05.13.19 | Free Will

Are you reading this sentence as an exercise of free will? No, you are not. You are exercising your freedom of choice, certainly, but said choice was established before you even made it. Free will is an illusion. So say followers of determinism i.e belief that all behaviour has a causal connection and is thereby predetermined.

Causation includes all the internal factors -- the inherited biologically encoded hard-wire genetics -- which ultimately determine your personality traits. It likewise includes the overwhelming number of external factors that brought you to the exact point (of reading the first sentence) -- from the macro such as parental influence, friendships, media, and schooling, to the micro such as your previous experience with MM sessions, the book you just read, your mood, having a spare minute, the urge to click, and on and on. The fact that that the complex interaction of all these variables makes it virtually incalculable does not undercut the essential point: your decision to read that sentence was causal-based.

Nonsense. The humanistic psychologists maintain free will is not only possible but also necessary if we are to become fully functional human beings. They may cite, for example, those studies of identical twins raised in the same household who manifest differing personality traits and life outcomes. The problem with determinism, they say, is that it is inconsistent with society's ideas of responsibility and self control that form the basis of our moral and legal obligations. Were a person simply some sort of robotic input/output algorithm, how could such person be held criminally (or otherwise) responsible for the output behaviour any more than for the input factors that determined it?

Certain religions raise the stakes. We took a hard look at Hell and the puritanical promise of eternal damnation at the hands of a deadly and easily-provoked God (MM 2/12/18). It somehow sounds asymmetric: finite life; eternal damnation. Determinism would seem to have no place in metaphysics. If not, exactly who or what is exercising such free will?

A Buddhist perspective is provided as our focus piece, a twenty-minute video (link: B. Alan Wallace - A Buddhist View of Free Will). Central to the view: perhaps we are asking the wrong question.

Steve Smith1 Comment