RE: Free Will

Cameron Reilly (
Thu, 9 Sep 1999 00:47:52 +1000

Ron Kean wrote:

>If it is true that there is no satisfactory definition of 'free will', that
>suggests that 'free will' may be a bogus concept. But my intuition tells
>me that there is free will.

Your intuition? My guess is that this is the same faculty that told you that you had free will in the first place - aka "the ego".

Let's face it - many intelligent people know that the concept of free will is bogus. However, understanding that truism and accepting the consequences of it are completely separate issues. Giving up the illusion of control can be hard. Anyone who has read any neuroscientific literature knows that thoughts are created through a complex mechanism of dendrites, axons and electrochemicals. None of us can credibly claim to be "in control" of that process, anymore than we can claim to be in control of our digestive system. And just because I discard the concept that I am not in control of the production of acids in my digestive system, does not mean that the process is discontinued. Why should giving up the concept of free will mean that thoughts would stop being produced by the brain? Try it and see for yourself. Give up free will for a week and see what happens. Say No To Free Will! :-)

And discarding the concept of free will does not mean that we have to throw out law and order. In any sane society, when someone commits a crime they are punished because they committed a crime; not because they *chose* to be evil. As a society we choose to remove certain people who are deemed to be a danger to the rest of us. This process does not stop if we discard the concept of free will.

Cameron Reilly

-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf Of
Sent: Tuesday, September 07, 1999 9:47 AM To:
Subject: Re: Free Will

> <>
> > >If we had no free will, and we acted on that belief, that all
> >actions are programmed in, or are the result of random
> synapses,> >then there would be no reason to hold people
responsible for
> their actions.

Agreed that if there is no free will, then it may well be argued that we _should not_ hold people responsible for their actions, but that doesn't mean that we can't go ahead and do it anyway. After all, if there is no such thing as free will, which is to say that all decisions are pre-determined in principle or pre-progammed in some sense, then the decision to hold people resposible would also be pre-programmed, so it would be manifestly meaningless to discuss the advisability of that decision, since under the 'no free will' assumption we really don't have a free choice.

Thoughts arise spontaneously, but not entirely at random. For example, when one is concentrating on working on a project, thoughts which arise in the worker during that time tend to be related to the project. Some thoughts suggest action, but people select their actions, and do not actually perform the action suggested by each and every thought. But I am unable to say how this selection is done, and whether it is an expression of free will. At the same time we can almost always provide reasons why any particular decesion was made. I am frankly unable to provide a good definition of 'free will' which is not circular in the sense that it is just a restatement of the concept in other words. If it is true that there is no satisfactory definition of 'free will', that suggests that 'free will' may be a bogus concept. But my intuition tells me that there is free will.

Ron Kean





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