I came across a post the other day by an atheist who seems to be a public speaker, and who runs a blog on ChicagoNow. This post was about the “free will” topic and how he holds a belief in free will. To be fair I suspect that the blogger is unfamiliar with much of the nuance of the free will debate from our little chat we had in the comment section, and he seems like a swell guy. I thought it might be good to respond to his post as some of the things in it are those rudimentary mistakes that those new to the debate quite often make, such as the idea that if hard determinism is shown false, that opens the door for free will.
There are some people who understand that free will is an illusion, but at the same time say that we should keep the general population within that illusion – or rather, not educate them out of it. This stems from a concern over people learning that they do not have free will, but at the same time taking it to wrongheaded conclusions about fatalism, defeatism, futility, and so on. Ideas that can often have bad consequences.
They might cite studies that were done which create a temporary confusion were the person will display signs of “less free will” leanings after being “primed” by a passage.
“Ho ho ho”, said the jolly Santa as he walked into his elf production factory. The elves each had devices on their heads and were working hard. With the disbelief in Santa that happened after a certain age, and with the extreme population growth that bumped the world from 1.5 billion to over 7 billion people in just over a hundred years, the traditional process Santa used to keep track of children and give gifts was no longer feasible. No longer could Santa make it to each child infested home that celebrated Christmas, even with his magical powder and flying reindeer.
The notion that someone deserves what they have coming to them is a key factor in the justification of retribution.
The main difference between retribution and revenge is that retribution is often referred to in the more legal context that looks to punish a person in way that is “proportional to the crime” they committed. Retribution is also called retributive justice, and it plays a large role in the criminal system of most countries.
If you’ve ever seen the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting you’ll probably remember the powerful scene where the psychologist Maguire, played by Robin Williams, tells Will, a mathematical genius played by Matt Damon, that “It’s not your fault”. At first Will shrugs it off with an “I know” but Maguire ignores the attempts to shrug it of and re-enforces the idea that Will is not to blame. He knows the weight of such a burden on Will even if Will claims to already know that it isn’t his fault.
The floomps are a creature not too unlike us (but much furrier). They live in their little floomp village and work together in a civilized fashion. The floomps believe in free will. They believe that any other floomp has multiple options to choose from, and more importantly that all of those options are real possibilities. In other words, whenever a floomp does something that another floomp doesn’t like, that one thinks that not only should the other floomp not have done that, but that it actually could have, through it’s own volition, not done it.
I’ve heard time and time again from people who claim that “even if there is no free will, we still need to act like it exists”. This is a way to bypass the mounds of behavioral adjustments and changes in beliefs that truly do need to take place with the understanding that free will doesn’t exist.
Things just aren’t as simple as asserting we need to act like it exists. There is a whole lot of nuance to the understanding that we don’t have free will. To behave like it exists is to behave in a way that is not in accord with reality, and such has great consequences.
This week I’d like to focus on 10 reasons why people find it difficult to let go of their belief in free will (as defined here), even when given the evidence against it. There are many factors involved, so as always, this is just a brief list from the many possibilities. Some may apply to some people, others may apply to other people, but there is usually a good mix of these that make it hard for people to give up their free will belief.
So what’s one to do about this? It depends, but persistence seems to be one key in combating these reasons. And with that, on to the 10 reasons why people can’t let go of their free will belief:
Some people point to indeterminism or non-caused (acausal) events as their free will savior. Point ’em to this infographic to help explain why such events do not allow for free will:
PLEASE SHARE THIS INFOGRAPHIC WITH OTHERS!
If you’ve read anything regarding free will skepticism, it’s likely that you’ve heard the term “free will illusion” or “the illusion of free will”. This is a common expression used to denote that the free will that most people intuitively feel they possess isn’t something real. Like an optical illusion or an illusion created by your favorite magician, we are experiencing something that isn’t really there. It’s a trick of the mind. Something the mind does to fill in the gaps.
For the experience of free will, this type of “filling in the blanks” is exactly the illusion that is happening. We don’t see all of the variables that go into our thoughts and decisions, so we think those thoughts and decisions are more “free” than they actually are.