T Nation

My View on Free Will


this was a result of a dry anatomy lecture.

here it is:


Free will means taking responsibility for your actions. You are in control. You are capable to do whatever you please-- You choose your own fate, fate doesnt choose you.

I disagree.

How can we take responsibility for our actions if we cannot take responsbility for our mental abilities? This is where our decisions spring forth from, thus our actions, and as we all know--we cannot create ourself. Our brain and body are just given to us. We are totally undeserving.

Your undeserving mental capacity dictates how you respond to your environments conditioning. Beginning at a certain age, you will retain the cerebral activity to be able accept or reject your conditioning (all depending how your brain is set up). The majority--the masses-- accept it. Go with the flow. Its in our nature.

All "YOU" are is a combination of your brain and environment. Two things that we have NO CONTROL over. If we have no control over our decisions, our actions, .. we have no control over life. Fate is possible; Destiny is posible. Put a person with a certain brain into a certain environment and their actions will be able to be predicted somewhat scientifically (unfortunately, the brain is still largely an unexplored territory).


This is pretty much my philosophy. With it, its really easy to be grateful and very hard to get annoyed with people. I don't take anything personally, and I find myself applying game theory to everything.

thoughts? questions? Im open for decision, but please realize this is something that is clearly irrefutable. I can't accurately say that I am right, either. Ahh....the joys of philosophy.


Free Will does NOT mean absolute power.

The only freedom of will you have is not to make things happen as you want, but how you respond to what happens.

You are free to respond as you want but within the limitations of your own mind, which can be quite limiting at times, and at times you don't feel that "free", but ultimately it is pretty neat that someone just saying that you have free will of your own mind to choose your response to your situation means you can in fact choose your attitude and response. Animals can't do that. Try telling an animal that. All it takes is some language and some intelligence to set one's mind free.

Note that it might not be possible to teach that to a young child or a mentally young person (I am thinking of a certain serial killer with the mind of a 10 year old although if anything he needs less freedom of will, not more).


agreed. Your decision how you will act.

We are animals. Mammals specifically. And its disputable if we are the most intelligent. Dolphins, whales have their own language.


dolphins and whales are much stupider than previously thought.

yeah we are animals, so what, my point was we have a language beyond simple communication of "this is a box, here is some meat" to abstract concepts such as "you have free will to respond to events the way you want" - which you can then extrapolate to future behaviours and options of choices you can make in the future in specific or generic situations.

that ability is as different to animal language as telepathy and precognition would be to us.

waht is your point again?


It sounds like you don't believe in free will at all. You are considering limited mental capacity as a lack of free will. Everyone is limited to some degree, just because you may not understand the decisions you make and their ultimate consequences, it doesn't mean you didn't have free will on the issue. Ignorance then becomes a free pass in the consequences of any decision made. You would have to be all knowing to have free will in this case.

Following your logic, when you really boil it down, we are just a complex chemical reaction taking place for the years we are alive. No one has any more free will than a piece of iron gets to decide whether to rust or not.


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If you can't willingly prevent your thoughts from becoming actions, you have problems.


Actually, I agree with the OP but I have trouble understanding your stand point, so even if I disagree I would very much like to hear your opinions on the matter. Tthe only three things I can think of that affects your mind are your thoughts, environment, and what you got to begin with. Obviously a person can change drastically, in some cases to the complete opposite personality. But the decisions to do that, to change or control your emotions and personality all depends on your environment and starting point.

About controlling emotions, there would have been an event that triggered the ability or the will to become able to do that. Or you were lucky enough to have your mind set in such a way from the beginning.

The only thing I think is unique about a persons mind is the extent to which it can change. Everything else I see as a product of their environment. Though in this case the environment is everything that happends to that specific person so this makes every person very much unique, since the complexity of the brain make for almost endless combinations, and the same can be said about a person's life experience.

When you make a decision, you either come to it by calculating or by emotions, both products of the environment. And by calculating what is more beneficial you can do things that contradict your emotions, but what you consider more beneficial is also a product of your environment (coupled with your original mind obviously).


Thank your brain for that. I can do the same, but I am not so deluded to think that I am in control.

That's all I meant.


However, I'm not a proponent of pure "free-will" as I understand it .. but I do find self-determination theory to be intriguing. I do recognize that there are decisions we make on a daily basis that are not products of conditioning or are learned behaviors. I do believe that people are capable of making choices to behave in a manner that reflects our autonomy.

Good post...


So any actions a person commits good or bad is purely a product of inputs outside of their control?

A mind being able to change is it's only unique quality? Are you suggesting mentally impaired people's brains just aren't able to change?


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Who cares discussions like this are pointless you will never find an answer.


You're right. The question of free will is moot. Here's why: if there is no free will, then my determination that there is no free will was predetermined. I couldn't decide because such a decision had already been made for me.

If there is free will, then my determination that there is no free will is contradictory. Assuming that something cannot both be and not be, at the same time and in the same respect, then the statement is impossible.

My brain hurts.


How can you logically argue that you do not have any control over your own actions?

You may not have any influence over the ideas that direct your actions but all rational people can only act after deliberation between various means and consideration of more desirable for less ends. In other words, rational people always choose to act or not.

Ideas are shaped by both the environment and the mind which we do not have full control over but we are capable of actively learning and discovering more correct theory.

What sets humans apart from the other animals is that we have language that allows us to explore very abstract concepts. It is only thru language that we can know these concepts; free will being one them.

Animals other than humans do not even consider their actions as being free or not; likewise, they have no notion of taking responsibility for their actions. Is it possible for other animals to have a free will? I say no.

Consider this: free will can only exist because of language. Also, because of language we are capable of organizing ourselves in such a manner that we do not have to be in complete competition with each other for scarce resources.

But it is our free which will allows us as individuals to pursue what we deem the most desirable end. Without it society could not exit unless there were some other being directing the actions of every individual.


Nobody. We are all limited to our experiences but within our "fish bowl" so to speak we make our own decisions every time we turn a thought to action.


It does sound quite negative when put like that, but yes. That is my point of view, but I don't doubt for a second it'll change.

And about the individuality of the mind, I belive there is a spectrum of possibilities you are born with, that decreases with time as it becomes set in it's ways. For example a child is generally much more easily influenced then a mature adult with a lot of life experience.

For mentally impaired people they can change, sure, but their spectrum of possibilities is quite small compared to the average person, and it's limits are in other places regarding intelligence, concentration, social behaviour etc based on the individuals impairment.

I do belive everyone's mind is unique, but I also belive that given the right environment, you could give two people the exact personality of the other even if they are initually built different. This would mean controlling every event in their life and is not a study I think will be conducted any time soon, or I would like to see done, but to me it makes sense.

When you first start growing up the one thing you get are possibilities. As you grow older you become molded by your environment, making the possible extremes less and less different and so making each person less likely to end up equal to the other.


Go back to diggin ditches numbnuts.


While you do choose what to do in every situation you ecounter I belive that the choice is merely a product of the environments effect on your mind.

For example if you were raised differently or your dad died while you were young (being molded to a different environment), it would affect your personality making you choose differents act in situations and thus continuing to have an impact on you as long as you live.

Where did you get the idea that language is needed for free will to exist? I assume you view morals and philosophy as products of free will for this example, if you do not please say so.

Lets go with a classic like the reason we live. While it has been discussed by probably every civilization, there has always been someone who came up with those questions before spreading them which does require language.

I just do not understand how you can say language is needed for an individual thought to occur. And then if a language is not required why would it be impossible for an animal to have philosophical questions?

While I'm fairly certain they don't think about it to the same extent we do, I'm also quite sure there is at the very least one animal of one species to have asked himself a question of philisophy or morals at some point in time.

Honestly I can not find one thing that necessarily makes us more different from animals then just yet another species. We just happen to be monkeys with overly big brains.


I still believe there is something innate in a person outside of the scope of science and the chemical reaction that is life . Something that truely makes people unique beyond physical differences.

I don't think I could ever be a murderer, not because my brain has developed differently but because something you might call a soul.

I think it's pretty bleak to see the world and all it's people as a cold, hard wired, computer, rhythmically ticking away inputs and outputs with predictable precision. I for one believe there is a "ghost in the machine".

However your life progression idea does have biological merit. Humans don't develop mentally by building connections in the brain, but by tearing them down. Your brain starts out with connections to everywhere. The ones that don't get used are destroyed, eventually whittling down the neural network into a mature adult brain.

If you don't practice or develop certain traits and abilities earlier in life, sometimes you never can. For example: If you aren't exposed to speech while developing, eventually all the neural pathways that would be responsible for that ability are gone.

There are some severely neglected and abused children that lose the ability to speak, walk, socially interact, est. for the rest of their lives. (you learn a lot about these things when your mom is a special needs teacher with a degree in early childhood development)