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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01-10 01-10
   
11-20 11-20
   
21-30 21-30
   
31-40 31-40
   
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91-100 91-100
   

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131-140

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

 

Asking when a child gains it illuminates the incoherence of the concept of free will.  Before we go into this, I just want to briefly review why this matter of human will -- this question of whether it is causal or free -- is important.  Naturally, our show’s perspective is that all evidence, bar none, indicates that our wills are causal, and that free will is an illusion. 

This question is important because much of our behavior depends upon how we view our human nature.  In other words, when we act under the illusion that we have a free will, we treat ourselves and each other differently – basically more unkindly and less compassionately – than when we understand that everything we do is compelled, and that nothing is really “up to us.”

Often people will confuse the term “free will” with the term “will.”  When people say that they have a free will, they are actually saying that they have a will.  We make decisions all of the time.  These decisions are based on reasons, or causes. The notion that we can make decisions that are not based on a reason is incoherent.  How can we make a decision not based on some reason?  We can’t, and this is true whether or not the reason is unconscious. 

If we were to make a decision, and it was actually possible that there was no reason for it, obviously the decision could not have been freely made.  If there is a reason for it, this brings the principle of causality into play.  If there’s a reason for the decision, there is a reason for the reason, and a reason for that reason. 

This cause and effect chain of reasons –reasons always go back in time, and the reason will always precede the effect, or decision.  If you follow that chain of causation back, it extends to before the person making the decision was born, before the planet was created, and presumably before the Big Bang. 

Causality is the fundamental explanation for why our wills are not free.  Again, when people say that they have a free will, what they are saying is that “I can choose whatever I want.  What I do is completely up to me.  It is not up to anything else.”  What we actually have is a causal will.  Our decisions are not really up to us.  They are up to many factors that are not in our control at all.   

One of the ways that we define free will goes as follows.  If we have a free will, then that means we’re essentially responsible for our acts – we’re fundamentally responsible.  It’s not that we simply hold ourselves responsible, but that we actually are responsible.  If we have a causal will, that means that we may hold ourselves responsible to preserve our civilization and to have a certain degree of order, but that attribution is just a convention.  Perhaps because we don’t know any better, or for some other reason, but the fundamental reality is that we’re not responsible.  The universe, or God, may be responsible for our actions, but the prospect emerges that S/He doesn’t have a free will, but that’s beyond the scope of this episode. 

If being responsible for our acts is our definition of free will, then we have a problem.  We all agree that a one-day-old infant does not have a free will, in the sense of being responsible for his or her actions.  You can’t hold a one-day-old responsible for a moral decision – for soiling itself, or peeing on you. 

We all agree that a one-day-old infant is not morally accountable, and therefore does not have a free will.  Naturally, the reason infants don’t have a free will is that they don’t have the capacity – the experience and brain development – to make a moral decision.  So, if a one-day-old doesn’t have a free will, at what point, at what moment, at what age -- what would have to happen -- for that human being that doesn’t have a free will to suddenly acquire one?

That question is fraught with contradiction and confusion.  We might say that a child will develop free will when the child has gained a certain amount of knowledge and experience in the world.  Then, all of the sudden, the child would go from being a human being that is not essentially responsible to a human being that is essentially responsible.  But, if that’s the case, would that mean that a child who has acquired much more knowledge than another child would have more free will than the more ignorant child? 

That would mean that some people have more free will than others, and a person who is almost completely ignorant would have almost no free will.  Someone might say that an infant doesn’t have much intellectual maturity, or its rational thought processes haven’t developed much yet.  Well, when might that happen?  At what age?  That would, of course, means that one child would develop a free will before another child.  Asking those questions invites many confusions.  What about a person who is brain damaged?  It would be presumed that they don’t have a free will.  What about the mentally and emotionally challenged? 

The intriguing part of this question relates to the exact moment that a child would go from not having a free will to having one.  Again, this relates to causality because it’s not just about a child’s intellectual development, amount of experience, maturity, etc.  Those aren’t the only things that prevent a child from having a free will.  The other inescapable prohibition is that the one-day-old child, like a five-year-old, or a ten-year-old, or an adult, lives in a physical universe that is completely governed by causality.  In science, we understand that change is the fundamental process in the universe.  Change means that a particle, or molecule, is at one place at one moment, and in another place the very next moment.  The universe is not static.  It changes, and the fundamental process explaining this change is causality.  Things cause things to change, and everything has a cause.  Without causality, there would be no change. 

If we agree that a one-day-old infant doesn’t have a free will, and we want to assert that at a certain age – two, five, ten, whatever – the infant suddenly acquires one, we would have to explain how that infant suddenly develops the ability to circumvent this fundamental law of nature that is cause and effect.  It’s simply impossible for an infant, or a child, or and adult, or anything at all – alive or not – to overcome the causal nature of the universe.

Those of us who may not accept causality as the fundamental process that everything in the universe is governed by may wish to consider the alternative.  If things were not caused, they would be random.  Randomness has various definitions.   You can put your hand in a bowl of ping-pong balls, and pick one out randomly, but that is just a manner of speech.  You are acting without the deliberate intention to pick out a specific ball, but the whole process of is nevertheless causal. 

If things were not causal, how could they come to be? If a child’s, or our own, decision, is not caused – if anything in the universe is not caused – how could it have happened?  Nothing happens that isn’t caused.  That’s the salient understanding here.  When you understand that everything has to have been caused, including the causes of causes, then

you understand how it would be impossible for a child to go from not having a free will at one day old to suddenly having one at the age of five or ten.  It would be as if acquiring more intelligence, or maturity, or knowledge, would somehow allow the child to circumvent this basic law of nature – the law of causality.

This truth that human will is causal and unconscious rather than free represents a leap in the evolution of the human mind.  Perplexingly, we have been predetermined by the past that controls everything to believe that we have a free will – to get wrong the most fundamental characteristic of human will.  We didn’t, of our own accord, decide to get it wrong, just like we didn’t decide to get that the Earth is an orb rather than flat wrong, or that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than visa-versa wrong.  For millennia, we’ve been predetermined to hold this free will illusion.

Imagine what it would mean for our world – not just some philosophers, psychologists, and physicists – to understand the causal nature of human will.  I would guess most physicists understand that free will is impossible because they understand that the physical laws of nature control everything.  Sometimes people will assert that physics relates to the physical world, but that thoughts, and feelings, and decisions are actually spiritual, and operate outside of physical law.  They do not.  In physical reality, or nature, there is such a thing as time.  As Einstein demonstrated, it’s more accurately described as “space-time,” because time and space are actually one entity.  Space requires time, and time requires space.  You can’t have one without the other. 

Let’s define spirituality as that which we can’t detect or measure physically.  Now consider that every decision we make, however spiritual it might be, would have to take place within a specific moment in time.  Think about that.  If the decision is being made within a certain particular moment, it is clearly within time.  Thus, the spiritual nature of a decision does not allow it to circumvent time.  So, another way to understand why our decisions are not freely willed is to consider that a spiritual decision cannot reside outside of the laws of nature, or outside of space-time. 

The most fundamental way of understanding why free will is impossible, and why cause and effect govern everything, is to consider the universe in its entirety.  When I say the entire universe, I mean regardless of whether the universe is finite or infinite.  The universe at one moment in time completely determines the universe at the next moment in time.  The state of the universe at that next moment in time will then completely determine the state of the universe at the subsequent moment.  Naturally, this chain of cause and effect that involves the entire universe also goes back into the past.  This moment in time is the complete result of the previous moment, and the previous moment in time was the complete result of the immediately preceding moment.  That chain of causality stretches back in time at least to the Big Bang. 

If a decision that we describe as spiritual is taking place within a precise moment in time in the universe, it can’t escape causality.   The decision occurs within a universe defined as everything there is, spiritual or whatever.  If it is occupying a specific place in the universal timeline, the decision is determined by the causality inherent in that timeline.  The decision cannot escape causality.

This is huge.  John Searle’s statement at the beginning of each episode to the effect that demonstrating free will to be an illusion would be “a bigger revolution in our thinking than Einstein, or Copernicus, or Newton, or Galileo, or Darwin” is true.  We undergo evolution in the sense of our physical bodies evolving.  People are getting taller.  We’re losing our hair.  Our brains are getting bigger.  Some changes happen over the course of over a million years, but there are some changes that occur within decades.  There is also an evolution of our mind.  We are becoming more intelligent as a species.   To move from our mistakenly perceiving the fundamental nature of our human will as free of causality-- free of reasons, free of any and all factors not in our control -- to the accurate understanding that our wills are causal, and that reality is essentially like a movie, is truly revolutionary.

We generally understand that the universe is causal.  Some people may claim that particle behavior at the quantum level is random, in the strongest sense, but they are thereby claiming that such particle behavior is uncaused.  That is an absurd conclusion.  It is not founded on reason.  It is not founded on evidence.  How could something that has happened not have been caused?  At the quantum level, it is impossible to measure simultaneously the position and momentum of a particle.  It is therefore impossible to use Classical, or Newtonian, physics to accurately predict the behavior of quantum phenomena.   So, at the quantum level, physicists rely on probabilities.  Instead of measuring the movement of one particle, they measure the movement of groups of particles.  They thereby predict a single particle’s behavior through probabilities derived from the movement of those groups, as opposed to through the exact, direct measurement of that particle.

We may not know the factors that contribute to a particle’s being in one place at one moment, and then all of the sudden

being in another place at the next moment.  But such ignorance of the agents impinging upon the particle in no way leads to the rational, scientific conclusion that the particle’s behavior has not been caused.  Again, the prospect of a particle’s behavior being uncaused is incoherent.   How could something not be caused?

Transitioning from the illusion of free will is a huge step in the evolution of humankind.  It can generate profound changes in our civilization.  Right now, everything from our criminal justice system to how we raise kids, to how we reward what we do related to economic activity, is all based on the mistaken premise that human beings have a free will.  When you consider that this illusion of free will leads to people blaming each other and themselves, you can understand why there is so much conflict and so many wars in this world. 

If we’re mistakenly blaming others and ourselves for stuff that we have absolutely no control over, and then acting on that blame, it’s going to create a much more aggressive and hostile world than if we were to overcome this free will illusion, and understand that everything we do is completely compelled.

In summary, if we ask ourselves how a one-day-old child, whom we all understand does not have a free will, could somehow circumvent the laws of nature, we can understand why free will is impossible. 
 

List of Episode Titles

 


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