About the illusion of free will

When people speak of the illusion of free will, with the combined forces of neurobiology, circumstance, genetics, upbringing, etc, which of the two are they saying:

1- i have a box of corn flakes, raisin bran and cheerios in front of me, and i think i freely choose cheerios but in reality i do not

2- i have a box of corn flakes, raisin bran and cheerios in front of me and i choose cherrios, but since my choices are limited i don’t REALLY have free will


When people speak of the “illusion of free will” - they are not talking about mundane cereal choices - they are talking about the theological concept of free-will - where in there is a conflict between biblical teachings of “god being omniscient and knows our choices ahead of time and even planned for them” vs “our sin is our choosing”.

  • where this question really belongs (or GD) - since tere can be no ‘factual answer’ to it.

i meant the version of the question that focuses on neurobiology and circumstance. the other (god component) i consider completely irrelevant.

As long as there are multiple choices - you have free will - even if your ‘choices’ are limited to whats available or simply to “do or do not”.

it might be said that “I had no other choice” - but the reality is there are always ‘at least’ 2 choices.

Therefore - there is no “illusion” of free will - How can it be any other way?

The former.

Nonsense. Although it is possible to run a theologically based argument for determinism, these days scientifically based arguments for determinism, and for the concomitant notion that free will is illusory, are much more commonly heard, are more compelling to most people (whether religious or not), and are often made by atheists. And yes, they generally are talking about mundane things like cereal choices.

The standard theological position is that free will is real, not illusory at all, although firmly committed Calvinists and Jansenists may disagree.

Also, although there may be no (generally accepted) factual answer as to whether free will is illusory or not, that does not seem to be the OP’s question. He is asking what the claim is intended to mean, and there is a factual answer to that.

Here, educate yourself: causal determinism.

No. The illusion of free will is data-based.

You have three cereals to choose from. If I had all the data that had been fed into your brain the moment before your choice I could predict that choice at that moment.

If bran made you gassy and cheerios are bland to you I can predict your choice before you do. That is why free will is an illusion. Because data eliminates free will.

ok, but some people eat different cereal each morning, even though they have the same three boxes available…

From your link -

<bolding mine>

So - its an idea - it might even be studied - but there is no evidence that there is anything but “free will” in our choices - And even the summay statement above says there can be no “factual answer”.

while I certainly agree with the idea that some of our choices are so ingrained in us - possibly hard wired into us to some degree (thinking automatic response systems, nerves, etc) - as to appear that there is no choice - is a different area of study.

There is no “illusion of free will” - unless you are trying to suggest that everything is ‘pre-determined’ - haveing only 3 boxes of cereal hasn’t actaully removed my ability to choose - in some ways, its increased my ‘free will’ and abilty to choose - Hell, I have a minimum of 10 choices now - considering I can combine these 3 and I can always choose none.

We may not have “free will” in the supernatural sense, but it’s easy to believe that much of the output of our brains is effectively random, either by truly random (thermal or quantum) processes or by a chain of causation so chaotic that it could never be followed or reduced to a simple formula.

What do we subjectively experience when we “choose” something? It’s either a “meh” random choice, or we pick the choice we like (for an often convoluted definition of “like”) the best for whatever reason; obviously we’ll do what we do because we do it. I guess the question is why we believe that our ego, our sense of self, is a prime motivator? I suppose it’s because for whatever reason human psychology is such that our mental activity is organized around a subjective sense of self. The alternative would be something like Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, where unconscious or only rudimentarily conscious people attributed their impulses to “the gods”.

I still have the choice to be gassy - even to the chagrin of my family. You are suggesting that because I might make the 'more comfortable choice" thanks to data - that I had no choice but to do it- and that is not the case.

You’re ability to predict my choice - even my own predilection for a particular choice - in no way invalidates my ability to ‘choose’ it.

They’re talking about this:

Except they probably would have used capital letters.

The basic argument is that you don’t really have a choice. Your previous experiences will dictate which breakfast you will decide to eat. And being as you can’t change those previous experiences, you can’t be said to have made a choice. And when you do something - eating a bowl of cheerios, for example - that will in turn become a fixed experience that will cause your future actions.

Even if you hate raisin bran but decide you’re going to eat it anyway just to show that you can defy your past, all you’re really doing is demonstrating that past experiences have caused you to rebel against what you perceive as your expected choice.

Well, yes. You have autonomy as a chooser. Just don’t believe it is free will. That choice is based on data that you are assembling just as a machine would.

Maybe I’m being dense - but as long as I have a choice - then there is ‘free will’ - the ability to assemble data is part of what makes it so - just like all things, I have a choice in what data I assemble and what conclusions that leads me to - counter to a machine that only has what is input to it to select from and a hard set of logic on what conclusions it can reach from it. (the machine has no choice in its dataset)

Since what to have for breakfast is one of the great unresolved questions of our times (or any times, for that matter), let’s move this over to Great Debates.

General Questions Moderator

PS. I would suggest putting some bacon on the table will demonstrate the non-existence of free will pretty quickly.

See - I “knew” he was going to say/do that - does that somehow remove his ‘free will’ in actually doing it?

Yet you are talking as though there is a factual answer (i.e., that free will is real) that should be obvious to everyone. There may not be “evidence” (whatever that may mean in this context), but there are many powerful arguments behind the contention that free will is illusory. It is not something that can be dismissed in a sentence or two, as you attempt to do. (There are powerful arguments on the other side too. The matter is not settled, but you are the one talking as though it is.)

That is precisely what people who talk about “the illusion of free will” are contending, yes.

So let us say you are stricken by a rare disease and you are given several treatment options - 1, 2, and 3.

Would you ask for more data? Or would you just pick one at random?

Well, as this is bound to degenerate (and perhaps already has) into an argument about the reality, or otherwise, of free will (and the truth, or otherwise, of determinism), I guess that is reasonable enough. However, as I have already pointed out, there is a factual answer to the OPs actual question, which was not about free will as such but about the nature of the doctrine that free will is illusory, and I gave it in the first part of post #5.

No - I’m actually suggesting that as long as there is choice - no matter how it is arrived at - there is ‘free will’ - but I guess what we have to define first is exactly what ‘free will’ is.

I contend it is the ability to make a choice - and that is why my initial response to the OP was that when people talk about the ‘illusion of free will’ was a ‘theological’ one - in that something else (supernatural) was making the choices for you - that indeed you had no other choice because - like a machine - everything about what you are going to do was ‘designed’ by something ‘else’.

(and by the way - thank you for the earlier post as it helped me to understand what the OP was reffering to).

pre-determined by ‘what’ exactly?

Are you suggesting that the only time there is ‘free will’ is when you have ‘no data’ on which to make a decision? Well, in your little question - its already been buggered by the fact you have the ‘data’ that you have a ‘rare disease’…

As stated before - maybe we best first decide what ‘free will’ actually is - then we can have a meaningful (?) debate on whether or not we have it.