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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(Hover over numbers on left for titles)

Titles Episodes
   
01-10 01-10
   
11-20 11-20
   
21-30 21-30
   
31-40 31-40
   
41-50 41-50
   
51-60 51-60
   
61-70 61-70
   
71-80 71-80
   
81-90 81-90
   
91-100 91-100
   

101-110

101-110

   

111-120

111-120

   

121-130

121-130

 

 

131-140

131-140
   

141-150

141-150
   

151-160

151-160
   

161-170

161-170
   

171-180

171-180
   
   
 
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


 

Transcripts of the First Eighteen Episodes

 

Episode 18.  Why Humans Cannot Circumvent Natural Law to Gain a Free Will

 

For this book’s final episode, let’s talk about why human beings cannot circumvent natural law to gain a free will.  The term free will means that human beings would be free to choose anything we want, and all of our choices and decisions – the feelings we feel, the acts we do – would be completely up to us, and they would be completely independent of anything that is not in our control.  There are two simple ways to understand why free will is not possible. 

The first is the fact that nothing happens that is uncaused.  There is a cause for everything.  Nothing happens at random.  That means that when we make a decision, there is a cause for that decision, and there is a cause for that cause, because everything has to have a cause.  There is therefore also a cause for the cause of the cause of our decision.  We then have a causal chain regressing back into the past. 

The key thing to remember is that the cause will always precede the decision – the event, or whatever it causes.  The causes always goes further back in time, cause by cause by cause, which means we’re going back moment by moment by moment.  This chain of causality doesn’t end within our lifetime.  It goes back to before we were born, and before the planet was created. 

That is one way to understand why the notion that we have a free will is impossible.  The second way is the idea that we have a part of our mind that we refer to as our unconscious that is the storehouse of all of our memories – all of the words we use when we talk, and all the concepts that we consider when we’re making a decision, all of the data.  Another part of the unconscious processes the data, and makes our decisions.

Whenever we make a decision, like choosing something over something else, all of the processing for this decision must occur at the level of the unconscious.  We are not aware of this processing.  Because all of the data we consider in order to decide, and how we weigh these considerations, happens in our unconscious, obviously our decision can’t be the result of a free will.  In order to have a free will, we would have to have a conscious will.  The unconscious is something we are not aware of, and if we’re not aware of it, we can’t be in control of it.

Our whole civilization is all based on the erroneous premise and illusion that we have a free will.  It creates great havoc in our personal lives, and throughout the world.  When we’re with someone, and they do something we perceive as wrong, we’ll tend to blame them.  We’ll tend to feel that they should be punished.  The illusion of free will creates unnecessary negative feelings.

When we do something wrong, we often feel the pain of guilt.  Naturally, overcoming the illusion of free will would not mean that we are also abandoning morality.  I’ve worked with this causal will perspective for decades, and my understanding is that regardless of whether fate, or God, or whatever, makes me do what I do, there tend to be consequences.  When I do something that is good, God, or nature, or fate, tends to reward me.  When I do something that is wrong, God, or nature, or fate, tends to punish me.

As long as we keep that perspective, we can see the wisdom and utility of our overcoming the illusion of free will so that we can see ourselves, and treat ourselves, as innocent.  A good way to explain this is through a young child, like a toddler.  When they do something wrong, we don’t ascribe a free will to them.  We don’t blame them.  We say to ourselves that they could not have done any better.  They did not know any better.  By transcending the illusion of free will, we can apply this same kind of compassionate and intelligent understanding toward each other and ourselves.  We’d create a brand new world through that transcendence. 

Some philosophers concede that everything has a cause; they concede that nature is causal.  These philosophers concede that nature, particles, matter – everything -- has a cause, but they believe that we human beings are different. 

They say that it is because we are different that we have a free will, but when we explore that contention, we find that it’s wrong on two counts.  Firstly, by all appearances, we are matter.  We are physical, and we’re bound by the physical laws.  Even if we were to claim that our decisions were not “physical,” and that they were, in fact, “spiritual,” we must understand that every decision we make is made at a moment in time. 

We can’t escape this fundamental understanding that whether the decision is defined as physical or spiritual, the decision is made at a precise moment in time.  Thus, because our decision resides within time, it is subject to the physical laws. 

We no longer understand time as an entity separate from space.  It’s best understood as space-time.  This is one of the results of Einstein’s special relativity.  Time cannot exist without space.  Space cannot exist without time.  If the universe is made of space-time – particles, energy, matter, mass-energy interacting in space-time, -- and you have a spiritual decision occurring in time, such a decision must be completely determined by the causal laws.

Some philosophers contend that we human beings are special, and can circumvent natural law to have a free will.  This contention asserts that causality doesn’t apply to us, and that we can make a decision of our own free will.  But what does that mean?  Does that mean that our decision is made without a cause?  Think about this.  By definition, randomness means without order or purpose.  Its strongest meaning is that something is actually uncaused.  If a decision is made without a cause, then it must be random.  If a decision is random, certainly we can’t take credit for it, or assign it to a free will.  

Let’s consider decisions relative to morality.  Morality is a key concept in this question of human will.  To understand that we don’t have a free will is to understand that, essentially and most fundamentally, we’re not morally responsible.  We might want to blame, or hold accountable, the universe for whatever it compels us to do.  But since we’re agents, or instruments, of the past, and since our decisions are not up to us, we are not fundamentally personally morally responsible.

From that perspective, if we could make a “freely willed decision,” and our decision had no causal past, this would mean that the decision would also have no moral reason.  From that understanding, we can see that such a concept of a free will is simply incoherent. 

There is no evidence for the contention that we human beings can somehow circumvent natural law.  I’ll explain this in terms of quantum mechanics, and the physical nature of reality.  Back in the mid 1920s, Warner Heisenberg published a paper showing that at the quantum level, our knowledge of particle behavior is “uncertain.”  In other words, in classical mechanics – the mechanics of Isaac Newton, and the mechanics physicists relied on to make predictions before quantum physics – we could simultaneously measure the position and momentum of an object accurately enough to make a successful prediction. 

Let’s imagine we fire a photon at another particle to measure its position and momentum.  The problem here is that the act of firing the photon at the target particle interferes with the trajectory, or the momentum, of that particle.  Hence, physicists cannot simultaneously achieve an accurate measure of the particle’s position and momentum.  At the macro level of an everyday object like a grapefruit, the difference between a measuring particle like a photon and the grapefruit is so great that the photon would not, for practical purposes, interfere with the measuring process. 

Some philosophers claim that this Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle demonstrates that matter, at its most fundamental level, is random.  Again, there is no logic behind this assertion.  The term randomness is incoherent because randomness means that things happen without causes.  Try to imagine anything happening without a cause.  What would that even mean? 

Our science all points to the very strong conclusion that everything is caused, that everything has a causal past.   Because of that, free will is impossible.  If I make a decision right now, and there is a cause for that decision, and there’s a cause for that cause, and a cause for that cause, again we can see how that chain will go back to before I was born, and to before the Planet was created.

One of the factors that lead to claims that we human beings can somehow circumvent natural law to gain a free will is that life would have no meaning without a free will.  They say “If we’re instruments of God, and if we’re not the authors of our acts, and if we’re just the actors, and we don’t get the opportunity to even interpret our roles, then what’s the point of anything?” 

This concern has some cogency, but, it’s somewhat like asking “What’s the point of our life at all, since we’re here only about eighty years with an eternity on either side of us?”  I tend to believe in an afterlife, because I try to have beliefs that increase happiness and diminish unhappiness.  Existing seems, for whatever reason, like a more pleasant belief than not existing. 

We may not have a free will, but we still experience life.  We human beings don’t decide; we experience.  What I’m saying right now, what we do, and our emotions, are all real.  Meaning in life has to do to a great extent with emotion.  We’re hedonic creatures.  We seek pleasure.  We avoid pain.  Meaning is valuable because it is a pleasant experience.  It makes us feel good to value things, and give them meaning. 

But life can have sufficient meaning without our falsely Believing that we are the authors of our thoughts.  Let’s say we attribute our thoughts to a deity or god.  Let’s say God is responsible for our thoughts.  We could also say this scientifically – that it is the causal past or our unconscious that is responsible.  If we attribute all of this to God, we could ask ourselves “Whom would we want deciding what we do, we with our limited experience and knowledge, or a God who presumably knows everything?” 

This is admittedly confusing because if we had a free will, who among us would choose to not feel happy all of the time – to not feel blissful all of the time?  Who among us, if we had a free will, would choose to feel negative feelings?  Who among us would choose to do things that are wrong – to make mistakes?  From that perspective, if we had a free will, we would be in paradise.  It’s because we don’t have a free will that we’re not there yet.  That’s not to say that we can’t eventually live within a paradise, understanding fully that our world and human will are causal.  We can glean great meaning from life while understanding that free will is, in fact, an illusion. 

We’re obviously fated to succeed at some tasks and fail at others, but it’s all predetermined.  You have to ask yourself “why in the world would fate cause us to fail at anything,” because who likes to fail?  Also, fate creates us as beings that find displeasure from failure, but, nonetheless, compels us to fail sometimes, and feel the sting of such failure.  It doesn’t make sense, but it’s kind of like asking why there’s pain in the universe.  Without pain, the universe would be completely blissful.  So, the answer is, “Who knows?”  Who knows why things are like that, but they absolutely have to be like that because we don’t have a free will.

It’s curious and interesting that we’ve been fated to believe that we’re the authors of our thoughts, when the exact opposite is the case.  Now, for whatever reason, fate has determined that it is time for us to understand the true nature of our human will.  By that, hopefully we’ll be fated to create a much better world as a result. 
 

List of Episode Titles

 


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