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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Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 8:47pm

YES! You got it man! That is exactly how I reach the same conclusion. In fact, I forgot I had posted some attempts to broach this subject before (1,2). I didn't get much of a reception, but then I didn't expect to, lol. It's a conclusion people fight their whole lives because it means they are slaves to existence.


I also thought of another simple illustration of the impossibility of choice. I was trying to convince someone that free will didn't exist and they countered with "Look, I can choose to breath when I want to, see?" and they took several deep breaths to illustrate their point. I asked 'was it you that took made that breathing happen or was it your lungs expanding and contracting that made it happen?' Of course, they had to concede that it was their lungs, but they countered again that they had chosen to make their lungs move like that. So I said "Was it you who made them move or was it the ATP in your muscle tissues?" They were unfamilliar with ATP so I explained that Adenosine tri-phosphate is the fuel produced by mitochandria that enables muscle contraction, so they had to admit it was the ATP, but they still said that it was because of their choice that the ATP was activated. I pressed further, asking "Was it you that sent it there or was it the signals from your brain reaching your muscles that sent it there?" We went on for a while until they got fed up, but the point I was making was that I could go on forever, attributing every action to some prior cause, NEVER TO THEM. There is no point in the process of any event where we can interrupt and say 'okay this is where I came in.' It is only our innability to think about such long sequences of events that allows us to forget we were not the cause.


In my opinion, the mind is emergent from the body, but is unable to effect it (like a fog hovering over a lake is due to the water right underneath it, but it does not cause the rate of evaporation that creates it.) We come to the confusion that we can effect choices because our bodies do a lot of the same things over and over again in life, and we learn to anticipate much of it. Any experience imprints itself on our system, and when a similar stimuli hits the system again it re-triggers the other experiences associated with it from the last time it happened, which can then proceed through the system at a faster rate that reality can progress outside. Memory is symbolic of reality; it doesn't have as many parts because our senses miss things, so it can play out faster. Our minds can arrive at the conclusion of the stimulus before reality can get there, so if our conclusion turns out to be accurate, we think we have caused the result.


If we desire our sanity, we convince ourselves that we want the results we expect, so we have the complete illusion of causing what we want.


What a relief to find some others who are not so caught up in the illusion that they cannot see the forest for the trees.

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