Every once in a while* I’ll get in a fun sparring debate about Free Will. I no longer believe in such a phenomenon but I’m curious if I can articulate why. As usual, I am not qualified to comment on anything beyond rudimentary physics so I mostly have to rely on skepticism regarding the subtle religious elements of Free Will. The only real comments I can make about the science of determinism are that nothing magical (i.e. outside of the natural laws of the Universe) has ever been demonstrated.
Anyway, my first problem with Free Will is that I can’t think of or find a working definition that makes any kind of sense. Each word is ambiguous and loaded. For instance, what is meant by “Free?” It seems outrageous and arrogant to think that in a Universe where everything is governed by laws that we can somehow break that chain of casualty somewhere within the process (presumably at the origin) of performing an action or having a thought. On a broader scale, it also seems unlikely that humans can avoid social training. For instance, I am not acutely aware of being subjected to any Pavlov-like regime but I do know that the time on my computer screen tells me that it’s been a while since I ate breakfast and so I am suddenly pretty fucking ready for lunch.
The next word, “Will,” is even stranger. It seems like a stinky synonym to Soul. Where is one’s Will? How did it get there? If it’s a natural by-product of complex brains then it should be governed by laws, thus making the “Free” element an illusion (my position exactly). If, as religion tends to claim, it was instilled in us by God, then as far as I’m concerned the conversation is over. If it can’t be shown that a God exists in the first place, then I don’t want to go on talking, as a matter of Faith, about the repercussions of a Universe with a God. Real quick, as far as I understand the Abrahamic religions call for Free Will to justify the Fall of Man story and add credence to the concept of Sin. If God already knew Adam and Eve would turn to Sin then why did he bother setting up the Universe in that way? That would seem like a slip on the all powerful Creator. Furthermore, how can anyone be condemned for sinning or rewarded for piousness in a deterministic Universe? In order for religion to survive, Free Will is a necessary feature.
The final reason why I have to be super skeptical of the notion of Free Will is because I want to believe it. The notion that I am the commander of my own ship is very pleasing. However, I cannot express enough that what I would like to be true has absolutely no effect on what is actually true. Therefor, the reasonable course of action is to adjust my beliefs in accordance with the current evidence. I am not aware of any substantial evidence in favour of Free Will (and again, what does that term even mean?) but rather I have seen a fair amount of evidence that disproves Free Will (read Free Will by Sam Harris for a nice run down).
I’d rather not get too deep into the moral and practical reprecussions of a Universe with no Free Will. I think for the most part I just go on pretending like we have it. Either that, or I don’t think about it too much. This isn’t very hard because I don’t have an understanding of how my life would be any different if I actually had it. The appearance of Free Will is undeniable because I can’t comprehend the electro-chemical events that underlie everything I do. I can recognize some elements of social training, but those don’t bother me because I either think that the triggers are coincidentally in accordance with what I want to do or I tell myself that I could override them if I wanted (which is true, but only because another trigger wins out).
* NOT “Once AND a while”