In this article I want to focus, in the general sense, on 10 of the many benefits of not believing in free will as defined here, if one understands the reasons behind why it doesn’t exist and what such implies. You’ll notice that many of the below benefits interconnect with each other.
So here we go…
10 Benefits of NOT Believing in Free Will
Emile at kritischdenken.info asked me a while back to create a Dutch version of my Determinism vs. Fatalism infographic so she could use for her site focused on Dutch speaking skeptics, but it seems she never ended up using it. I don’t want a translated version to go to waste so I’m placing it here on my website. Click here for the original English version: Determinism vs. Fatalism – InfoGraphic (a comparison)
A common misconception surrounding the free will debate is the idea that if we can’t predict the future, that free will somehow resides or has the possibility of residing in the fact that we can’t know such. That somehow our lack of being able to know all of the variables is the savior of free will.
This misconception is often grounded by the ways words such as “determinism” are not used for the free will debate. People tend to look at such words and assume what is being suggested by the word is that “we” can determine what we will do in the future. And when they hear about things such as the uncertainty principle, or about a measurement problem (there are different ones), or even chaos theory, they note that we can’t “determine” the future in any absolute way, and so (they believe) such “determinism” doesn’t apply.
It’s surprising how many people try to suggest that we could have done otherwise (sometimes abbreviated as CHDO online) in an entirely causal (deterministic) universe, when discussing the free will debate. And it’s always surprising how many people don’t recognize the contradiction of such. In my book I point this out with numerous demonstrations, but for this article I just want to get to the vegan-meat and potatoes. First let’s address what we mean by “could have done otherwise”. This statement is not an “after the fact” statement, as obviously once something has been done that is the thing that was done. We are addressing that if we were to somehow bring the moment back to before the decision or action, that such a decision or action doesn’t have to take the same path (it could lead elsewhere). So let’s get into the contradictory nature of such an idea.
Daniel Dennett, author of Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting and Freedom Evolves, is a philosopher that is considered a free will “compatibilist”. What this means is that Dennett accepts that the universe is deterministic or that even if there was indeterminism, this wouldn’t help free will such as what libertarians think (different than political libertarians) – but at the same time he thinks free will is compatible with determinism.
On the other hand, hard determinists and hard incompatibilists such as myself think that free will is not compatible with determinism (nor indeterminism).
So obviously one of us must be wrong…right? Well yes and no. The first thing that needs to be addressed is if we are both on the same page in regards to the term “free will”. As it turns out, Dennett’s “Free Will” is not the free will of concern for the hard determinist or hard incompatibilist.
A common occurrence that happens in the free will debate is the conflation between what “is” or what “exists” with what we can or cannot “know”. In philosophical terms such is the conflation between an ontic understanding and an epistemic understanding. In case the philosophical terms arise in a discussion, all you really need to know is that ontology is the study of what exists, is real, or the nature and properties of “being”, while epistemology is the study of what we can know and how we can know things. In philosophy these words are very broad fields of study. For example, ones epistemological standard (standard of knowledge) might play into their ontological understandings (what they think exists or doesn’t exist).
If you are unfamiliar with the philosophical jargon, don’t be too concerned. For the free will debate, just know that one addresses existence claims and the other addresses knowledge claims. And the distinction between these two things are of great importance.
According to a study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, random fluctuations in the brain’s “background electrical noise” might have a say in our decisions. An article on the ucdavis.edu website suggests that this could possibly be labeled “free will“. In other words, it opens the free will door.
Take a look at the article here:
Does ‘free will’ stem from brain noise?
The article is brief, but has some conclusions that simply do no follow from what is explained in the study. It first says this, in order to prep you for the really bad thinking to come:
“How do we behave independently of cause and effect?” said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. “This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions.”
The words “determinism” and “indeterminism” tend to cause a lots o’ confusion when they are used. That’s because, as with many words/terms, they can often be used with ambiguous meanings. This post is going to point to some of these usages and also to the common usage that’s of importance for the debate on free will.
Let’s start with determinism and look at the possible ways this has been used by others.
For many such as myself, determinism is interlinked entirely with causality. It says something about the universe and all events that ever happen within it. If every event that happens in the universe has a cause, the universe, per this definition, is said to be “deterministic”.