Free will is an interesting topic that you don't see many atheists talking about when arguing against the validity of the god of the Bible. However, I personally, used it as a springboard into atheism and think that others should learn a little bit about the lack of existence of free will. Let me explain.


Free will does not exist if people cannot act and could not have acted any other way than they do. However, free will appears to exist because there is an illusion that we could realistically make different choices when in the same situation under the same circumstances. For example, if I say don't think about a "purple polka-dotted elephant" you will inevitably have to think about it, if only to acknowledge that you are not thinking about it. In this case, you do have a "choice" to think about the elephant or not, but I have caused you to think about it.


Surely, you wouldn't think it was your will to think about the elephant, so let's look at a separate example. You are craving an ice cream cone, so you head down to your local baskin robins. Here there ought to be 31 things to choose from, yet what you choose is still determined. How so? Well, because you like the taste of one flavor over that of the other flavors. You buy your favorite because it gives you the most pleasure, but the fact that it is your favorite is not your choice. Your taste buds and brain have already determined that for you. In this case you are acting how you "want" to act, but the desire you have for, let's say chocolate, was not selected by you.


Well, what about choices not determined by our physical configurations? Think about why people in the Middle East are more likely to be Muslim than people in the US. Do you agree that we are a product of our experiences? None of us have chosen where we were born, to what parents, and what experiences we had thrust upon us. (Just skimming the surface on this one.)


I believe that people will ALWAYS act as they 'want' which is the way that provides the most pleasure/benefit and the least pain/suffering. Choosing physical pain for the benefit of others, such as giving blood, fits into this explanation. It does so because the person experiences emotional pleasure, among other things, that outweighs the temporary pain. Because there is always a specific choice that will be made in a given set of circumstances, a person never truly has an option to act differently.


I know this probably isn't all encompassing, and I didn't use the words cause and effect, but I'd rather discuss questions than try to cover everything I can think of. Looking forward to the discussion!

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Tags: free, will


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Comment by Greg on January 10, 2011 at 5:47pm

Glen, I wonder if you noticed I had said people want what is either the most beneficial or the least harmful, not just the most pleasurable. Take your example of Nazi prison guards who slaughtered Jews. They could have been insane, thought they were doing god's work and would be rewarded, or felt it was necessary to carry out the murders in order to be the receiver of the least harm (ie. being killed for not following orders.) Church members are similar in that they forgo simple pleasures with the belief that they are maximizing their benefit in the future...or minimizing pain by avoiding hell.


It is also important to note that I'm not claiming all people have the same "wants," for example sadists. A crazy person who hallucinates, as a separate example, is going to act in accordance with the same principal, but in reaction to their hallucinations. I am also NOT saying that people will always end up acting in their best interest. Of course we know that people act without contemplating all the pros and cons of their choice or will act in response to false assumptions, such as there being a god to worship.

Moving on, I think it is important to touch on the idea of our own evolution. Causality does not prevent us from having something to adapt to. Similarly, just because we know something is going to happen in the future, like our sun dying, it does not mean we have the capability to deal with those issues at the current moment. Just because the future is already written does not mean we won't be working to get there! =)



Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 9, 2011 at 9:05pm

I suspect that your definitions are inapposite. TOP DOWN ha ha ha ah CAUSATION and DYNAMIC SYSTEMS.  Free will is a natural consequence of our neurobiology. There is a problem with both camps. Truth falls anywhere unlike the designed lie. And what can you say about that ant colony that you have not already said, not to mention neuroplasticity.

We have the same capability as human monkey puzzles to understand our consciousness as we have to understand origins of the universe.

When did you stop beating your wife? Even the formation of the question of free will is wrong. But I digress.

Comment by John Camilli on January 9, 2011 at 6:47pm

I agree that it would be nice if some amalgam of causality and acausality; of randomness and determinism could produce a creature existing in a causal universe who is able to introduce acausal changes that alter their own possible futures. It would be very nice if that's what we are, but being unable to think of any plausible way that could happen, I feel as if I am living a farce to believe in it.

That might not be enough to get me to abandon faith, except that I CAN think of a plausible alternative; one in which we have the IMPRESSION of being willful. I don't know which idea is right, or perhaps it's some other alternative entirely, but the one explanation serves to answer all my questions, and the other only gives me more, circular questions.


If choice exists, we have to explain how an acausal event could be introduced into a causal framework, yet still produce an intended result, contrary to the idea of acausality. Or we have to abandon the idea that we live in a causal framework, which also means abandoning ideas like "knowledge" and "progress" and "time." Without causality, we cannot have measurement or meaning. But within causality, an explanation of "choice" becomes impossible. Or at least I cannot think of one, and nobody else I've heard of has found one either.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 8, 2011 at 5:18pm
"seems to" So free will does not exist. Does not follow. Alternate futures.
Comment by Keith O'Connor on January 8, 2011 at 3:57pm
Even without the arguments you raise, physics seems to tell us that the future "already" exists, that without it, there could be no present, no past. So free will doesn't exist. If it did, the future couldn't be written, and it is. End of story. Still feels fun to live our lives, though, huh? I call that darn good luck.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 8, 2011 at 3:39pm

I am being facetious when I write gawd. My point is that you make it impossible for any sentient organism to have "choice". Is it not possible that at the dawn of consciousness, an event which is not really understood, causality or acausality or a combination of the two, give rise to a self-actuated autonomous choice maker.

Events so far removed from our consciousness as our consciousness do not lend themselves to the analysis you use. I do not believe that it is possible to prove absolute determinism, no matter how sophisticated and advanced the study of mind, it will never predict all behavior.


Comment by John Camilli on January 7, 2011 at 11:59pm

Ewwwww, of course God is without choice. It doesn't exist. And you could be right about the sophistry. I like to tell people that the moment you think you know something is the moment you've gotten it wrong, so I must allow that I am also probably wrong to think that I have figured out human motivation, but that does not necessarily mean that I am VERY wrong. I think my model fits better than others, for lack of any other proof.


In the original Latin: "Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem," meaning that entities (objects or phenomena whose existence is assumed) must not be multiplied without necessity. It does not prove that the simplest solution is the correct, but any unnecessary assumptions, like God or choice, require further explanation. I'd be willing to accept any model you think suits human behavior better, but I have never heard one, and I do love to read.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 7, 2011 at 9:53pm
John, even god is without choice in your world view. That is gawd god GOd. Methinks its sophistry, although not by design. You are incapable of design, dissimulation and ratiocination-just going with your thinking; well not exactly your thinking. If you write a superduper principia mathematica philosopher's guide to the universe and all of the intellectual luminaries regard it as the apex of human achievement you will be unable to bask in the warm glow of success and satisfaction. Of course the aforementioned does not discredit your view.
Comment by John Camilli on January 7, 2011 at 1:59pm
Glen, even if you're right, I am also still right. Lol, I know that sounds like bollocks to you, but listen. Even if there are events happening that are not entirely mechanistic; that are not entirely CAUSAL, could a human be said to have CAUSED them? Even if something about a human brain, or just a living system, can produce an acausal event, its results would be completely out of our control. By definition, an acausal event would be unrelated to any prior cause, so even if we can make it happen, we can never produce the results we intend. How could that be free will?
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 6, 2011 at 10:09pm

Greg, your pleasure principle is filled with holes: catholic church, flagellants, nazi prison guards, sadists etc. Free will is catholic concept, an aesthetic concept which is necessary to rewire reality for the flock when they ask how bad things can happen.

John, I will take one more ineffectual pass at making you see the flaw in your mechanistic, no free will view.

As you pointed out after the fact, one particle can be in different places simultaneously. The invisible world is not cause and effect alone. If the invisible world is not cause and effect alone then the macro world is not either.  Dont tell me that  we simply dont understand the mechanics. You need evidence to support this assertion.

Of course there is some truth to what you and Greg believe, much of our physiological and behavioral reactions are largely produced by stimuli which will unerringly result in certain definable results. However, our actions, behavior and thoughts are not simply mechanistically produced. Nature selected a complex brain in humans and other mamals which is self-actuated and adaptive. A complete lack of unpredicability would result in stasis. How could we possibly evolve if our individual books were written and the script had already unfolded before the great unfolding?

Your explanation reminds me of absolutist arguments of nature, nurture- as if one alone is responsible for all human behavior.

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