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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121-130

 

 

131-140

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141-150
 
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 
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1-10   11-20    21-30    31-40


 

Transcripts of the First Eighteen Episodes

 

Episode 14.  Why Both Causality and Randomness Make Free Will Impossible

 

Our belief in free will forms the premise for why we do things, and how we decide.  It is the basis for our entire civilization, for our entire society, and for our personal lives.  In order to create a more understanding and intelligent world that is in line with the way things are, and isn’t based on a misconception, we’ve got to explore this matter.  We’ve got to overcome this illusion of free will.  It may take several decades, but the purpose of this show is to help create a better world for everyone by helping us overcome this illusion. 

What do we mean when we say free will?  Basically, we mean that our decisions are completely up to us, and that nothing that is not in our control is influencing, or compelling, us to make a decision.  But, we understand that we all have an unconscious, and that our unconscious is where we store all of our data, memories, and thought processes.  Every decision we make is based on words, concepts, memories and processes stored in this unconscious.  The unconscious is not in our control.  It’s completely unconscious. That’s why we call it the unconscious.  If that part of our brain is actually making these decisions for us, we can’t correctly claim we have a free will.  Something that we’re not in control of is making these decisions.  Obviously, what we have is a causal will, meaning that it is caused.  Everything has a cause.  Nothing happens without a cause. Causality is the fundamental universal process.

In order to have a free will, we would have to somehow circumvent causality, but we can’t do that.  Any decision we make has to have a cause, because we are making it for a reason.  The problem is that if we have a decision that has a cause, and that cause has a cause, and that cause has a cause, and you’re going back in time in a causal regression that ultimately leads to before our birth, before the Planet was created, and to the time of the Big Bang, free will must be impossible.

In the late 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton created what we now refer to as Newtonian, or classical, physics.  This theory is completely causal.  We can measure the position and momentum – meaning direction and velocity – of objects, whether they are planets or objects here on Earth, and with that information, we can calculate their future.  We can predict exactly where they would be moments, our years, later. 

When we track a comet through the sky, or track the other planets, we know exactly where they are going to be at any moment thousands of years into the future because these objects obey strict causal law.  The obvious conclusion from this classical, Newtonian, physics is that free will is impossible because, again, everything has to have a cause. 

It was during the early 20th century that Warner Heisenberg, Neils Bohr, and a few other physicists developed what is known as quantum mechanics.  Heisenberg published a paper in 1927 that described what we now refer to as the uncertainty principle.   At the macro level, let’s say we’re measuring a basketball.  We can fire photons at it, and, with enough precision for prediction, measure its position and momentum.  Light particles do not substantially affect the movement of the basketball because the basketball is so large relative to the photon. 

But, when we get to the quantum level of sub-atomic particles, this is not the case.  When we fire one particle at another to obtain that measurement of position and momentum, the measuring particle knocks into the target particle, and thereby moves it into a different trajectory.  The crux of the uncertainty principle is that we can’t simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle.  To the extent that we get the position more precisely, we lose information about its momentum.  To the extent that we get its momentum more precisely, we lose information about its position.  That’s pretty clear.  We can’t any longer use classical mechanics to make predictions at the quantum level because of the uncertainty principle, so we rely on probabilities.

We understand the behavior of groups of particles, and then develop probabilities for them.  At the quantum level, measurement changes from being a completely physical, direct, and clearly causal process to a statistical process, derived from probabilities for individual particles based on their causal behavior within groups. 

The problem for the proper understanding of human will came when those physicists then interpreted what it meant that you couldn’t simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle.  Bohr, Heisenberg, and a few others, came up with what came to be known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.  What they claimed – and we can see the absurdity of it from the onset – is that since we can’t simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle, particles don’t simultaneously have a position and momentum. 

They also claimed that because we can’t see what is happening after a measurement, (once we measure the target particle, its position and momentum have changed because of the impact of the measuring particle) the particle’s behavior was somehow uncaused.  They claimed that particle behavior at the sub-atomic level had no cause.  I’ve read some of work of Heisenberg and Bohr, and of some of the other physicists who championed this interpretation, and learned that these guys were quite into philosophy.  My hunch is that what they were trying to do with the Copenhagen Interpretation was to revive the idea that humans have a free will. 

They made these claims, but the best they could do with them was to assert that particle behavior at the quantum level is uncaused, or random.  They claimed that these things at the quantum level happened for no reason at all – for no cause.  The problem for the human will question is that if something is happening for absolutely no cause at all, it can’t be caused by a human will, free or otherwise.  If it’s happening arbitrarily, or at random, obviously we are not causing it. 

For some phenomena, like this simultaneous particle position and momentum measurement, we don’t know everything that’s going on.  With radio-active decay, for example, we can know the half-life, or rate at which a group of particles will decay, but for any given particle, we can’t precisely predict when that radio-active isotope will decay, or transform, into something else.  Because of that example, and because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, physicists and philosophers began to absurdly claim that this radioactive decay must be uncaused.

We’ve gone over how causality makes free will impossible.  Let’s go through it again, and then we’ll go through why randomness also makes free will impossible in a bit more detail, so that we more clearly understand.

We make a decision.  Let’s say our decision has a cause, and is not random in the absurd sense of uncaused.  There is a reason for why we make a decision, for why we chose what we chose.  Remember that everything has a cause.  Nothing happens that is not caused.  There was a religious argument about this many centuries ago about the Latin phrase “causa sui,” meaning the cause of itself.  They would ask themselves “if God created the universe – the world – then who created God?”  Their answer was that God created Her/Himself.  

Let’s say we accept that God, or the universe – the logic-transcending very beginning – caused itself.  After that first cause, everything has a cause.  The best way to understand this, as I’ve explained before, is to consider the entire universe at the state of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.  The state of the universe at the very next moment in time was the exact and complete result of that first moment.  What we have is particles moving sequentially through space in time.  By bringing that state-by-state evolution of the universe causally up to the present, we can understand that everything that is happening now is a direct and complete result of the state-of-the-universe evolution.

We can also understand this in terms of decisions.  We make a decision.  There is a reason for it.  That reason is a cause.  And there is a cause for that cause, and a cause for that cause, and a cause for that cause, each cause spanning further and further back in time.  We see causality regressing into the past.  Everything has to have a cause, and a cause must precede its effect.

By definition, a cause cannot come after its effect.  The cause is happening a moment before its effect, and the cause of that cause is happening the moment before that.  If we follow that chain of moment-by-moment causes and effects, we can understand that whatever we’re doing right now is the direct result of a causal chain that spans back to before planet Earth was created.  There is obviously no room for a free will to emerge from within this causal chain.

Now let’s address randomness.  Randomness sometimes gets confused because it’s given various different meanings.  Here’s one that makes sense.  I have a deck of cards, and ask you to pick one out at random.  What we understand that to mean is that you’re going to pick one out without giving it any thought.  You’re not going to count from the beginning of the deck to the one you want, or use any other system or plan for your choice.  It will be arbitrary.  That’s the conventional, colloquial sense of randomness that we tend to use. 

In physics, however, there is a more precise technical meaning of randomness.  Some physicists define randomness as something that is unpredictable.  That’s a mistake.  Sure, randomness is unpredictable, but so is causality, to a completely accurate degree.  Some physicists will say that unpredictable means unpredictable in theory, but not in practice.  But, as human beings, with our subjective perspective on whatever it is we’re trying to predict, we can’t know all of the information necessary.  We’d have to know the exact position and momentum of every particle in the universe to make a completely accurate prediction of whatever.  Secondly, because of the uncertainty principle, we can’t directly make those predictions. 

What is interesting is that our quantum probabilities would not work if the particle behavior being measured was not inherently causal.  A single particle acting randomly, in the sense of unpredictably, and uncaused, cannot suddenly become causal when it joins other particles within a group.   

Some physicists say that randomness means unpredictability, but when we ask them “what does unpredictable mean?” they say that the particle’s behavior is not being caused.   Again, such an assertion is completely absurd, and based on neither logic, nor scientific method, nor empirical observation.  There is no such thing as true randomness.  There are random events generators that will generate “random” numbers, but they are not completely random because computations are completely causal processes. 

When some scientists claim that something is random, it seems they don’t understand exactly what they are claiming.  They are claiming that some things that happen do not have a cause – that they happen uncaused.  Unfortunately, in physics, this is not something they like to explore very much.  Most college-level introductory physics textbooks will not even have an entry on causality or randomness.  They might have one on the uncertainty principle.  They consider the matter theoretical, whereas most of physics today focuses on practical applications.  But, the theoretical understanding of what is happening at both the macro and quantum level is very important as it relates to this question of human will. 

There is no such thing as randomness in the sense of uncaused.  Everything must have a cause.  There has to be a reason why something has happened.   Again, the best way to understand this is to consider that if anything is happening at this moment in time, it is completely dependent on, or caused by, the state of the universe, as the most complete description, at the previous moment. 

Let’s say there was such a thing as randomness in the sense of uncaused.  The notion of free will involves accountability.  With a moral decision, a free will believer will say “we decided something because of some moral principle or principles. ”  But, once we make that decision, and describe it as a moral decision, that’s our cause.  In other words, we made the decision because of some moral principle or precept.  Or, we made the decision because you “wanted to.”  But, that want is a desire, and that desire is a cause. 

In physics, the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics is actually what you will find in most high school and college textbooks, because most standard physics textbooks are written by physicists who have never delved much into this matter of causality vs. randomness.  Most leading physicists understand that physics is completely causal, and that quantum behavior is completely causal, but this understanding has curiously not made its way through to many other physicists.  This embarrassment to the field likely has something to do with the question of free will. 

Some physicists clearly believe in free will.  To acknowledge that nothing can be uncaused would be to admit that we have no free will.  Since the Copenhagen Interpretation in the mid 1920s, philosophers have been saying that particle behavior at the sub-atomic level is indeterminate.  It’s random, so that leaves an opening for free will.  It’s a completely irrational conclusion, but that is what they conclude in order to preserve their belief in free will.

Heisenberg, and Bohr especially, pushed the idea of randomness and acausality on physicists when quantum mechanics was entirely new, and nobody really understood it.  Actually, nobody really understands it today.  Admittedly, there is amazingly counter-intuitive stuff that is going on at that level.  Many physicists back then, with little or no investigation of the question, simply concluded that if Heisenberg and Bohr said that quantum behavior is uncaused, it must be uncaused.   

Einstein and several other physicists attempted to clarify the matter, but they went about it in a misguided way.  They didn’t focus on the causality of the matter; they focused on particle measurement.  Einstein and his colleagues wanted to demonstrate that although you can’t simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle directly, such measurement could be accomplished by proxy.  That effort led to a lot of experimentation, and it turned out that a proxy measurement will not work as a proof for causality. 

They didn’t take the right approach on this back then, but since the 1980s, physicists have, more and more, come to reject the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.  They understand that everything has a cause.  This Copenhagen interpretation has actually been replaced to a great extent by an interpretation of reality that to my mind doesn’t make much sense, but at least it’s deterministic.  It’s called the Many Worlds Interpretation, and it says that any time we make a decision, there are an infinite number of possibilities that can arise from that decision.  Each of those possibilities supposedly takes place in a different universe.  There is no credible evidence, of course, for that conclusion.

The main thing here is that various other interpretations are now more in vogue, and more accepted than, Copenhagen.  There have actually been several polls conducted on this.  In one, the Many Worlds Interpretation had over fifty percent of respondents agreeing that it was the dominant theory of nature.  In physics, the field-wide transition from indeterministic to deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics is already happening.

The fact that we human beings do not have a free will challenges the very foundation of our understanding of who we are.  We’re living an amazing delusion.  The irony here is that nature herself – the causal past, or God – has compelled us to have this illusion.  It’s like when we see what we think is water on the horizon while driving down a long straight road in the sun.  It’s an illusion.  Hopefully within a couple of decades or sooner we’ll all generally understand that our wills are completely causal, that there is no such thing as true randomness, and that if there were, that would also leave no room for a free will.


 

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