The Fantasy of Free Will

Photo via Billie Grace Ward

What if I told you that up until this very moment in your life, you couldn’t have done anything differently than what you have done. You couldn’t have went to different college. You couldn’t have said no to your current job. You couldn’t have been a different person. This is what it means to not have free will.

It’s easy to imagine what it would be like to choose something differently, but this is just an trick of the brain. A fictional character of yourself made up in your own head. This fictional character will resemble you in every way from looks, personality, intelligence and goals, but this person is not you. This person is no different then Harry Potter living in the world of Hogwarts.

Our everyday choices we experience are illusions that make us think we are the author of our actions. This assumption, that humans can choose what we want, has completely shaped the way our society functions. From politics, law, morality, religion and even personal feelings, free will is at the core of almost everything. Shouldn’t we all care about this topic?

While it is true that philosophers have debated the question of free will for centuries, new studies (1, 2, 3, 4) in the field of neuroscience have continuously provided evidence showing that free will is an illusion. I personally believe it is just a matter of time before society accepts it as scientific fact, no different from global warming. Despite growing evidence, a belief in free will is still extremely common among all cultures throughout the world.

For those of you who are skeptical (which you should be!) I encourage you to watch this talk by Sam Harris. I would also pick up and read Sam’s short essay on the subject. For those of you who are a bit more philosophically sophisticated, I would recommend reading Galen Strawson’s Freedom and Belief who tackles every contending view on the issue.




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