T Nation

Free Will, Do We Have It?

I don’t see how God can be omniscient and we have free will. At the end of the day, if God knows all then he must know what choices we will make and if he already knows what choices we will make then they are preordained (destiny if you will) precluding free will.

Is that talked about in the podcast?

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While I can’t speak on the podcast, I’ve read Sam Harris’s " Free Will" book and that is briefly discussed and puts forth a good argument against free will for religious people… The essence of his argument is that a person’s brain registers several hundred milliseconds ahead of our decisions/movements before we may be consciously aware of it and our thoughts appear to us without our conscious control and this to him makes free will just an illusion.

Obviously, I’d have to read his whole argument, but based on what you summarized I don’t think I agree that unconscious thought negates free will. I suppose you could argue instinct is not free will, but isn’t instinct, unconscious reaction, etc… just a survival mechanism and can’t instinctive reaction be trained/drilled? That’s why you drill movements, right? To turn conscious action into unconscious action.

I guess I’d have to read his argument and it’s basis because I don’t see how the notion that the brain starts the process means free will doesn’t exist. There’s a lot we still don’t know about the brain.

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Instinct is for sure unconscious reaction but I think that adds to his point. You don’t really have control of your instincts, drilled in or not. You can train your instincts I suppose but is that you having free will or is it a product of environmental changes? His belief is that our decisions are basically predestined based on surrounding factors/environment, genetics etc… You were born with certain qualities that already have you on a predestined path and the environment in which you grow up in will kind of fill the rest out.

There is much, much more to his argument that I can’t quite articulate as well as he can but I would say that is the synopsis. I don’t fully agree with some of his points but he makes some good arguments.

Which is why I think most people have sided with Sean in this argument.

My argument is, if I choose not to eat cheesecake that is offered to me ( I love cheesecake) is that not free will? What separates me accepting it and not accepting it? Some days I would accept it and other days I would not. Is that only based on surrounding factors, IE I already ate pancakes/syrup for breakfast so I don’t want to add more sugar into my diet today. I guess my predestined mind could be programmed to think that way.

It’s a good convo.

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I was getting ready to say basically this just with a ham sandwich, lol. I dunno, one of life’s great mysteries I guess.

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Sam’s argument is that no, you are perceiving choice that is not actually a choice. When you decide to not eat said cheesecake, there is a reason you are making that choice. That could be because you are being more healthy (as you mentioned, not wanting more sugar), and the reason you are more healthy is because your parents taught you healthy eating, which was not a choice you made in any sense.

Essentially you would think you have a choice, but really you are arriving at that “choice” due to a number of factors that you are sometimes aware of and sometimes not. There have been many experiments where it is clearly shown how people are able to be influenced to do things, showing how much of their “choices” are not actually choices at all.

One of Sam’s more clear examples of this was the Charles Witman, the guy who shot a bunch of people in Austin, TX. He had a tumor in his brain that was influencing his “choices”. That is an extreme example, but shows how there are many reasons of why you do the things you do, and Sam makes a very strong case that a choice is not one of them.

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Is that like the shadow self influencing the conscience?

Kind of, but it isn’t just you who is influencing behavior.

Soooo, if my unconscious mind decides to make my conscious mind eat a ham sandwich instead of a turkey sandwich it’s because my dad only bought ham because it was cheaper so subconsciously I want to save money?

Nope. It’s your brain turning out the thought/product of those influences. It just wants a ham Sammich, everything else is just the means to that end!

Yes, at least that is one of the many influences on your perceived choice to eat a ham sandwich.

The point being, that considering all factors, they amount to you eating a ham sandwich and you didn’t really have a choice at all. You thought you did, but the factors that influenced your decision making process carved a path for you to the point where you didn’t actually choose.

It’s a fun thought experiment and I’m obviously giving you the cliff notes of a full book, but that’s my understanding.

Gonna be honest, it sounds like complete rubbish.

What part? Maybe I’m not explaining it well.

The main challenge to the idea is the fact it goes against intuition. We perceive choice, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually choosing. People often rationalize decisions after the fact, and all you have to do is listen to a podcast with a mentalist to understand easy it is to influence people.

I know what both my sons are going to do a little before they do it lol I consider adults as children with experience (i.e. they can predict what’s going to shame and embarrass or feed their greed/ego more accurately and behave accordingly).

That could fit in with a God who knows everything and free will… or perhaps I’m God. I’m leaning towards the latter.

EDIT: I don’t believe in free will (or more accurately, will that can’t be easily manipulated) or God.

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That me picking a ham sandwich over a turkey sandwich is anything other than a “free will” decision. Sometimes I eat ham and sometimes I eat turkey… Sometimes I eat both. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I just pick one at the time. I’m thinking about having chicken tonight. I dunno maybe a steak. Haven’t decided yet.

I lift weights. Why? My dad never lifted. My mom never lifted. No one in my family other than me lifts weights.

I joined the Marine Corps. at 18. No one else in my family was a Marine prior to that. It wasn’t a life long dream I just meet a recruiter, listened to his pitch, and decided to join. How is that not free will in this context.

Did I not chose to marry my wife? Did she not chose to marry me?

The whole thing just sounds like non-sense, but again, I haven’t read what he’s actually said on it.

It’s funny because I believe in a higher power so I struggle with whether free will exists or not for the reason I stated earlier. However, sans a creator, I see the inverse as equally unrealistic. The choices you make are not free will, but the culmination of external factors that influence the decision making, making choices not your own? How did the first person/people decide on what to do? Natural instinct? Why did someone decide to stop hunting and gathering and instead raise livestock?

Ok, so your past choices are influencing your decision. The availability/freshness of the meat/condiments…etc. You are not making this choice in a vacuum. I’m attempting to show you that there are many things influencing the “choices” you are making.

It doesn’t have to come from family. Maybe your friends growing up got you interested, maybe it was the marine corps.

Ok, lets look at this a bit. You made a choice, but it was clearly influenced by the recruiter’s pitch. You might have made a different decision if you were in a different mood, or if you had heard some news about marine corps lately, or new somebody who was in the marine corps previously…etc. There are a number of reasons why you would say yes, and the fact that all of those reasons amounted to you saying yes, makes it so you didn’t “choose” as much as you were influenced to the point of going a certain direction.

You perceived a choice, but that choice was a accumulation of many factors that you may or may not be aware of. If you analyzed the situation enough you could probably come up with countless reasons and there are probably thousands more that you are not aware of.