Is Free Will an Illusion?

Whether or not we have a free will is an age old question in philosophy – whether we are truly in control of our decisions and whether our future is an uncertainty, slowly carved out into a reality by our thoughts and actions today. Whether we have this free will is a question that has a popular appeal for it directly affects they way we see the universe and our place in it. Though what is it that makes us believe we truly are in control of our decisions and whether when you’re faced with chocolate ice cream or vanilla there really is a moment of genuine uncertainty before you choose the vanilla.

Something inside us compels us to believe humans have free will. We probably therefore also believe animals such as dogs, cats and horses also have free will, sometimes your dog will want to go run after that ball you’ve thrown, sometimes he’ll be too lazy. We probably also believe tiny animals such as spiders and flies have free will too, spinning their webs and flying in different directions. But would we say we thought the amoeba (a single-celled animal) has free will…? Instinct tells me no. The amoeba is a single celled organised comprised of a handful of atoms and atoms obey the laws of physics. Now if this line of reasoning leaves you a little uneasy then you really must agree with me that the point at which we believe free will comes into play is very very vague indeed. Is there a clear point when free will emerges, equally as consciousness does, or is it just an illusion we like to accept to provide meaning and purpose to our human lives.

Physics, the old and the new, biology and neuroscience all like to have a weigh in on this question. When one tries to pinpoint the centre of the human decision making process it is usually the brain that comes to mind. However if our biological shells and our brains are nothing more than a very large agglomeration of atoms and molecules (and who can provide evidence that they are not?!) then surely their complex processes can be reducible to the laws of physics.  In the classical view of physics the behaviour and movement of  atoms and molecules can be determined by whatever the set of initial conditions was in the system. Take the motion of billiard balls on a pool table, the initial conditions are like the configuration of the balls on the table, the position and direction of the queue and its momentum. From these initial conditions the subsequent movement of the balls can be perfectly mapped out. Without taking Quantum Mechanics into account, which we will do soon, if the atoms are thought to behave classically then their behaviour is predetermined from way back long ago when the atoms first came into existence i.e. the big bang. These initial conditions caused them to fly out in a predetermined trajectory at time zero and collide with other particles. Their combined momenta then acted as subsequent conditions which caused further collision. The process continues until life comes about as we know and the conditions for the next step of behaviour for these particles is always determined from what happened in the stage prior – there is never a genuine moment of instantaneous uncertainty of what will happen next.

free-will

If I precisely know the complete workings of a system i.e. the position of every particle and how the laws of the universe operate – I can tell you exactly what it will do in all future situations.

Now if you disagree with the statement that the behaviour of the atoms in the brain are subject to this determinism then you’re either going to weigh in with some quantum mechanics or you’re going to tell me you think I’ve taken this cold line of reasoning way too far and that not everything can be reducible down to the laws of physic – especially not the mind. For you to believe this you need to tell me that you believe that consciousness and our free will is an emergent property, which arises from these many interacting atoms making up the body and the brain. You have to tell me that at some point the sheer complexity of the system, these billions of particles whirring about in our brain suddenly come together to produce something special, an explosion of magic if you will. But at what effect does this come into play, when we reach 1 billion atoms, 10 billion? Who knows! Our understanding of consciousness and the complexity of the brain is so extremely lacking…but to believe that the behaviour of our brain is so fundamentally different from that of a collection of atoms and that our decisions are really products of our own consciousness as opposed to actions abiding by the laws of nature means there must be some extra process in place.

Classical physics is therefore a deterministic theory and when taken to its logical conclusion says that if we could know all the molecules and cells and how they were configured in the brain we could predict human thought perfectly. And although practically this is nearly impossible, according the classical physics it is theoretically consistent.

We need a saviour for our free will and our poor understanding of the conscious mind currently won’t do justice. Cue quantum mechanics. When the behaviour of particles is observed at the atomic level it is fundamentally indeterminate. We cannot say with certainty where an electron is and what speed it has – the best one can do is predict the probability of the measurement and it is only when the measurement is made can one be sure of the value.  Furthermore if the probability of two outcomes are 50:50, then the outcome that is assumed is entirely random. (Contrast this to classical mechanics where if we know all the initial conditions we can be sure of the outcome). As such the future is not set out in stone as the particles on the smallest scales do not obey the laws of classical mechanics, they obey quantum mechanics. Now many accounts of the debate stop here and exclaim hurrah, quantum mechanics restores randomness and chance to the universe, hence our actions are not unfolding in predetermined mechanical manner. But wait… is this really a saviour for free will or is it a falsehood in disguise? Let’s look a little closer.

Quantum Mechanics advocates in-determinism, in other words it is a probabilistic theory which states that the world is chaotic and random at the atomic scale. But then surely if an outcome is random then by definition it isn’t controllable. Just because the event is not fully predetermined as in classical mechanics that doesn’t mean the decision is one’s own. Just because the position of an electron can’t be predicted that doesn’t mean it’s there for a reason. A random future does not mean a chosen future.  To our dismay it’s as though both our theories end up at the same place:

Classical Mechanics -> Determinism -> No Free Will

Quantum Mechanics -> In-determinism -> Random Will -> No Free Will

Therefore it seems the only path we can follow to believe free will truly exists is to believe that somehow our minds behave in way that is superior to the direct product of the atoms that comprise them.. What basis we have for believing this I do not know.. but I believe I speak for all humans when I say something inside me compels it to be so – and that’s a scientist talking!

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94 responses to “Is Free Will an Illusion?

  1. Fascinating stuff it would seem you agree with the famous atheist Sam Harris who openly declares free will and the self are illusions.
    All life has some limited awareness of its surroundings even a bacteria but as we climb the scale of awareness and reach human self – awareness or what is sometimes called meta consciousness we have a totally different animal. A tiger has no conscience it kills to survive and of course it cannot be accused of murder or be blamed. We are moral beings , like it or not, we have consciences that judge our own actions. We do not know when we became self – conscious , Julian Jaynes believes it did not happen until about 3000 years ago and before that we had bicameral minds. Mr Dawkins is not happy with that he believes it gradually evolved.
    Sam Harris found himself in deep water for it meant no one was to blame for anything that they did ; the law disappeared in one foul swoop.
    Freud a more sensible man said we are at war with ourselves and the self examination is the origin of religious thought.
    Steven Pinker believes the human mind was created by natural selection in order to survive and he points out in How the Mind Works that it may not be equipped to answer many problems.
    Poor old Alfred Wallace could not believe this since he argued that stone aged man had a mind far in excess of what he needed to survive .
    It’s called Wallace’s paradox and Mr Pinker does not like it . Darwin did not like it but they stayed friends . Wallace turned to spiritualism.

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    • I wouldn’t say I necessarily believe that – I would say i’m in the sceptical camp which requires a more persuasive argument for why we definitely have free will as opposed to any religious or spiritual arguments alone! Assuming free will doesn’t exist does indeed lead to some very tricky situations when it comes to condemning actions and morality, poor Harris.

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      • Well you can be in the skeptical camp but not in the amoral camp. We all left that one when we decided there were good acts and evil acts.
        Emmanuel Kant declared two things puzzled him : The moral law within him and the starry sky above him.

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  2. Interesting take on the subject. But I take exception to your dismissal of an amoeba’s free will–I don’t think volition has a scale limit–if anything, the problem with an amoeba would be its lack of awareness. I also take exception to your separation of free will and randomness–the idea of atoms as billiard balls is overthrown by chaos theory, brownian motion and the like–our will is no more predetermined than the splash of droplets from a fountain. I feel it would be more germane to discuss whether free will makes any difference–that, to me, is the real question. To us macroscopic humans, it makes no difference if an amoeba has free will or not–how much does it matter, then, to the universe if we have free will?

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    • Perhaps you’re right and it is only meaningful to talk of free will with regards to those that are aware of it. Or rather that the strength of free will scales dependent on the level of awareness and ability to manipulate the freedom. Is this the line of reasoning you take?

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      • Somewhat, but I was really thinking more about say, a child in a sandbox–having free will only gives a child the freedom of the sandbox–likewise, humanity is limited to five senses and four dimensions–and we have proof that much lies outside those senses and dimensions–thus, our free will is of a somewhat sandbox variety.

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  3. I always liked Christopher Hitchens’ view on whether we had free will or not, and it is wrapped up all in one beautiful comment that he made now and again in response to the question “Do we have free will?”.
    “Of course we have free will, we have no choice but to have it”

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  4. What I like about quantum mechanics is the idea of randomness, somehow it is romantic! That’s true that something in us always makes us believe that we have a free will and Philosophically speaking it has been a huge debate about this. But nowadays, we can’t speak of metaphysics without taking into consideration what science has to say. Somehow we are so far from knowing anything!

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    • It’s true we must be careful to de-tangle the role of philosophy in all of this. Though perhaps I have taken too much of a hard scientific line on something which might be thought better of as human concept, along the same lines of things like emotions. Thanks for reading!

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      • It’s not about science or philosophy. It is a matter of definitions and meaning. If you define free will as requiring “freedom from reliable causation” then you get the paradox. If you define free will as a decision you make for yourself, free of external coercion or undue influence, then you get to keep your free will and your determinism too (assuming you define your determinism without a similar overreach).

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  5. I enjoyed your exploration of the topic very much. However it’s surely unproductive to apply scientific theory to what is essentially a philosophical concept. We define free will in philosophical terms as the ability to choose, thus WE HAVE IT. It doesn’t matter whether the process (whatever that might be) is reducible to scientific laws or not.
    In any case, I wonder (somewhat tongue in cheek) whether the choice of chocolate and/or vanilla in quantum mechanical terms might turn out to be a ‘many worlds’ scenario.
    Thank you for your insights.

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    • Thank you! Perhaps so and I guess that’s what the whole debate comes down to – definition. How do we define free will. Do we treat it a scientific or philosophical concept? If go down the philosophical route and treat it as just the human experience of choosing then yes it exists, we experience the feeling of making choices all the time. But if try and define it as a scientific process it seems to break down under the laws of physics. Maybe it is better accepted as the former and then we wouldn’t run into any of these problems!

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  6. Pingback: IS FREE WILL AN ILLUSION? – Darsha's Holistic Visions·

  7. Without reliable cause and effect, we cannot reliably cause any effect. (You may want to read that again). Which means that we would not be free to do anything! So “freedom from reliable causation” would be an “oxymoron”, that is, a phrase that contradicts itself.

    Because “free” cannot rationally imply “freedom from causation”, we should not expect any use of the term “free” to mean that.

    Operationally, “free will” refers to the mental process by which we decide for ourselves what we “will” do. The “free” refers to freedom from coercion or other undue influence that forces us to act against our will, such that our will is not free, but subject to the will of the person doing the coercing or the undue influence (hypnotism, brain tumor, authoritative command, etc.).

    Unfortunately, many scientists think that free will means freedom from reliable cause and effect. But that’s a mistake. People don’t normally think that their choices are “uncaused”. If you ask one of them why they chose A instead of B, they’ll gladly give you their reasons. Reasons are causes.

    There is no conflict between the fact that (a) it was authentically us that made a choice and the fact that (b) someone with sufficient knowledge of how we think and feel could reliably predict our choice. Autonomy and inevitability are both simultaneously true in our deliberate choices.

    And while physics can explain why the apple fell on Newton’s head, it cannot explain why the apple showed up in Johnny’s lunch box, fifty miles from the tree. For that you need the life sciences and the social sciences.

    Each science derives its natural laws from the behavior of the particular class of objects that it observes. And physics does not observe people. To understand and predict our behavior also requires the life sciences like biology, physiology, and genetics plus the social sciences like psychology, sociology, ethology, and even economics.

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    • Thank you for your comment. Yes i’m sure many people would agree with you on the point that everything can’t be reducible to the laws of physics & we need the life sciences and social sciences to step in. I’m afraid my own personal persuasions are slightly towards the idea that if everything is a composition of the fundamental building blocks of matter, which do abide by these laws, then logically the process should be able to be scaled up. Perhaps this cold scientific line of reasoning is far too rigid to be applied universally. Free will is a very interesting topic though which appears on the border of both sciences so I thought i’d raise the controversy and it is definitely good food for thought.

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      • The problem is that scientists presume determinism must exclude free will, because they are substituting “freedom from causation” for free will.

        But reliable causation is not a meaningful constraint upon our ability to decide for ourselves what we will do. What we will inevitably do is exactly identical to us just being us, doing what we do, and choosing what we choose.

        Causation is not a “gun to our head” forcing us to act against our will. And when educated people suggest that reliable causation eliminates free will, they undermine moral and legal responsibility.

        There is a “no free will” exception to responsibility. For example, after the Boston Marathon bombers set off their explosives, they hijacked a car and forced the driver at gunpoint to assist them in their escape. The driver was not charged with “aiding and abetting” because he was not acting of his own free will.

        When you repeatedly suggest that there is no free will, you excuse everything. And this can have bad moral results as several studies have shown. (see: http://eddynahmias.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Neuroethics-Response-to-Baumeister.pdf ).

        There is a simpler definition of free will: the process of deciding for ourselves what we will do, free of coercion or other undue influence.

        This definition has no problem with determinism and makes no supernatural claims. And it is the definition that everyone normally applies in practical cases like the hijacked driver.

        The only way that determinism can conflict with free will is when you define determinism as “the lack of free will” or you define free will as “the lack of determinism”.

        So, please, stop assuming and asserting that free will implies the lack of reliable causation. There is no freedom to do anything at all without reliable causation.

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      • This analysis is very broad-brush. There are domains of applicability in which a subject can be discussed. This is a scientific discussion, outlining if it is ever possible to fully determine all outcomes, and if so does the traditional definition of free will need adjusting. There actually isn’t a consensus reached – the idea is to outline the debates on both sides; debates which are hardly fresh ideas from RTU – these ideas span centuries.

        Personally I feel this response is not very delicately worded. When we are in the realm of such ideas there are no answers – there are no claims made, either in this post or in any comment which I could say are right or wrong, so I don’t think it is healthy (or intelligent) for any ideas to be asserted as right or wrong. Personally I have always believed on a theoretical level it would be possible to predetermine everything; but that the processing power required to do such a thing is beyond the realms of this universe. Free will, the process of making a choice is going through those neurological connections, which is very much alive at the realm of the human. There is a good analogy that much like a baseball does not really exist, it is a conglomeration of fundamental particles, at the macroscopic level of a baseball match it does very much exist – how bizarre it would be to deny otherwise! Similarly “free will” as we define it (and indeed you define it in your comment!) may well not exist at the quantum level; but on the macroscopic level of the human it most certainly does. This way encompasses all of the ideas Mekhi outlined so well, but does not excuse any criminal!

        I do my best not to police comments on the site – I am a great believer in free speech, and engage with all different points of view on this site. However I would ask that in continued discussions here at RTU it is toned down a little. I have very strong opinions on this subject and on others – I do think I am right – but to close our minds to other points of view, in a subject area only the arrogant could claim to hold the answers is not an open healthy mindset.

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      • It’s a bit of an uphill battle for me. I have no doubts as to the validity of determinism. It is specifically the claim that determinism precludes free will that I’m trying to address. So I tend to draw fire from both incompatibilist camps, the hard determinists and the libertarians.

        The paradox has a long history. But I believe it can easily be resolved if we stop trying to take sides, and instead look for a pragmatic common ground.

        In most dictionaries you’ll find two definitions of free will. The first is the one commonly understood: when a person decides for themselves what they will do without undue influence or coercion from others. The second, is the “philosophical” definition, requiring freedom from causal necessity.

        The philosophical definition is due, in my opinion, to two illusions. The first illusion, held by hard determinists, is that causal inevitability is some kind of a constraint. To free themselves from this imaginary constraint, libertarians imagine a “get out of determinism free card” as a gift of God.

        If we presume, as I do, that everything that happens is always causally inevitable, then we are left with the specific question of who or what is doing the causing. Because it is there that we will find free will as commonly understood.

        Science is all about this question of who or what is causing things. All of the benefits of science come from knowing the specific causes of specific events.

        If we assert that everything is caused by the Big Bang, we have learned nothing that we can put to use. No one is going back to change how things happened then in order to fix a problem that we are having now.

        To say that the future is already written by the Big Bang is to dismiss our own role in shaping that future by our imagination and our efforts.

        What we should understand from determinism is not that we are enslaved by the past, but rather that reliable causation empowers us to change our future.

        Science should be saying that this physical object, this living organism, this intelligent species that is us is also a force of nature.

        Determinism is not a force of nature. It is simply a comment upon the reliability of its objects and forces. We happen to be one of those objects that causes things to happen.

        When determinism is abused, when it is used to dismiss or diminish or bypass our role in the overall package of causation, then it becomes fatalism.

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      • Sorry if I come across too self-assured. I saw through the free will “versus” determinism paradox when I was a teenager at the public library. And it confuses me that so many people still see a conflict where none exists.

        Like Mekhi, I believe my view is the “cold scientific view” of the matter. We are material beings. However, material objects behave differently depending upon their organization. As a physical object, if you drop me and a bowling ball off the leaning tower of Pisa, we’ll both hit the ground at the same time. But as a living organism, I will defy gravity and walk uphill to get to MacDonald’s. And as an intelligent species, I can choose whether to have the Big Mac or the Chicken McNuggets.

        It’s still determinism, at each level of organization, but the rules of causation are expanded. For example, when someone stops at a red light, there are no laws of physics that can explain why this happens. But if we look at the social laws covering driving, we’ll find the meaningful and significant cause of the event of stopping at the red light.

        Free will exists as a meaningful concept at this same level of organization which produces intelligent or deliberate choosing.

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      • But you see the bowling ball can walk up a hill too – it needs the energy which is gratefully provided by the chemical energy in your legs. Give the bowling ball an amount of energy and it will obey the same laws as you. Now it is possible that I could deduce if you will have McNuggets or Big Mac based on waht you had eaten, how hungry you are, the smell in the shop etc. A bit like Sherlock – the science of deduction! The theoretical concept is can we keep going down and down and down to say x happened due to y until we are at a fundamental level and build back up with some predictive power.

        You conclusions are the same as mine and Mekhi’s really – that it is domains of applicability. It may well be physically possible to boil it all down to quantum states; which does require us to reconsider what we mean by free will. In my mind what we mean is an outcome which no conscious being could predetermine. A choice is an experience we go through, much like a feeling. Just because say love is something a human has developed and defined, does not stop us enjoying the process.

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      • Appreciate your debate Martin/Joseph, and may I offer something? Science’s single lens inflicts 2-dimensionality upon this matter, whereas another lens may enable clarity of 3-D vision. (I don’t mean the other or 3rd lens you know I use.)

        Free-will is the freedom to make choices for whatever reason, usually based upon personal values, and which have directly associated consequences, some for the best but others can be for the worse. It’s akin to classical physics’ laws of action and reaction, but may get delayed enormously. Thus we can easily lose sight of the underlying causal connection to the outcome.

        As free-will is related to human existence and not science alone, I just cannot accept your claim Joe to our inability to determine outcomes to our choices. That would mean we’ve never been instructed in avoiding the pitfalls of free-will – eg. reaping as we sow.

        Your claim ‘choice is an experience’ also falls because the will is purely a mental activity of decision. Emotions are distinctly different (or were when I studied psychology and counselling), yet often act as ‘drivers’ affecting decisions. In my opinion, we really do need to avoid confusion here guys.

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      • The “domain of applicability” or “context” of free will is the mental process of choosing.

        Choosing is the logical process by which multiple options are subject to some form of evaluation resulting in a single choice. The choice is our will at that moment.

        Using a functional MRI (an MRI taken while the brain is engaged in a specific task) science confirms that it is us (specifically certain areas of our brain) that is the cause of the choice.

        Prior causes have produced us, as we are at that moment. But most of those prior causes involved us and our interactions with our environment. I worked at MacDonald’s in college, but that was long before the Big Mac or the Quarter-Pounder. I would fix myself one or two double cheeseburgers for dinner.

        Now my choices are more complicated due to concerns about fat and cholesterol.

        But there is no prior cause, other than those which have now become an integral part of me, which can participate in my choice to have an apple to satisfy my hunger at this moment.

        So, when I feel hungry, the hunger is an integral part of who and what I am. And when I choose how to satisfy that hunger, the reasons I employ are my own beliefs and values, which have also become an integral part of who I am.

        Thus, the final responsible cause of me eating the apple is me. And no prior cause that did not first become part of me can participate in this choice.

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  8. Free will doesn’t stand in the realm of “matter”. Some people ask themselves that if we have no free will, how is it possible that we might get punished in the hereafter for something that we hadn’t had the chance to avoid? If on the contrary we have the free will, it makes more sense to be punished for something that we might have avoided if we wanted to.

    “Something inside us compels us to believe humans have free will. We probably therefore also believe animals such as dogs, cats and horses also have free will, sometimes your dog will want to go run after that ball you’ve thrown, sometimes he’ll be too lazy. We probably also believe tiny animals such as spiders and flies have free will too, spinning their webs and flying in different directions. But would we say we thought the amoeba (a single-celled animal) has free will…? Instinct tells me no. The amoeba is a single celled organized comprised of a handful of atoms and atoms obey the laws of physics.
    When one tries to pinpoint the centre of the human decision making process it is usually the brain that comes to mind. However if our biological shells and our brains are nothing more than a very large agglomeration of atoms and molecules (and who can provide evidence that they are not?!) then surely their complex processes can be reducible to the laws of physics. ”

    Atoms obey the laws of physics alright and our brain probably as well, but the free will comes from beyond “matter”, it comes from the spirit. Our spirit communicates with our brain by thoughts, the brain processes this thoughts into actions or behaviors. So I believe that if the Amoeba is a living thing, than yes it has a spirit and subsequently it has free will.
    No spirit i.e not a living thing than no free will, simply as that.

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    • Thank you for your comment and for reading! I’m afraid the matter is subjective and I can’t agree with you as I don’t believe in the spirit. I respect your view though and for those that are religious this seems a clear way to explain and understand free will.

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    • Novus, Does the spirit act according to purpose and reason? If so, then we may consider purpose and reason to be the causes of the spirit’s choices. And if we knew the purpose and the reasons and how they applied to the issue at hand, then we could reliably predict the spirit’s choice. The choice remains the autonomous product of the spirit, but it is also deterministic (rational, reliable, and thus in theoretically predictable). The two facts: autonomy (free will) and predictability (determinism) are simultaneously true. Or do you see this differently?

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      • Thanks for reading Marvin, I believe you have a point there. If the spirit worked by purpose and reason as the brain does, than it would be possible to predict its choice, but personally I think that the spirit is related to the “beyond” and has nothing to do with the ordinary “matter” i.e it works differently, for example the spirit might be connected to God while the brain no. So the spirit is unpredictable

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      • But the spirit would be unpredictable only through a lack of knowledge of the purpose and the reasons. To be undetermined by any purpose and reason would be the definition of irrational. We often behave irrationally due to valuing our desires over our real needs or by imperfect reasoning and/or imperfect knowledge.

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      • The brain uses reason while the spirit uses intuition. It’s not the same mechanism, there is a reason for each purpose but if there is no purpose there is no reason as well. While the brain “thinks” using the neurons – making choices, planing, resolving equations- the spirit gives us the intuition which comes from God, so there is no way to predict what your intuition will offer you. There is no rational in the matter of spirit or intuition because it’s not part of the common “matter”.

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      • I suspect that intuition would be a calculation performed below conscious awareness. You’d see the answer, but would be unable to “show me your work”.

        There is a test-taking technique called “prime and wait” that students can use when they run into a question that they feel they should know the answer to, but it just won’t come to them. They concentrate hard for a moment, then just forget about it and move on and return to the unanswered question later. Often the correct answer will just pop into their heads.

        I’ve also had situations where I’ve gotten a bad feeling about a decision a few moments after I made it, and went back and changed it, without knowing why. And it worked out for the best due to future events that I could not have known would occur. So I’m not sure where that intuition came from.

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      • Yes I totally agree, the intuition comes from below our conscious awerness – but no calculation is performed due to the fact that we’re not the source of this intuition. If we were the source of it, we would call it “thought”.

        In one of the Holy Scriptures God says: It is not for any human that God should speak to him, except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His permission whatever He wills. He is All-High, All-Wise. We thus inspired you spiritually, by Our command. You did not know what the Scripture is, nor what faith is, but We made it a light, with which We guide whomever We will of Our servants. You surely guide to a straight path. The path of God, to whom belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. Indeed, to God all matters revert.

        If I’m not mistaking you believe in God, but it seems to me that you don’t actually agree that the intuition come from Him.

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      • There are two versions of “God” that I still think may be significant. The first is the one that we humans created, at first for selfish, superstitious reasons, but later to inspire moral behavior.

        The second version is the possibility of some group mind that connects us all, and which is made (again) from us.

        But I don’t believe in a creator God or personality that does not originate with us. I don’t believe in magic or ghosts. “Spirit” to me means an attitude, a thought imbued with emotion.

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      • I’m sorry Marvin but I entirely disagree with you. Pretending that the universe is created by a mere coinsidence by the fact that We invented “God” – that’s absurd. When something is created there is a creator.
        But I understand your version of “spirit” which is more of a human conscious than a soul given by God. Well that’s a pity because you would have gained much more from a soul than a conscious.

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      • Something must be eternal, of course. I presume that “stuff-in-motion” is the eternal state. “Stuff” would include all types of “material”, from the smallest quark (or whatever they are made of) to the megaverse (the collection of all universes within infinity). “Motion” would also include all transformations, as when a super-condensed black hole reaches a tipping point and explodes with a Big Bang into a new universe.

        A state of nothingness, which we intuitively suspect from the fact that we weren’t always here to see stuff, would be an impossibility, because there is no way to get something from true nothing.

        There is evidence, in the fact that stuff is here now, that it has always been here.

        Spirit, to me, is more about how we feel about things. It is the emotions and attitudes that we have. And it does require maintenance. We provide that for each other through love and caring.

        The role of Religion and Church is to provide spiritual support for morality. It helps us to feel good about doing good and being good. This is very important in a world where some people prosper at the expense of others.

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      • It seems to be photocopies from the book you were reading. I’m not interested in reading biographies right now. I do think though that most of the early philosophers were in fact religious or had a religious upbringing.

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      • I think there has been a misunderstanding Marvin, the four selected pages described his point of view upon religion not his biography. The main thing is, if Newton as genius as he was noticed that the stars, the moon, the comets and said “this most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formaI by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One, especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all other systems : and lest the systems of the fixed stars should by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another…..” this is just the beginning of his explanation. Please take a few minutes to read those “photocopies” and then we may discuss them if you wish.

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      • Heard a provocative comments in a Lent sermon y’day that tends to support your first contention Marvin. Humanity made God in its image (eg modern humanism), hence variety of inaccurate images as false deities. By his life and mission Jesus showed us what God is really like and thus not only transform our image of Him but also change ourselves to become who He created us to be.

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      • Richard, I don’t think this blog was meant to discuss the nature of “God”. If you want to see my ideas on that please visit my blog under the Religion category, especially: “Where Did ‘God’ Come From” and “God and Good”.

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    • Interesting thesis Novus re, your “brain uses reason..spirit uses intuition” (reply to Marvin) I partially disagree. Imho, the brain is just a tool to convey intuition and awareness of our spiritual life plus our link to God’s spirit . As we’re ‘made in his image’ with its free-will then we have a spiritual reasoning faculty to ‘discuss’ with our Father; as he says at Isaiah 1:18, “Come now let us reason together”.

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      • Hello Richard thanks for reading, We’ve all seen ghost movies in our life, movie makers chose to make them good or evil. They’re funny, sensitive, helping, active… or they kill, frighten, burn, or even tear you apart… either case they have in common the capability to see, think, touch and sometimes sleep. But ghosts are spirits dwelling on earth according to these movie makers. The problem is that they’ve managed to convince us that spirits actually are capable of thinking by themselves, seeing, talking and touching. Thanks to our body we’re able to see, smell, taste, touch and hear which are the five senses. So if a spirit is capable of the same five senses why did God bothered to give us a body in the first place? We’ve seen paranormal activities shows on American television, which I believe might be true in 50% of the cases but I don’t believe that spirits are involved. If human spirits had the capability of causing paranormal activities, so does the animal’s, than imagine what an angry dog’s spirit would have done! So a spirit can’t act on its own device, it needs a body to live and subsequently a body needs a spirit to be alive and that’s why God gave it to us. So the spirit doesn’t have any reasoning faculty of its own, the reason comes from the brain but the sincerity/focus with which you’ll “discuss” with God is through the spirit.

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      • Hi Novus and thanks for your reply, but better to stick to attested facts of known events rather than conjecture of fictional films. You’d be well advised to ignore their ideas my friend.

        Hence, my preference to analyse, query, test factual data – including scripture! – and accept the proven and hold theories lightly, rather than dogmatically make baseless assertions.

        I’ve been trained to discern between holy, human and unclean (demonic) spirits and deal with the last. My actual experience has verified the accuracy of what’s in the New Testament.

        Thus, I disagree with your notion that free-will and rational processes are not used by immaterial or disembodied spirits. The Bible and Quran both report satan/iblis as having rational faculties, otherwise it wouldn’t have been able to rebel or tempt Jesus through power of persuasion. Also, Jesus refered to it as ‘The Father of Lies’. SO a spirit being has and uses its reasoning faculty! The main focus of such spirits’ activities is upon our human minds and thoughts.

        Why did God give us a body? Why not? It’s his free-will to use as he wishes – but that’s definitely off-topic. As is hearing direct from the Almighty – AND many in churches are very dysfunctional there! Otherwise they’d not have been surprised at the outcome of the EU Referendum!!

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      • Hi Richard, I’m very surprised by your knowledge – no offense please.
        I agree with most of what you said, “better to stick to attested facts of known events rather than conjecture of fictional films”.
        On the other hand, satan/iblis isn’t really described in the Quran except that it is made of a certain kind of fire (naturally not the human kind). So it’s not exactly a spirit is it?
        By the way Novus Lectio (i.e New Lecture) is just the name of the blog. I prefer to be called BGC.

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      • Thanks for your reply and query BGC, and no offence taken whatsoever. We’re veering off-topic in our chat so will be very brief in saying will answer your queries fully in my own blog, hopefully next week. Meanwhile you may like to check post of 22 Feb last year (2016) and its photos on this tag https://richards-watch.org/tag/holy-fire/page/2/

        Re EU: you may have seen article by global satellite TV site on my home page endorsing my library of over 20 instances in last 12 years where those moving under prophetic unction have known God’s mind: ie accurate predictions on Brexit. BUT churchgoers are perplexed over it because most leaders have abdicated their proper role and function!

        Btw, from my schoolboy Latin I think ‘lectio’ means ‘reading, perusing’, as in Benedictine practice ‘Lectio Divina’ of meditating upon scripture and communing with God (see Wikipedia).

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    • Novus/Marvin – we need some clarity on reason, intuition and spirit as aspects of free-will and an example of all three working in tandem may help. It’s within my closing remarks below to Mehki below (Mar8-5:32) about an “inexplicable, near-simultaneous coincidence”. Here’s what happened:

      Last week I used my free choice to draft a post I’d intended doing last October on a ‘quantum veil’ between heaven and earth. Upon waking in the night the idea (intuition?) dropped into mind that I should put its sub-header ‘Thin Places’ into the title.

      Next, I thus reasoned I’d need to amend the intro slightly, and to add an explanatory link for readers.

      So, immediately after breakfast I made that quick change and was ‘nudged’ in my spirit to include a reference to a location in Wales as an example of a ‘thin place’. This needed my free-will choice to agree to that in addition to having chosen to include a link to a suitable website on ‘thin places’.

      The link I immediately found was totally unexpected because it’s of personally significance.

      Only after making those adjustments based upon combined use of reason and intuition did I publish the blog and after doing so opened up my email. (I CHOSE to change my normal sequence of actions. If I had opened email first, then the startling, inexplicable nature of what happened would not have existed!) THEREIN, were two email sent a few hours EARLIER about EACH of the 2 NEW topics I’d inserted.

      SO, who/what knew to send that extra data from separate sources AND to affect my rational thoughts and decisions?? An immaterial and therefore supernatural source of events led to a pre-determined outcome – BUT one totally dependent upon my own volition to follow my thoughts and ‘hunches’ and make any choice.

      I blog about so many similar data-coincidental events (which I term ‘God-incidents’) that have happened like jigsaw pieces falling into my hands. The details of this latest one are at http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-9oS

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      • Yes it seems a mixture of intuition and free will, that seems obvious to me. It seems that your spirit and brain worked together to do what you’ve accomplished.

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      • There’s a big stir in neuroscience these days about the decision-making role of the unconscious brain areas. But you’ll probably recall the advice given to people with a complex problem they can’t solve: “Sleep on it”. Often a solution will present itself in the morning. This involves nothing supernatural, just the brain continuing to work on the problem below your conscious awareness.

        On the other hand, there was Edgar Cayce. He claimed to find cures for people’s illnesses in books that he hadn’t read. Perhaps there is some “spooky action at a distance” that provides a connection to all brains that some people can utilize.

        J B Rhine’s “Hidden Channels of the Mind” is full of examples (and a classification) of these types of experiences, collected from interviews with people. On the other hand, our magician James Randi has offered a huge reward for anyone who can demonstrate such powers and still has no takers.

        I remember a friend who was visiting and temporarily working at a factory where I also did temp work. The boss had called him in and they had a long conversation. Later he told me that our boss had offered to pay his air fare when he went back home. We were walking through the book section of a department store, and I said, “Why don’t we see what’s in your horoscope?” And it said something to the effect that he would receive favors from his boss today. Weird.

        Anyway, I generally avoid discussing the paranormal, and reject it in principle (or maybe because my reference group rejects it).

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      • Marvin/BGC – appreciate your responses and you’re both halfway there, BUT missing the utterly weird point > ie. why did I get that idea, to change the title of a perfectly acceptable item I was to republish, that would then bring it into line with TWO items of data that were electronically en-route but yet TOTALLY unknown to me?? Yes the idea would make piece more appealing but the ‘coincidental’ material actually served to confirmed it was the correct decision. So, in toto, it was a combination of free-will and extra-sensory perception. Moreover, more happened Thursday/Friday in a different vein!

        Yes Martin, am well-aware of ‘sleep on it’ (and that literature) as states of consciousness and perception were my ‘haunt’ as psychology student. Subsequent 50 years have been intriguing journey, two decades of which were what I term ‘walking dead’ and then got far more exciting upon becoming ‘born-again’, and thus naturally supernatural, nearly 30 years ago. You’d be most welcome to ‘taste and see’ that our Maker really is good. Be thoroughly blessed both of you..

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      • Richard, Been there, done that. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and accepted Christ as my savior at the altar, many times. Jesus is still cool, but God, not so much. I prefer not to believe in ghosts, and I expect to simply cease being when I’m dead.

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  9. Hey! 2-3 weeks ago, I had a discussion with my friends in IISER about free will. I think I shouldn’t comment here because most of the people won’t believe this. Nonetheless, We reached exact same conclusion taking 2 cases: Classical and Quantum. Our initial discussion was Capitalism vs. Socialism from where we drifted to ‘Free Will.’ And what’s more incredible is from few months I had decided to write something instead of wasting time on Facebook. Today I came here on WordPress thinking to write my thoughts on ‘Free will, ‘ and the first article I saw is from you on the same topic and exactly similar. After I’ve read your article, I don’t know what to do! Maybe it was predetermined or randomly determined that this would happen.

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  10. No way. That amoeba too has free will. I’m at the library internetting. I can continue typing this commentary, and I can also go to the nearest market and buy a soda and dump it on the keyboard. Am listening to music on YouTube; I could switch to skulking for porn. I have free will; YOU have free will; we ALL have free will. Good post, makes me glad I went browsing.

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  11. Something just now came to me. It’s become apparent to me, sometime within the last 6 months lets say, that the Biblical “Genesis” is an attempt to explain consciousness, to explain how we were touched enough to leave the jungles of Africa; touched enough –became Conscious– to make abstractions, alphabets and words that is, to represent our representations of ourselves. Think about the first line of the first book of the Gospels “In the beginning was the Word.” I wonder what that first word was? 🙂

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  12. Mekhi, you’re brave to tread outside your scientific sphere towards metaphysics and theology. Now I’ve at last got into the full piece I infer a hesitation with the associated belief systems of humanism and atheism; which don’t deal adequately with the fallout from free-will: ie. all the actual consequences of free-choice decisions.

    In addition to the couple of ‘compulsions’ we mentioned mused upon above, there’s a dozen references to “believe” – four of which are in the closing para. Moreover, you’re looking for “a saviour for our free will” – definitely getting into religio-lingo there my friend. After all, in describing and explaining the way we are, the Best Instructions Before Leaving Earth has much to say about free-will – which has engendered much theological debate – and describes all the benefits from the saviour sent to help us .

    A couple of queries: 1) “when atoms came into existence…initial conditions caused them to fly out in a predetermined trajectory…and collide”. How? What ‘classical’ Newtonian force enabled that to happen? Something must have hit them first before they then collided with other particles! Where did that impact come from? We can’t experimentally examine that situation so it has to remain unproven scientific supposition.

    2) on quantum mechanics and randomness, what about apparent intelligence exhibited through non-locality? Or are there newer theories to account for that?

    If you have time to peruse, you may like this on the ‘quantum veil’ between heaven and earth > http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-9lF plus the ‘inexplicable’ near-simultaneous ‘coincidence’ relating to its publication this morning.

    Lastly, suggest you check out some scientific colleagues, eg. biologist professor Sy Garte’s paper Teleology and the Origin of Evolution at https://thebookofworks.com/2017/02/21/is-there-purpose-in-life/

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  13. “Though what is it that makes us believe we truly are in control of our decisions and whether when you’re faced with chocolate ice cream or vanilla there really is a moment of genuine uncertainty before you choose the vanilla.” The answer is your ego on reward system.

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  14. Hey Joseph – While spending a couple of years in Afghanistan, I organized my thoughts on free will and all that in a very short blog – with four or five posts only. It was triggered by an analysis of Buddhist metaphysics, but I go much wider than that. Perhaps it’s an interesting read for you. You’ll fly through it: http://www.langshisha.wordpress.com.Have fun with it ! Cheers – JL

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  15. I am glad that you made the distinction between fatalism and randomness, both unable to give us free will. I would also add, that there are two primary drivers to will, genetics and the environment. Making a decision requires some reference to one or both influences. Both are things we have no control of, yet shape exactly who we are.
    I wrote a blog post about why I think Immortality is impossible. It somehow seems relevant to this topic. Check it out if you think I might be wrong https://jakedriftwood.com/2016/10/14/can-we-live-forever/

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    • What part of your genetics isn’t you? That which your genes control, you control.

      Otherwise you are presuming some kind of dualism, some “you” that exists separate from your genes, your experience, your beliefs and values, your thoughts and feelings, your brain, et cetera.

      To say that all of these things which make you “you” are external to you and controlling you doesn’t work, unless you’re suggesting that the “real” you is something else (perhaps a spirit?).

      But if we accept that all the stuff that makes us uniquely us is included in “that which is us”, then it turns out we are in control. Because no one else is at home. And “that which is us” is identical to “that which is choosing”. (Except when “that which is someone else” is holding a gun to our head and choosing what we will do instead).

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  16. I loved this post so much!! This is actually something I have been pondering over since the last few days, and this is also why I wrote how future time travel could not be possible… But I hate then idea that we cannot have free will, ofcourse because as an individual that would mean all my mistakes are not my own, my crimes are not because of me but because it was meant to be, which then takes away the concept of punishment, and I think regret.
    There is this one multiple universe theory I read a year ago in michio kaku’s parallel worlds, I do not remember the name of the scientist who suggested it, but as a reply to schrodinger’s cat paradox, he said that perhaps, when you open the box, instead of their being just one reality, the wavefunctions of the two possible events, life and death, separate out, and now they are completely different realities, in one the cat is dead and in the other its alive. And the observer in both of them will argue that his universe is the real ‘reality’ and both of them are true. The new universes separate out on observation and after that there is no way they can interact. Now that would also imply everytime I am to make a decision, multiple universes are created, each for the one available answer, and that too in a way destroys free will, because in one where everything goes wrong, I can say I did not ‘actually decide’ this, its just a chance I am in this reality, while in some other universe, I have made all the decisions right. This idea freaks me out everytime I think of it, How if its true is the other successful me doing? Why am I in this one and not the other? This is not my fault or free will. Even now as I type I am just shocked by the consequences of this idea on free will.

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  17. Pingback: The Origin of Chance | Richard's Watch·

  18. There are two completely separate regions of application of these insights, or at least of these terms. One is physics and pure philosophy: we have no explanations within either for a “spirit” that defies both randomness and determinism. Another is morals or social theory: since we are all of the same kind, at least according to (Christian) humanism, it doesn’t matter at all whether a spirit exists, is known, is unknown or whatever. When interacting with each other, what we call “will” is a useful explanation that helps us understand each other. It is not reasonable to use references to the “freedom” of will when discussing morals, since any resolution to that question would affect us all in the same way. It is only too easy to construct a Motte and Bailey argument using our lack of physical explanations for free will to discard other people’s “free will” only to socially enslave them under our own “free will”. It’s just equivocation. They are two distinct concepts.

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  19. I’m a Christian, so I believe that there is an “emergent consciousness,” if you will (pun not initially intended), or gestalt to the mind, so our consciousness is different then a simple classical or quantum model (this I would say is the soul).
    Yet, I also believe that human will is limited – there are natural constraints that take supernatural action to change. I don’t believe that I became a Christian because I freely chose, but that God acted supernaturally and converted my “emergent consciousness,” and because of that transformed state I now follow God.
    How this relates to physics, I’m not sure. I don’t think that God directly controls every thought interaction, meaning that humans have an independent will. But though that will is independent of God, how independent it is from the universe I do not know, and it is a very interesting question.

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  20. Pingback: ‘Illusory’ free-will & science vs scripture & spirits | Richard's Watch·

  21. Good post! However, I’m not sure the concept of free will really matters in the end. Under determinism, if we think we decided something, and really we did not (it was preordained due to the movement of atoms originating from the Big Bang), we were still preordained to think we did also due to atomic motions. A drug user decides to give up drugs or not due to a pre-determined atomic interaction (he/she was predisposed to give up drugs or not) or due to a random (quantum) atomic/molecular interaction in his/her brain. Either way, if you can’t prove it was pre-determined or random, it’s unlikely you’ll ever convince that person it wasn’t their decision. Then again, I may be completely wrong here (I blame it on determinism if that’s the case! :P).

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