Free Will is Fake

…but it’s okay. The illusion is very complete, very compelling and for all intents and purposes every bit as good as the real thing.
We are, for want of a better description, engines that make decisions. So it’s not surprising we take responsibility for those decisions. This ownership over our own actions creates the illusion of free will. It’s a satisfying illusion. But all our choices, deeds and actions are the result of some prior causes: Memories, genetic-predispositions, character defects, accidents, lusts, goals, momentary neurochemical flickerings or just random quantum interactions. In other words, just atoms doing physics. No will. No freedom.

And all those causes, they too had had prior causes.

If we were an omniscient observer staring into a person, we could watch every one of these golden strands of causality and trace them back in time to see it is all connected to something else. Alas, we have no such powers. The mind/brain is a black box to us. It’s workings obscured. And so we have to satisfy ourselves that the origin of an action was somewhere within that grey meat-computer. Having done that, we can assign blame.

Pity the poor omniscient observer. He can see the cause of everything, and so is obliged to see every action as blameless and inevitable. People may assume this is based on determinism, or brain function or something else.

It’s simpler than that.

In this universe, and pretty much every universe we can imagine, there are only two possible types of event.

•  Caused events – things that happen because earlier things happened.
•  Uncaused events – thing that happened without any prior cause.

For the sake of this we can consider thoughts and decisions to be events like anything else. Including the choice of a roast beef or turkey sandwich.

A caused decision is the product of what happened before. A logical process, an accumulation of preferences, a reaction to some event. Though we may believe we chose, there is actually no freedom in such a decision. It’s outcome was forced by what went before. At the most obvious of many levels in play, using health conscious input factors we logically chose turkey. That’s a rational and willed decision. But it’s not free.

An uncaused decision is unlinked to prior circumstances. As such it must by definition be spontaneous. It must materialize without context or reason. Quantum phenomena are a good example of this. We can imagine some mental die-roll that allows us to pick at random and get turkey. Again there is no possibility of freedom here. Because we can’t control or influence such events. They must be random. Because it was random, it was not willed.

There are no other classes of event. Not in this universe. Not in any universe we can imagine.


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