Is Free Will an Illusion?

30 Oct

How much choice do we have over our life? Should we  be more understanding of the  things we do not like about ourselves? Do we understand who we are or how we became the person we become. When we think or do something do we really understand the real reason we are thinking or doing that or as I believe are we more often than not doing it for other reasons which we may not consciously be aware of.

Are we really the captain’s of our own destiny or is it really an illusion. There are a number of different ways to attack this question but as a beginner’s guide I’ll go with a tried and tested method, that has in the past as least created interest and often great debate. Many people’s first reaction is one of horror that the control over their life they believe exists is an illusion. Many people will stop there they do not want to even think about the subject others however will  slowly digest the information and come to terms with the realisation and delve in to the subject more.

How much choice did you have in your DNA? The era of your birth? Your parents? Where you live? The people around you? How you look? Moreover at what age do you actually start to think and assess the information you are taking in? In fact don’t we actually only do this based on the previous information already encoded? In other words we start thinking when we are X but we are restricted about what we think and how we see the world by the information we had acquired like a sponge previously. We were unaware what we were taking in as a child and at the same time it was shaping us, dictating who we would become, our fears, hopes dreams etc.

We can never have free will as free will would mean we have no emotional pull or drive for something, we would need virtual comprehensive knowledge of the subject and be able to make decisions based on pure reason. I do not see how this is remotely possible.

Personally I think we tend to go through our life asking ourselves internally how we feel about this and then based on our emotional response we will bring our conscious level and reasoning to support the emotional response. Most if not all of us have values and those values dictate the essence of who we are and what we believe is fair, right and wrong. But those values weren’t developed on a conscious level.

While we can never really truly have free will I do believe we are capable of developing to a degree away from the somnambulist by developing reason. The major problem with this is society ie parents, government education really just want you to abide by the rules and laws. We aren’t taught to analyse, question, think, assess. The education system only really requires you to start questioning when you set out on a degree.

It is safe and psychologically much easier to stay in the state where you do not question yourself or your beliefs and understanding of the world. Thinking about questions that contradict the way you see the world often means an uncomfortable ride so I can understand  those that prefer their safe armchair. Others will take pride they make decisions on a degree of reason than their conditioning. Although the degree to what level this is possible is debatable, and which people can do this and how is an interesting subject in its own right.

If anyone believes free will exists I’ll be interested in why they believe this can happen.

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8 Responses to “Is Free Will an Illusion?”

  1. SportyMuslimah October 31, 2011 at 1:36 am #

    We both come from very different backgrounds and I entirely respect that, my concept and understanding of free will, will differ massively to yours.

    Because as humans we feel remorse and happiness, I truly believe we have free will, we are responsible for our own actions and we have choices to make. The fact the authorities have repercussions set in place for people who commit crimes, furthers this in understanding for me.

    When we come across a certain part of our life, where we need to make a decision, it is true that external matters will come into play that will force our decision. For example, I may not want to take a specific job but because I have a family to fend for, this will in turn force a decision from me from the greater good. I’m not sure whether there is such a thing as ‘free will’, where literally no other component comes into play nor do we learn from or recognise those experiences we have had previously, but the decisions are ours to make. I am not convinced that we are capable of making decisions based on an ’empty mind’, when we as humans make decisions, it is within our nature to do it in order to receive something back.

    This particular response I’m writing right now, was my will, I wanted to respond therefore did, if I chose to, I could well have avoided it and decided otherwise. As a Muslim, I believe in an article of faith which is known as Qadr, this is basically divine decree and pre-destination, the belief that Allah already knows and has decided what will happen. However, I do not know will happen. I can’t for example, go outside and start crashing my car everywhere, and then say that was God’s will, so it was meant to be. The actions are still mine, I still had the control of the car and the choice to make a movement to prevent a crash from happening.

    Many people will say, ‘Whatever happens, is down to God’, in reality that’s not how it works. God has said, ‘ I will help those who help themselves’, so really I need to put the effort in first, for example, revise for an exam. I need to make sure I revise as well as I can to get the best grade possible, if I then fail, it was God’s will, whereas if I didn’t revise and failed, it would be God’s will but also due to me being lazy, and I would never know the consequences or what was to come ‘if’ I revised.

    I do agree that when we make decisions, we do question ourselves internally, as to how we feel about a specific point/decision. We consider as to what the future may hold depending on the choice that we make, and then put into action what we ‘foresee as being better for us’, even though in reality it may not always work out like that.

    I realise the basis of your blogpost is very different to my answer, for me as a Muslim, the choices I make, I consider the afterlife, I consider whether this will please my Lord, be beneficial to the people around me and beneficial for me afterwards, even though at the time it may not be a good thing for me to for myself, personally, I consider the long term impact. Based on this, I believe I have free will in the actions I then commit. In addition, when we make decisions, and use our free will, we have various factors that are fighting to take position in our decisions, the people around us, a belief in a greater being if you do believe in one but also your own psyche/self. And it all depends which one has the stronger force that wins.

    I am so sorry if this was waffled and confused you more :s my excuse if, that it’s really 2.30am and not 1.30am.

    “For free will and choice to express themselves, a factor opposing natural instinct must exist. Man will, then, be caught between two opposing attractions, each seeking to gain his obedience, so that he is compelled to choose the path he desires, freely, consciously, and relying on his own efforts and resources”

  2. SportyMuslimah October 31, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    I also believe the concept of understanding free will is also based on the perception of our existence and why we are here. If we believe we are here by accident then we are likely to agree that free will isn’t necessarily real, in terms of our actions having no previous background.

    Whereas for me, as a Muslim, I believe I have been created for a specific purpose, therefore I totally believe we have free will. Because if we didn’t, and God knows everything anyway, that what is the purpose of us being here? I consider this life to being limited and a journey, a test of inner strength and character. The family and DNA I have, is all for a greater purpose. The traits I have that others may not like about me or I don’t like about myself, is part of my free will. Do I try and overcome and better myself, or just say its there, so put up with it.

    • themancunianred October 31, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      I know your faith is critical to you and defines your thinking and tbh it makes debate on this subject very difficult. Thank you for your replies and the time and effort it is nice of you.

  3. Vas Tassou October 31, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    We have ‘free will’ to the point where we can decide to get out of bed in the morning. Or what clothes to wear, or what we eat. But then even these choices are narrowed down by the fact that must of us have to work , to pay our bills and have money to buy the clothes and food. These choices are limited to what others deem necessary to sell to us, and the price we can pay depending on our level of wealth.
    From my view, in modern day society’s the concept of free will has been thrown around as an ideal, but none of us have any kind of free reign on our lives, only who we chose to spend it with (friends etc) but if you realty start analysing it all, everything we do has a reason- and of there is a reason, buy admitting that reason, you concede you have no free will.

    • themancunianred October 31, 2011 at 11:32 am #

      I would not see that as free will it is factors inside you that were put there previously giving you the arguments for and against getting out of bed. We are limited to how we can see a situation through our previous experiences and the emphasis og getting up or staying in bed will depend on how those elements see the situation. And the clothes we wear and choose again like everything else will be based on imformation gathered in your brain. I don’t like egg, there is no reason not to like egg it is good for you, taste isn’t rational. But my Mum believes I stopped liking egg when I saw a friend with egg all down her chin. I do not remember this event but it demonstrates how an outside influence can define my thinking. I could just say I rationallly just do not like the taste of egg but in truth that would not be understanding what was going on.

  4. trafels October 31, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Having your own personal opinion about this post amounts to free will in a way,I think Free Will exists because eventhough we’r not responsible for situations sorrounding our birth and our early days on earth,we still have to be accountable for our actions.

    I have heard people blaming fate for some occurrences but then truth is that your action in any situation can be negative or positive and you have to make that decision….Having the power to make this decision counts as free will.

    PS. This is a good write up,keep it up

    • themancunianred October 31, 2011 at 11:36 am #

      Cheers for the reply. But as I state in my article we cannot come up against something and make a free decision. We bring baggage to the table ie lots of previous information that we can only see the said object through our baggage ie previous experience. If I meet you for the first time within seconds we would have opinions about each other but those opinions are not free will decisions but decisions based on our lives experience

  5. Vas Tassou October 31, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    We have an element of free will, in regards to choosing to get out of bed, getting dressed and what we eat. But if you really start thinking about it all, these are just choices- we are preprogrammed by society to believe that by making a choice to go to work (as an example) we are living a life we strived for, by being educated, applying for work… Really what’s happening is that we are pigeon holed into a catogory, and I think, the more choices we are forced to make about our lives, the less catogories we can choose from which as a side effect diminishes any essence of free will.

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