The Fantasy of Free Will

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 a different school. 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 may 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.

How would this person even have decided to make a different choice? Even if you went back in time to the moment one of these decisions was made, you would have had the exact same information, brain state and rationale (or lack thereof) when making the choice. We are ultimately slaves to our desires. Desires being resisted are simply desires replaced by another.

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. But what if this is all one grand fantasy?

In the near future I believe we will be able to prove this empirically through neuroscience (1, 2, 3, 4). It is just a matter of time before society comes to recognize free will as a nonsensical concept.

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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