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Is free will an illusion?

The belief that we control our decisions is seemingly undermined by the fact that the future is an inevitable consequence of the past. When we put our foot on a car's accelerator, we know that this causes chemical combustion in the car, and that the car has no choice but to go faster. Similarly, the putting of our foot on the accelerator was also caused by chemical combustion - one in our own brains. For this reason, many philosophers and scientists regard free will as illusionary.

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Experts and Influencers

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Experts In Philosophy

Friedrich Nietzsche    Iconic Philosopher of 19th Century
...an error called "responsibility" [rests] on an error called "freedom of the will." Those evil actions which outrage us most today are based on the error that that man who harms us has free will, that is, that he had the choice not to do this bad thing to us. This belief in his choice arouses hatred, thirst for revenge, spite, the whole deterioration of our imagination; whereas we get much less angry at an animal because we consider it irresponsible.
01 Jan 1878    Source

Bertrand Russell    Iconic Philosopher of 20th Century
No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say, "You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go." He attempts to find out what is wrong and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.
01 Jan 1930    Source

Experts In Science

Martha J. Farah    Neuropsychology Professor
I don’t think "free will" is a very sensible concept, and you don’t need neuroscience to reject it — any mechanistic view of the world is good enough, and indeed you could even argue on purely conceptual grounds that the opposite of determinism is randomness, not free will! Most thoughtful neuroscientists I know have replaced the concept of free will with the concept of rationality — that we select our actions based on a kind of practical reasoning.
14 Apr 2008    Source

Paul Z. Myers    Biology Professor
Free will is philosophical bullshit. You can have an entirely natural biology that is subject to investigation by science that is not some kind of clockwork, predestined sequence of events. I decide what to put on my sandwich, but "I" is an unpredictable product of very complex neurological activity, colored by history over a baseline of biological predispositions.
27 Mar 2010    Source

Douglas Hofstadter    Professor of Cognitive Science
[What] is all the fuss about "free will" about? Why do so many people insist on the grandiose adjective, often even finding in it humanity's crowning glory? What does it gain us, or rather, what would it gain us, if the word "free" were accurate? I honestly do not know. I don't see any room in this complex world for my will to be "free". ... Our will, quite the opposite of being free, is steady and stable ... our non-free will ... makes me me and you you, and that also keeps me me and you you.
26 Mar 2007    Source

Experts In Science

Michio Kaku    Physics Professor
Mostly Disagree
... Einstein was wrong. God does play dice. Every time we look at an electron it moves. There is uncertainty with regards to the position of the electron. So what does that mean for free will? It means in some sense we do have some kind of free will. No one can determine your future events given your past history. There is always the wildcard. There is always the possibility of uncertainty in whatever we do.
13 Apr 2011    Source

Eliezer Yudkowsky    Artificial Intelligence Researcher
My position might perhaps be called "Requiredism." When agency, choice, control, and moral responsibility are cashed out in a sensible way, they require determinism - at least some patches of determinism within the universe. ... You are within physics, and so you/physics have determined the future. If it were not determined by physics, it could not be determined by you.
06 Jun 2008    Source

Experts In Philosophy

Ayn Rand    Philosopher, Novelist
That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call “free will” is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.
01 Dec 1963    Source

Daniel Dennett    Philosophy Professor
For billions of years on this planet, there was a life but no free will. Physics hasn’t changed but now we have free will.
09 Mar 2009    Source

Experts In Christianity

The Catholic Church    Largest Christian Church
Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity [and] the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.
11 Oct 1992    Source


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0 Points      dionisos      22 Aug 2016      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree
The problem of the concept of free-will come down to the problem of the concept of possibility.
We make choices : A choice is the act to select one possibility between many. (it could easily be extended, but it is the main idea)

The problem is that a possibility is relative to knowledge : That something is a "possibility" only mean that we don’t know if this thing is true or false. (it is not a physical problem, the universe could be deterministic or not, it doesn’t change that, it is purely conceptual)

Some will not see the relativity of some possibilities, for them it will feel like the possibility is intrinsic, independent of their own knowledge.
So when they make a choice, it feel like they have selected a intrinsic possibility, so it is like a pure act of creation, something with at least a part which is "absolutely free".
So they have to create the concept of free-will to designate this very thing.

The compatibilists are only redefining the concept of free-will by removing what is fundamental in this concept.

0 Points      Nashhinton      19 Nov 2011      Stance on Question: Disagree
I'm a compatibilist. I believe in both free will and determinism. Anybody with a brain would agree.

1 Point      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Disagree
Determinism and free will are both true. I can choose how I act, even though my will as such does not exist as a physical entity.

1 Point      the27th      18 Jun 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
I believe in Chisholm-magic. I am the cause of my actions. I am a prime mover. Small-l (philosophical) libertarianism.
Why? Subjective experience, a rather convincing argument that doesn't ignore the existence of neuroscience, and a personal commitment to live according to my own deliberate choices.

0 Points      Tordmor      10 May 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree
The answer to this question depends on the definition of free and will. If will means the goal of our brain's planning activity and free means free from any physical influence besides those who shape our brain than it becomes a tautology since our will would be purly embedded in our brains and can't be influence by anything not related to the brain. If free however means free from any physical influence it becomes a contradiction since the brain is a physical entity. If will means anything else I am not aware of it, but the basic argument would still be the same:

Information can never exist except as realized in a physical medium. No information can therefore be free from all physical effects and no information can be affected by anything that does not affect it's physical medium. Therfore the concept of free will is meaningless.

0 Points      Visionary      05 May 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
There is another way to look at this, aside from the "brain as a biologic computer" or "soul vs. body" angles.

I don't think anyone, even those in support of free will, can argue that we aren't at least influenced by our interactions with the world. To do so would be to suggest that we live in a constant state of chaos, and that is clearly not the case. If our "decisions" and associated actions are, therefore, influenced by a culmination of past experiences and those of the moment, it is not difficult to envision that we have no free will. Moreover, I would postulate that we are predestined, though not in a religious sense.

The fact of the matter is that we can only make one ultimate "decision" whenever presented with a range of choices. You can't "decide" to move AND not move, simultaneously. You can only do one or the other. If you generalize this over all of humanity, it creates a vast network of ultimate "decisions" that are woven to create the fabric of our reality. In this sense, the future is already determined and, if the complexities of the interactions of all the myriad "decisions" could only be processed by our feeble minds, can be predicted.

2 Points      Adam Atlas      24 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
The issue of "free will" is so horribly muddled as to be hardly worth talking about. I will now talk about it.

• Conscious beings do not have access to some mysterious decision-making force capable of overriding physics.

• Even if we did, even if our decisions came from some force outside the investigable laws of physics, there would still be an underlying right answer to the question "How does that force work?", even if we can never know the answer; to project our ignorance onto our conception of its nature and to deem it "free" on that basis is a serious map-territory confusion. Whatever it is that results in our decisions can be systematic, random, or some combination of the two, but I don't see any coherent alternatives. If you taboo "free", "choice", "will", "decide", etc., and unpack all of your thoughts about them, you ultimately end up with something deterministic. And there's nothing wrong with that.

"You" have a will (a set of desires and goals) and an ability to act upon it (within some external and psychological constraints — not completely freely) at the level of abstraction where there's a "you" to talk about. The fact that this can still be reduced to perfectly normal physics does not mean it's not worth talking about (just because something is made out of other things does not mean you can't think of it as real). Similarly, reducing morality to a phenomenon of minds does not make it useless or incoherent. "You" are morally responsible for your actions at the level where there's a "you" and "morality" to talk about.

• Seemingly random quantum events do not have anything to do with free will. Even if it did have some significant influence on our behaviour (and it most likely doesn't unless you're making decisions based on one of those websites that generates random numbers from radioactive decay), you know you're confused when you find being controlled by random laws to be more "free" than existing as part of a deterministic framework.

2 Points      Packbat      28 Mar 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
The reason why so many people are confused about whether or not humans have free will is because they think their introspection is perfectly accurate. That's not how it works. If you look at what people are actually talking about when they say, "I have free will", "I made this choice of my own free will", or the like, they are talking about a capacity to act in accordance with their own desires and values. Only on occasions far outside normal circumstances is this capacity impaired.

4 Points      JGWeissman      06 Mar 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
Free will is the ability to systematically act in accordance with one's desires. This is enabled, not threatened, by determinism.

-2 Points      fallcrysilk      30 Jul 2009      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree
It is my belief that everyone naturally practices self-preservation.No one willingly choses something that hurts themselves or other people,because you can't hurt someone else without being affected by it and hurting yourself.When people hurt themselves or others,it's only because they felt powerless over their feelings and felt that it would cause them less pain.Generally,we don't have freewill because we don't know what we're doing.There are tons of misconceptions and unhealthy perceptions we are unaware of,which cause us to form intents,which then lead us to actions which are more like impulses and then we are hurt and sorry.I don't believe people actually will evil.It is more like an accident

0 Points      NotAnExpert      18 Jun 2009      Stance on Question: Disagree
you have free will. you never do anything in your life that you don't have the choice to do. You don't have to breathe if you don't want to. but you choose to. You don't have to read this comment if you don't want to, but you choose to. You have the will to fight back or the will to surrender. If a teacher tells you to sit down, regardless of the consequences, you still have the will to obey or disobey.