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.
Imagine if I said to you “even if eating at McDonald’s every day is unhealthy, we still need to act like it’s not”. You’d immediately ask why we need to act like it’s not, and you’d probably be concerned over the health consequences of the person and whomever they are feeding. The fact of the matter is, the consequences that “acting like we have free will” has is far more insidious than acting like McDonald’s is healthy food.
I think what people really mean when they say “even if there is no free will, we still need to act like it exists” is that we still need to assess between options, and we still need to choose between those options. Though this most certainly is the case, we don’t need to do so by fooling ourselves that each of those options are actually viable options, or fool ourselves into thinking we could have, of our own accord, chosen otherwise.
I make choices all the time but am under no illusion that such are free choices. I don’t require the fallacious thinking that if I choose a glass of apple juice, that I could have chosen grape juice instead. Even if I deliberated for two minutes between the different beverages, I don’t need to believe that I could have, of my own accord, deliberated differently or chosen differently. Such is just an unnecessary extension that comes from the feeling that all options were viable.
It may be the case that evolutionarily such a feeling and perhaps even intuitive belief was a survival benefit. If so, this is no longer the case as our rational thinking truly can replace a whole lot of intuitive feelings without any danger of dying. More than this, for us to progress we truly need to trump excess irrational “feelings” with factual understandings about ourselves and the world around us.
Though the intuitive feeling of free will may have provided a helpful survival mechanism when we were on a less rational evolutionary plane, it did so at an expense, and today that expense still exists. Currently almost the entirety of humanity is driven by psychological forces that place blame, deserve, and large portions of inequality into the world. If everyone recognized that free will was a fiction and understood the reasons why and what it meant, a whole lot would change. There would be a whole lot more compassion for the unlucky variables that people had, and there would be a lot less placing ourselves on pedestals above others. In fact, the whole notion of being “more or less” deserving than another person would immediately take a huge hit.
I whole lot of anger in the world stems from this idea that people are to blame – that they could have and should have done otherwise. A whole lot of inequality in the world stems from this idea that people deserve their lower status in life because they could have done something to improve it, or they deserve their better life status because they were the one’s that brought it about rather than the causal variables they were fortunate enough to have.
Read here for just 10 out of many of the benefits of not believing in free will:
The belief in free will encompasses our everyday thoughts, feelings, and actions, and it does so while causing great harms in the world.
So when someone says “even if there is no free will, we still need to act like it exists” I can honestly say I have no clue what they are talking about. If there is no free will (which there isn’t) and if we know about such (which if you don’t grab a copy of Breaking the Free Will Illusion), we most certainly need to adjust the way we act in light of this information. The belief in free will isn’t benign, and neither is “acting like we still have it”.
Rather, the belief in free will is deeply rooted in a number of topics such as ethics, economics, justice, religion, and various other social and political topics. The belief in free will also plays in integral role in our own psychology, playing into how we feel, think, and act. Indeed, with the understanding that we don’t have free will, and with the understanding of what such means, eventually comes a psychological shift. How we think about ourselves and others truly needs to adjust with this new-found understanding.
The fact of the matter is, if everyone had the understanding, and if everyone knew the rational reasons for it, and were educated on what such means, the world would be a very different place, one in which I’d argue would be ultimately better. So should people still “act like free will exists even if it doesn’t”? Hell no, quite the opposite actually.
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