Free will is such a great idea. I would totally choose it if it existed. Believing we are in control of our destiny, becoming who we want to be, taking (and giving) credit for our successes and knowing who to blame for failures. Everyone loves free will. Religion loves it so much it made room for where there is none.
But isn’t the problem obvious? Free will hinges on being able to choose, and I just don’t see how it can be possibly true that we ever have a choice. That’s the illusion. We think we are making our own choices among the available alternatives, but really, we couldn’t have chosen otherwise.
The moment before you make any decision is the last stop in a casual chain of events spanning from the beginning of time. Whichever way you could think to interfere is just another necessary part of the chain that will inevitably lead to the decision you can’t avoid. This is because every cause has one – and only one – effect. We observe that to be true.
So the way something is at any given moment is the only way it could have been. If it were anything else, then the moment that came before has to be different to have caused it, and the moment before that, before that… so unless our past is constantly rewriting itself, we have no choice. For free will to be true, we need to have been able to act otherwise. But there is no way to avoid acting the way you do.
It does seem like sort of a cop-out, I know. Maybe whatever’s going on in our brains before we make the choice that we couldn’t have made otherwise is free will in action? But that doesn’t make it any less true that there is only one choice we do make, and it was the only choice we can make. Doesn’t that negate free will?
And the other thing – how do you know it’s your conscious self that accounts for any decision you ever make, anyway? Our actions are our choices, but what drives our actions? The unseen forces of desire. And what accounts for desire but a whole bunch of stuff that’s out of our control? Hormones, genes, and the effect of a lifetime of experiences that happen to us. We are the sum of all of this, and more. This is what decides what choice to make – this is the programming we’re stuck with.
Maybe we can define freedom as being able to do what we want, if we wanted. But often it turns out that we didn’t really want what we chose after all./ And how often do we have desires we don’t approve? Ones we wish we had? If we could choose how to feel we’d be a lot happier with our choices because they’re the only ones we would have wanted. But apparently we can’t choose how to feel, so how can we take responsibility for what comes of it?
We’re just automatons living in a mechanistic universe – I can’t see it any other way. Now excuse me, it’s time for my kill-crazy rampage.