Thursday, November 22, 2018

On Free Will

Do you ever think about free will? I have and do. Like the segment of NPR's This American Life that I am linking later in this post, I have come to the conclusion that we don't have free will in the way that people mean that we do.

Most of us think that we could have chosen otherwise when it came to some sort of decision that we have made. But I think if we're being honest, we would have to admit that if we could somehow put ourselves back in the same place and time in exactly the same circumstances, that we would make the exact same choice each and every time.

I've thought about it a lot and have come to the conclusion that all that we think and do comes as a result of how our biological inputs interact with our social inputs: the social inputs being our family and education and so on. We are like computers in a sense. We come into this world with our hardware, and software is grafted onto the hardware or into us. It is our unique combination of hardware and software cause us to make the decisions that we do.

I am quite willing to grant that I have free will in the limited sense that I have a will and that to a certain degree I am free to use it. But I don't have free will in the sense that I could have made different choices than I have.

I don't think I have a true choice in writing this post. No, in the past I have come across material that I have found interesting and ultimately convincing. I did not choose to be convinced; I just was. So, I have thought about it quite a lot, and then when I came across this NPR clip, it was perfect to share at this time: not so long (14 minutes) to dissuade one from clicking if one were so inclined. I mean, in all likelihood, neither you nor I would have clicked on an hour long post or read the 500+ page book mentioned in the piece, but we might click on a short piece if the circumstances are right.

I know when I talk about it and when anyone talks about it, it sounds as though we are making choices to click or not. And we are, but I don't believe that they are true free will choices. Our neurons, cells and chemicals do not have a will, and it is they which cause us to do what it is that we do.

Anyway, for those whose interest is stirred, here is the link. But I know it is likely too busy a time for you to click on this holiday weekend. Either way, it will seem like a free will choice. But I don't think it is; like me, you have the innate interest and the time, or you lack one or the other or both. Neither you not I can help it whatever might be our particular case.

NPR This American Life link:


Jenn Jilks said...

I adore This American Life! I podcast it, and listen in the dark of the night, when I have a date with Mr. Insomnia.
I haven't listened to that episode, yet. After having the kids, I went down really well last night!!!!

I shall certainly listen to this one.
I believe that we make the decisions we can, with the information we have at the time. I do wish I'd had more advice, or a mentor, back in the day. Ahwell. It is what it is.

William Kendall said...

I'll give it a listen tomorrow.

Marie Smith said...

If there is a Divine Plan as some believe, there is no free will. Maybe we are free to believe there is though.

Tabor said...

I will give it a listen as NPR is a gold mine of good stuff.

Mage said...

I don't really know.

Unknown said...

Life's decisions seem to be thought of as free will, but are dictated by genes, parental upbringing, education and society's moral code. I sometimes wonder if the moral code was more liberal as I was growing up, more like it is today, if I would have made the same life choices.
NPR is great and a true companion while riding in the car. I don't have a workable radio in my home right now, and I miss that. Maybe Santa will bring me a new one. My old one, just like myself, finally wore out.
Thanks for your post!

Unknown said...

AC, the above comment is mine. I have no idea why it posted at "unknown." I have always responded with my name. I did have to have my computer cleaned because of a "possible virus" recently. Maybe it wiped out my identifier. Who knows. Just wanted you to know.
Jim Flack

Vicki Lane said...

Clicking . . .

Wendy said...

Hmmm, not sure about this. Neurons, etc. are powered by our thoughts, which I believe we have free will to think what we want.
I want to go into the kitchen and make a cup of coffee. So my neurons respond and off I go.

My thought was that the spiritual element was being left out of this discussion. As in, you can't see thoughts and emotions, yet they are the guiding principle behind actions.

However, as Marie Smith says "if there is a Divine Plan then there is no free will. A Divine Plan is definitely spiritual.

So we go round and round. And dang I missed the last bit of the 14 minutes as I clicked back to your post to read other comments. I'll have to go back and re-listen. Haven't got a clue what NPR is, so will check that out as well.

This post has provided Food for Thought (free will? or not?) :-)