enable us to see the world in a completely new and different light, and from a refreshingly different perspective.  It would represent a giant leap forward in the evolution of human consciousness.  It would bring our perception of reality more in line with what we know to be the facts of our universe.  It would enable us to be better people.

 

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