Tag Archives: free will

Is outdoing monkeys while imagining free will the only way you can feel like a man?

Why does it bother people that we might be pretty similar to other monkeys (i.e. with better vocabularies, worse feet etc but no glorious fundamental difference)? Similarly what’s so scary about everything being mechanistic, free will not existing, and everything being meaningless apart from the values that we make up?

If we are fundamentally similar to other animals it has no effect whatsoever on the experience of humanity that we cherish. It has always been that way, and works fine. We know what being human is like, so if monkeys are similar that should only change our ideas of what being a monkey is like. What being a monkey is like is not usually considered a pressing issue in society, so why care? Why does our societal self-worth rest on being heaps better than monkeys?

Similarly with the other possibilities listed above, if they are true, obviously they always have been and everything we enjoy is possible in their presence. It isn’t like as soon as you stop believing in free will you will turn into a robot. If it’s the case, you already are one, and everything you’ve ever loved and dreamed of has arisen from that. It’s not some strange new reality.

Perhaps practically these things seem to hold different probabilities for the future to other beliefs? e.g. the universe being purely mechanistic might make Heaven seem unlikely. But you could still have a mechanistic God and Heaven and soul (it’s not nearly as impossible as non-mechanistic ones). It’s not the end of the world.

Or is it actually hard to hold one’s own values, for instance, without the delusion that they are somehow fundamentally valuable?

God is irrelevant

Philosophically that is. Psychologically he fulfils an important role – to distance us from philosophy.

In no way would the existence of a God alter the important properties of the universe. Most of the problems a God supposedly solves are merely shifted to the other side of him – a step further away from humans, where we can comfortably ignore them.

Some solutions God doesn’t really provide (presumably all thought of before by various philosophers, but I don’t know which ones, and it’s irrelevant, so please excuse the plagiarism) :

Creator of the universe: An obvious one. Where did God come from then? If he’s existed forever then so could a universe. If you think something as complex as a universe couldn’t come from nothing, how complex would God have to be to be able to make universes?

Source of morality: Where does God get his moral principles from? If he invents them himself they are just as arbitrary a set of restrictions on behaviour as any other (such as an atheist’s morals are feared to be by the religious). Why follow them? If they are inherent in the universe, related to other people, or a matter of choice then God isn’t needed.

Morality is a set of value judgements. If God and I both have a set of value judgements (a moral code), to say that God’s takes precedence is a value judgement in itself. Who judges? God? Why?

Provider of free will: For reasons discussed in the previous post, Free will isn’t a concept (unless you mean determinism), God can’t have – or give humans – free will which isn’t deterministic. The absence of God’s ‘free will’ is even more apparent if he must be good all the time (unless he invents his own changeable moral code as he goes, but is that the kind of morality God should subscribe to? Well yes, if he does! But there’s still the old problem of free will not existing – he can’t escape).

If he’s all powerful as well, then he just ends up as another natural law – one that makes good things always happen. Anyone who’s been alive can tell you there’s fairly solid empirical evidence against such a law existing, but my point isn’t to draw attention to the problem of evil so much as to point out that natural laws are nothing new.

The final picture? A God who may well exist*. But who cares? Yeah, if he’s all powerful perhaps you should follow his moral laws just to stop him smiting you, but that’s politics, not metaphysics.

*except perhaps for the whole problem of evil bit – but goodness is hard to define, so let’s give him a break on that one for a moment

Free will isn’t a concept (unless you mean determinism)

Imagine something happens. For instance you make a decision. There are three possibilities for this occurence:

  1. It could be related purely to other factors (determinism)
  2. It could be not related to other factors (randomness)
  3. It could be a combination of these (a mixture of determinism and randomness)

None of these are free will (as commonly understood). So where does the concept of free will fit in? How could an occurence escape from being in one of these categories? Clearly it can’t. So there is no possibility of a concept of free will that is in opposition to determinism, let alone a chance of it existing in reality.

But you feel like you have free will (whatever that is – just don’t think about it), don’t you? Or to put it another way, you feel like your actions are neither determined nor random. You choose them.

And that is precisely why they are determined. They are determined by you. And you already exist to the finest detail at the time you are making the decision. If you made choices (or some element of them) not controlled by your personality, experience, thoughts and anything else that comes under the heading of ‘the state of your brain as a result of genetics and your prior environments’, they would be random, which still isn’t free will (not to mention being a less personal and less appealing model, if that’s how you choose your beliefs).

You might argue that you can choose what to think and how to feel , and how heavily to let those things influence you, when making a decision. That doesn’t alter the situation however. Those are then choices too, and your decisions for them would presumably have to be made based on other thoughts and feelings , which you would presumably choose, and so on. The point at which free will should have occurred would just be shifted back indefinitely. Again you just have a long chain of cause and effect.

The closest thing you can have to free will is for your actions to be determined purely by the state of your brain. Free will is determinism.