EXPLORING THE ILLUSION OF FREE WILL 

Chandler Klebs

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

Chandler Klebs is the new administrator of this site. He's also the Executive Producer of the Free Will, Science, and Religion and Impersonal Opinion podcasts.

Exploring the Illusion of Free Will is two TV shows - WHITE PLAINS NY TV and NYC LIVE CALL-IN TVfour books - George'sGeorge's, Nick's, and Chandler's one meetups - NYC, one website, and Internet video and audio -  YOU TUBE  iTUNES AUDIO PODCAST  PUBLIC DOMAIN VIDEOS & MP3s, one blog - EXOGENOUS AGENCY and one forum for discussions -  GEORGE AND CHANDLER ON FREE WILL

Quick Links to YouTube Episodes: 1-10  11-20  21-30  31-40  41-50  51-60  61-70  71-80  81-90  91-110  101-110  111-120  121-130  131-140  141-150  151-160  161-170  171-180 

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 Will
 
 

YouTube Collection


                     



"Why Human Beings Do Not Have a Free Will"

Notes of the presentation by George Ortega on October 17, 2009 at the 2009 Empire State College Student Academic Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York

 



Hi. Thank you all for coming.

We’re going to be talking about why we human beings have a determined will rather than a free will, and why understanding and acknowledging this matters.  We’ll go into the history of the topic.  We will look at some relatively recent neurobiological and psychological research that provides us compelling evidence for this conclusion.  I’d like to take some time after that to address any questions or comments you might have. We’ll conclude by exploring why this question of a determined will vs. a free will matters both at the personal and the societal level.

O.K. Let’s begin with the acknowledgement that Mother Nature loves to play tricks on us.

1) It seems to us that the Sun is revolving around our planet Earth, but upon closer inspection we discover that it is we who are revolving around the Sun.

2) Our world also seems perfectly still, and motionless, yet our scientists tell us that our planet Earth is hurtling around the Sun at a speed well over 600 thousand miles per hours.

3) We’ve even learned how to create our own illusions


 

When we dig a bit below the surface of how things appear, we discover that the notion that we human beings have a free will is actually also an illusion.  Before we go further, what we need to do first is to be very, very clear about exactly what we mean when we say “free will.”

Let’s begin with the word “will.” We human beings all have a will or volition, and this is certainly no illusion. We make choices all of the time. We decide to do things or to not do them.  But that’s not what’s at issue here.  What we need to explore is what exactly do we mean by a FREE will, or, put a different way, what is our human will supposedly free FROM.

The term FREE WILL is generally taken to mean that we human beings are 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


That’s what we mean by free will, and that’s what the vast majority of philosophers and scientists mean when they use the term free will.

In science there was a debate that presumably went on for decades over whether what we human beings think, feel, and do is the result of nature or nurture. Is human behavior caused by our heredity or by our environment.  Well, it turns out that human behavior results from both our genetic endowment AND by our environment.  But, the very important point here is that both nature AND nurture, both heredity AND environment prohibit free will.

And before we go on, I’d like to address what some of you are very likely thinking “Of course we human beings don’t have a completely free will, but isn’t there some room left in all of this for us to have some control over what we do; don’t we have some degree, or a partial, free will?”  Well, the short answer is, as you might have guessed, “NO.” And I’ll explain this right now.

Individually those factors we went over that determine what we do or don’t do either contribute to determining our behavior or they don’t. Let’s look at this by way of an illustration.

Let’s assume it will take exactly two points of factors to result in our finally deciding to do something. So, in our example, if we tally up two points, will go into our freezer for a delicious pint of Hagen Daz double chocolate ice cream.

Our first point is an urge arising within us “Hey, some ice cream would be perfect right now.” O.K., it looks like we’re now half way to ice cream heaven.  But suddenly we find ourselves thinking “Oh no; eating that ice cream would be absolutely sinful.”  And this thought registers on our scale as a point against our ice cream quest

Now, we happen to be seated in front of our TV at the time and what come on at this very instant but a commercial ad for, you guessed it, Hagen Daz ice cream. (Factor 3 1 point) And were suddenly almost at the fridge again.

Now all this is actually happening sometime next week, and we had attended this talk today, but we really didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of giving up on our free will. We decided to hold on to our free will, simply because it made us feel better to keep it than to let it go.  So we say to ourselves “Wait a minute, I have a free will. I can choose to not eat that ice cream if I want. I’m going to prove that guy at the Empire State Student Acdemic Conference wrong. I will RESIST!  And we do, and we’re back down to one point again, and no ice cream.

But just as we finished thinking that to ourselves, who comes into the room but our very favorite person in the world, and what does this person just happen to say to us? “Hey, who’s in mood for ice cream?” and we score a point.

Well, I think you can guess what happens next. We think to ourselves “I do have a free will, and I’ll surely prove it….sometime tomorrow.  And we score that second point and race off to the freezer in anticipatory delight.  So, I think we can see that some or another factor will ultimately and completely tip us over the edge to where we will do something, or not do something, and that the notion that we have some amount of free will, some partial free will, really does not stand up to the test of reason.

I trust you’re beginning to understand exactly why we human beings do not actually have a free will. We have what we can best be described as a determined will.  And if you are, this is a good place to consider some very important caveats. First, understanding that we human beings really do not have a free will does not mean…

A) We can all now do whatever we want

Other people, and probably also our conscience, will not suddenly stop holding us accountable.

B) does not mean we’ll accept bad behavior from others

We will still need to address threats to value we hold dear

C) Will not mean we will do away with our rules, governments, and systems of law

We will still need sociatal insititutions and guidelines for maintaining order and morality.

D) will not cause civilization to crumble.

In fact, it will probably help us all get along a lot better.


We are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to do what seems most reasonable to us, and to do what seems most morally appropriate.  I’ll go into this more later, But for now I hope we all understand that our acknowledging that free will is a delusion will not create chaos.

Now, let’s go into the history of the matter.

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. Leucippus wrote that

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


With this understanding, we consider the idea of a causal regress, and it is easy to see how we humans have determined wills rather than free wills.

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

“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.”

Apparently, nothing new was said on the matter for the next few hundred years until St. Augustine grappled with the concepts of evil and justice. In his book De libero arbitrio, which is translated as “On Free Will,” Saint Augustine writes:

“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 did 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.

We now have a definition for the term free will, a general understanding of why free will is logically impossible, and a brief history of causality and the idea of free will.  So, how do our greatest modern philosopher weigh in?

British physicist, astronomer and mathematician Sir James Jeans wrote in his 1943 book Physics and Philosophy

"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 was, in fact, an illusion?

In addition to the logical arguments against free will dating back to Leucippus’ statement that “Nothing happens at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity,” there was solid scientific and mathematical theories to contend with.

In the late 1600s, the British genius Sir Isaac Newton developed what came to be the dominant scientific theory of physical reality for the next three hundred years. It was known as Newtonian or Classical Mechanics, and it lent undeniable and powerful scientific evidence to the causal principle that Leucippus had stated two thousand years previously with his statement “----.”

This view of causal determinism held that the universe is completely mechanistic, and that it is governed completely by the principle of cause and effect. This theory presented a strong scientific challenge to the notion of free will.

As Sir James Jeans stated, many of our top thinkers were not at all pleased with this idea that we are all robots, or puppets or actors, and that free will is nothing more than an illusion. So in the early twentieth century, some hope for human free will was revived because a development in an interpretation of the new quantum mechanics that had recently been developed.

In 1925, physicist Warner Heisenberg came out with what came to be referred to as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Basically, his uncertainty principle says 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 both the position and momentum.

At the same time, physicists were grappling with how to explain or interpret their new quantum mechanics. This Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle , one of Heisenberg’s contemporaries back then was Niels Bohr, who was very instrumental in developing our understanding quantum physics. He and others, including Albert Einstein, set about to interpret what the new quantum mechanical equations meant about the nature of physical reality. Bohr’s view came to be known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, and it was opposed by many in the field, including Albert Einstein.

Bohr’s position was that if you couldn’t simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle, they didn’t’ have a simultaneous position and momentum. That’s like saying that a quarter doesn’t have a head and a tail simultaneously because we can’t see both at the same time.

Bohr also claimed that because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the sub-atomic particles that quantum physics deals with are therefore able to violate the principle of cause and effect.

Many of our greatest modern philosophers and scientists understood that reason and classical mechanics made free will impossible, but they didn’t like it. Some of them saw the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Bohr’s Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics as a way to defend their desire that we human beings have a free will. So, they advanced the view that determinism, with it’s principle of cause and effect, was no longer a threat to free will because elementary particle behavior was inherently indeterministic; in other words it occurred essentially uncaused.

Well, that worked well for a while, until everyone realized that an indeterministic universe where things happen at random and for no reason was no help in defending the notion of free will. What would be the meaning and value of a free will if we did all that we did for no reason at all that we could claim as our own?

Quantum Mechanics and the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle was the last serious argument for a free will, although it turned out to be no argument at all. Some people still insist that certain activities like radioactive decay transgresses determinism, but that assertion faces the same dilemma as the Copenhagen Interpretation; if an action is acausal it is certainly cannot be freely willed in any meaningful sense.

So, the notion of free will was shown by physics and logic to be false, and while many philosophers continue to assert that human beings do have free will, their view is more a belief than a philosophical or scientific argument

And during the last several decades, the notion that we human beings have a free wil has suffered numerous and major blows at the hands of geneticists, neurobiologists, sociologists, and psychologists, who have devised brilliant scientific methods for empirically demonstrating that we human beings do not have a free will.

Here is some powerful evidence from the field of neuroscience. In 1964, neuroscientist Hans Kornhuber discovers “the readiness potential”

1. Attaches electromyogram (EMG) to measure muscle activity of a finger as it flexes.

2. Attaches an electroencephalogram (EEG) to the same person’s head to measure brain activity.

3. Detects brain activity before the finger flexes – calls it the readiness potential, and it signals that muscle activity is unequicovally about to occur.

In the 1970s, neurophysiologist Bejamin Libet applies Kornhuber’s findings to the determined will vs. free will question.

1. Attaches EMG and EEG to his subjects in a similar manner as Kornhuber.

2. Instructs his subjects to flex their wrist whenever they want

3. Instructs his subjects to tell him the instant they decide to flex their wrist.

4. Libet discovered that the readiness potential occurred at 550 milliseconds before the wrist flexed.

5. Libet also discovered that the subjects became aware of their decision to flex their wrist at 300 milliseconds before they flexed their wrist.

Libet’s experiment showed that the subjects unconsciously decided to flex their wrist 200 milliseconds before they were consciously aware of their decision to flex. The decision to flex their wrist could not be attributed to a free will, since it was initiated at the level of the unconscious.

Now let’s explore some more recent findings from the field of psychology.  In 1996, Yale psychologist John Bargh and his colleagues publish their paper on priming and free will.

1) Bargh assigned his target and control subjects the task of making sentences from scrambled words.

2) The target group’s words -- gray, wrinkled, wise, Florida, Bingo --were purposely chosen to connote the stereotype of “elderly.” The control group was given neutral words.

3) After finishing their task, the two groups are observed as they walk toward an elevator to leave the building.

4) The target group is observed to walk at a slower pace than the control group.

Bargh’s experiment shows how our unconscious, and not our free will, is responsible for behavior we ordinarily assume is under our conscious control.  In a second experiment published in 1996, Bargh and his colleagues prime his target groups for either rudeness or politeness.

1) Bargh assigns the scrambled word task to each group.

“Politeness” subjects are assigned words like aggressively, bold, rude, annoyingly, interrupt, audaciously

“Rudeness” subjects are assigned words like respect, honor, considerate, appreciate, patiently

2) After completing task, subjects are instructed to notify one of Bargh’s colleagues.

3) Bargh’s colleague is instructed to remain busy in conversation for 10 minutes.

4) 67 percent of the subjects primed for rudeness interrupted Bargh’s colleague, while only 6 percent of the subjects primed for politness interrupted Bargh’s colleague before the 10 minutes elapsed.

5) When Bargh asked subjects in both groups why they interrupted or waited, they offered creative answers, but none were aware of the unconscious priming.

So, psychology seems also to weigh in on the side of humans having a will determined by unconscious processes rather than a free will.  These are just example of the dozens and dozens of experiments across various disciplines that provide very strong evidence that decisions we ordinarily attribute to a free will actually result from factors completely outside of our control.

So, we have explored very strong logical, physical, psychological and neurological evidence that our notion of free will is no more of a reality as is a flat, motionless earth, or a Sun that revolves around our planet. Before we explore why this topic is so very important to how we live our lives, I’d like to offer one more explanation for why we human beings do not have a free will and then take a few minutes to address some comments or questions you may have.

QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS

Okay, now let’s explore why all of this matters.  Let’s take a look at two hypothetical individuals, John and Grace.

A. Grace has learned from everyone he has ever known that voting is the right and moral thing to do.

B. John has learned from everyone she has ever known that voting is wrong and immoral.

C. Grace always votes. John never votes


Questions:

1. Is Grace praiseworthy for always voting?

2. Is John blameworthy for never voting?

3. Should Grace feel proud of always voting?

4. Should John feel ashamed or guilty of never voting?

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

On a personal level, the belief in free will leads to irrational blame, guilt, arrogance, and envy --

1. Blame rather than understanding.

2. Guilt rather than acceptance.

3. Arrogance rather than gratitude.

4. Envy rather positive self-regard.


On a societal level, the belief in free will leads to irrational condemnation, punishment and indifference –

1. 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 criminal justice in the U.S. has moved from the model of reform (as in reformatory and penitentiary) to the model of condemnation and punishment.

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

How does transcending the illusion of free will create a better world?

1) It enables us to see our reality in a completely new and different light, and from a completely different perspective.

2) It represents an giant leap forward in the evolution of human consciousness.

3) It brings our perception of reality more in line with the facts of our universe.

4) It enables us to be better people.


Thank you for coming to my talk,. May we all act with the determined will to create a better world for ourselves and those who follow after us.

 

 

 

                                                                                      

   

 

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