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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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

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151-160

151-160
   

161-170

161-170
   

171-180

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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


 

Transcripts of the First Eighteen Episodes

 

Episode 6.  How the Hedonic Imperative Makes Free Will Impossible

 

Let’s explore how the hedonic imperative makes free will impossible, but before we do that, let’s briefly review the basic purpose of the show, and review our definition of free will.  We’ve had this illusion of free will for millennia, and the hope is that by overcoming it, we can create a better world – a world that is more understanding and intelligent.  If we believe we have a free will, when other people do things that are wrong, we’ll blame them and conclude that they deserve to be punished.  When we do things wrong, we’ll feel the pain of guilt.  Naturally, understanding that we don’t have a free will doesn’t give us license to do whatever we want to do simply because we’re not ultimately we’re not responsible for what we do.  We need to hold ourselves accountable in a sense, but if we do it from a causal will, rather than a free will, perspective we create a kinder and fairer world. 

When people say that they have a free will, they mean that they can choose whatever they want, and that nothing outside of their control is compelling their choice.  Their choice is completely up to them.  In the area of morality, where the issue of human will is extremely important, if someone does something right, for example, feel that because it was their doing completely, they not just practically, but fundamentally, deserve the credit. 

The term free will means that when we do something right or wrong, it is completely up to us.  With moral decisions, the problem is that if we do something wrong, and we don’t recognize that we were completely compelled to do it, we often punish ourselves.  We would say to ourselves “I deserve to feel pain for my wrongdoing.” Much of this show is about transcending the illusion of free will so we are kinder toward ourselves and others.  A proper understanding of reality will presumably lead to a kinder world. 

The reality, of course, is that we don’t have a free will; we have a causal will.  What causes our decisions and moral actions can generally be described as the past.  What happened in the past causes what happens in the present, and what happens in the present causes what happens in the future.  This basic principle of causality governs the entire universe.  Naturally, it must govern our human will. 

This question of human will has been debated since the time of the Greeks, and in all of that time there has never been any convincing evidence that we have a free will.  Some people claim, “of course we have a free will.  We experience ourselves as having a free will.”  The reality is that we don’t really experience having a free will; we experience having a will.  We don’t experience having a will that is free of the past  -- free of how we were raised, what we learned, what we didn’t learn, our genetic makeup, our personality, and our unconscious.  These factors come together to actually decide for us what we do. 

One of these factors is what I’ve coined the Hedonic Imperative.  Actually, it’s like Freud’s Pleasure Principle and experiences the basic principle in science that we as human beings are hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  That’s what we do.  Through every moment of our lives, we’re making decisions based on the prediction that our decision is going to result in the greatest pleasure to us, immediately or in the future, or is going to minimize any kind of pain we might feel.  We’re completely programmed in this way.

We are like a computer that must do exactly what it is programmed to do.   We have no choice but to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  Naturally, if every decision that we make is based on this hedonic imperative – this hard-wired compulsion and programming to do and think and feel what we predict is going to result in the greatest pleasure or the least pain – then how could that decision be free?  How could that decision be up to us?

If a robot is programmed to make a left turn every time it runs into a wall or some kind of obstacle, then you certainly would not say that that robot has a free will.  It is doing what is has been programmed to do.  It can’t do otherwise.  We human beings are genetically and biologically programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  Some people might raise the objection that there are times when we could do what is most pleasant, but we choose to do what will create more pain for us.  This is true, but in those cases we obey a conscience that needs to do what we consider right.  I’m recording this show while the Libyan revolution is taking place.  There are many Libyan citizens that are going out into the street risking, or losing, their lives for the greater good of Libya.  The pain that they would feel by not fighting for this democracy and freedom from Gaddafi as a cruel dictator would apparently be greater than the pain of risking getting injured or killed.  That is what our conscience is about.

There are other examples of this.  Sometimes as parents, we will sacrifice and work very hard.  Mothers have to constantly attend to their infants.  Their conscience won’t allow them to just simply do what they want, and seek their own pleasure at the expense of the health and well-being of their children.  If necessary, they will choose to undergo the pain of being very attentive to the child, sacrificing their own pleasure for the sake of the child.  This sacrifice is a satisfaction of the demands of their conscience.  The hedonic imperative isn’t the only hard-wired reason why free will is impossible.  We also have a moral imperative, which is actually quite related to the hedonic imperative in the sense that we’re hard-wired to always do what we consider to be right, and what is right generally leads to the greatest pleasure.

Of course some people may know that what they are doing is wrong, and may decide to do it anyway.  But when you think about it, in their mind, at the time that they do that wrong, they are justifying their decision.  Consider an employee who steals from a company.  That employee is saying “I know I’m doing something that others and I may generally consider wrong,” but another part is saying “well, this company has been stealing from its employees and hurting those employees in various ways,” There is always a justification  -- right or wrong. 

There are many ways of understanding why free will is impossible, and why we simply don’t have a free will.  Cause and effect and the fact that we have an unconscious that is always awake and taking part in our decisions are prime examples.  There have been experiments where subjects have been primed – have been led through a certain exercise that influences them to think in a certain way – and they are observed as they make a decision.  They are then asked why they made that decision.  They will give an answer, but that answer will generally not have anything to do with the priming that has taken place.  In other words, they are just guessing at why they did what they did, and they are guessing wrongly.  They are not conscious of how the priming they underwent actually compelled their behavior. 

Leaving all other factors aside, the hedonic imperative completely describes why free will is impossible.  Again, if we’re programmed to always seek pleasure, we must do that. 

We have no other choice.  I’m a vegan.  I can’t conscience how cruelly we treat farm animals.  If I we’re given a choice between an apple and a pizza, my conscience would lead me to not eat the pizza because it contains cheese.  Part of me might prefer a pizza because it might taste better to me than the apple.   But, I derive more pleasure from satisfying my conscience than from satisfying my taste for food. Sometimes we are faced with competing pleasures.  It’s not just that we are always compelled to seek pleasure; we’re also compelled to seek the most pleasant of various available options.

If we had a free will, everybody on the planet would be blissed out every moment of every day.  A free will, by definition, means that we can think whatever we want regardless of what is happening, what has happened, and what will happen.  It means that, regardless of anything and everything, our decisions and our feelings are completely up to us.  The doctrine of free will teaches that what we think, feel, say, and do is completely up to us. 

We’re hardwired to seek pleasure, but many times we are not successful at acquiring that pleasure.  If we had a free will, who among us wouldn’t choose to think completely blissful thoughts all of the time, and to feel completely blissful feelings all of the time?  It is so clear and obvious that this is what we would do.  If we had a free will, like St. Paul expressed in his letter to the Romans, we would do good and be good always.  Whenever we are confronted with a moral decision, we would never yield to temptation.  We would never yield to emotions that might be driving us to make the wrong, or immoral, decision.  The hedonic and moral imperatives are a good way to understand why free will is impossible. 

There are other imperatives – other kinds of programming that we are hard-wired for.  We have a reason imperative.  It works alongside the hedonic imperative to help us make the most reasonable of two or more options.  It gives us pleasure to be reasonable.  If we’re trying to transfer a liquid from a container to either of two other containers, and one of the containers is clearly not large enough to hold the liquid, we’re naturally not going to choose that container.  It wouldn’t make sense, and would oppose our logic and reasoning.  We usually do what we consider to be the most reasonable of available options.

Sometimes, however, we do what is clearly unreasonable because it is not just reason that compels our decisions.  There are so many factors that make free will impossible.  Let’s say we are trying to be reasonable about something, but our emotions kick in.  We’ve all had experiences when we’re discussing something with someone – someone we may love or care very much about – and we and they are trying to be reasonable.  But then emotions like anger and fear come into play, and our reason is over-ridden by these emotions.

We are also programmed to act according to an imperative we know as the survival instinct.  We will choose based on our prediction of what is going to lead to our greatest chance of survival.  All animals appear to have this instinct.  Another imperative is the instinct to procreate.  We have a hard-wired drive to reproduce, and propagate our species. 

If we’re always seeking pleasure, or goodness, or to be reasonable, then our wills are not free of those imperatives.  We must seek pleasure.  We must avoid pain.  Why is this important?  We live in world where our entire civilization is founded on an illusion.  In our criminal justice system, we have people who have spent years in jail or prison for things that they had absolutely no choice but to do.  There are people in our world who may not want to fund our education system because they feel that we can educate a child as well as we like, but at the time they have to make a decision as an adult, that education will be meaningless because that adult can freely choose whatever they want, regardless of any and all influence from that education.  In our every day lives, we have many interactions with other people, and to the extent we don’t understand that they are compelled to do whatever they feel is either the most right, or the most pleasant, or the most reasonable, then we will be more understanding toward them.  We’re not going to blame them when they invariably do wrong.  We’re not going to say to ourselves “they deserve punishment.” 

A good example of this is Libya.  Gaddafi has killed over a thousand civilians, mostly unarmed.  The general tendency is to hold him responsible, and hate him.  Because I understand that Gaddafi does not have a free will, I can’t blame him.  At the same time, however, my conscience won’t allow me to, in a certain sense, not hold him responsible.  What I say to myself is “God willing, our military or the Libyan People will stop him somehow, or ideally he will step down.  But if he doesn’t, we may need to kill him in order to stop him from killing more people.  This is a decision I would make not from blame or hate.  Hate is generally a vile and unpleasant emotion, and even to the extent we might enjoy hating, we probably hurt ourselves much more than we realize with our hatred. 

Abandoning the illusion of free will doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning morality.  We can do what we have to do from a more understanding causal perspective.  It may be that if we treated criminals with less hatred and more understanding, we might dissuade them from continuing their criminal ways.  In police work there is a strategy referred to as “good cop – bad cop” wherein the good officer shows compassion and understanding toward the suspect.  Basically, that officer is acting according to a causal rather, than a free will, perspective.  We often find that when people are treated in that way, their defenses drop.  They think to themselves, “Hey, this person really isn’t blaming me.  This person understands my predicament.  I can trust him.” 

This question of human will is very important to our personal lives and the structure of our society and civilization.  I hope you have a better understanding of how the hedonic imperative, or always seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, makes free will impossible. 

 

List of Episode Titles

 


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