Iedereen kan er niks aan doen

Everyone can do nothing about it.

We all feel that we have ‘free will’, the ability to make choices, to decide how to act, to do or not do something and to choose how and what we think.

Our free will is what gives us responsibility for our actions. It’s what blame and praise are based on. And it is the reason we feel we can judge others and ourselves.

But how does it work? Free will. Where does it come in? Let’s examine.

A foetus or baby usually isn’t held accountable for their actions. We don’t fine them for littering when they drop their food. Likewise, people with a mental disability aren’t held accountable for actions we believe they had no control over. Also, someone with paralysis isn’t usually scolded for laziness.

But a reasonably healthy adult, now that’s a different matter. Those people definitely are held accountable. By society and by themselves.

Not of course, for their genes, they did not pick their parents. Also not, for their upbringing. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable for their luck. If you were born into poverty, that’s not your fault. Talent, then? Maybe. Looks? A little. Athletic ability? Somewhat? Will power? Definitely! Motivation? Yes!

But why do we hold people accountable for some attributes but not others? Aren’t those attributes also a result of a chain of prior causes that we have zero control over? How does anyone create willpower or motivation, anymore than say intelligence?

Let’s look at causation. There are two steps:
1.) cause
2.) effect
Each effect becomes itself a new cause. Repeat.

Can we have an effect without a prior cause? No! That’s basically the definition of a miracle. Something that happens without reasonable or understandable prior cause. So every effect needs a prior cause. We call this a causal chain. Action, reaction.

But if every effect needs to have a prior cause, then all our actions, thoughts and emotions are the result of a causal chain that goes all the way back. Back to originating outside of us and outside of our control. In fact, all the way back to the beginning of time. And if our actions are the result of causes that we had no influence over, how can we be responsible?

Another way to look at it, is through a physical, chemical and biological lens. The body, including the brain, is a physical object and all our cells act according to the laws of nature. If conditions in our body are such that say a neuron would fire, it will fire. if conditions are such that a cell will do something, it will do that thing. Whether or not something will or will not occur depends on the state of our body and the laws of nature: physical, chemical or biological. Where would ‘free will’ be able to interject? And how? Only by breaking the laws of nature, which does not make a lot of sense.

The only alternative we have left to make sense of free will, is if we could imagine a way in which we could somehow program a type of computer (our brain) with consciousness and free will. Both of these elements seem impossible to write into a program, even an imagined program.

Firstly, how would we imagine writing software that has experiences? Not just data flowing through the system but an actual inner, felt experience that makes that data feel like something to the software or the computer itself.

Secondly, how would we program free will into our computer or information processing device? We could program algorithms for decision making. But those wouldn’t be free, they would just do what we programmed them to do. We could add randomness, but we don’t feel like we are throwing dice when we exercise our free will.

Finally, we believe we have free will because we feel like we have free will. But this feeling doesn’t actually hold up under closer examination. If we bring our attention inward and observe the mind we can clearly see this. Just start picking colors. Don’t pick them at random though! Use your free will! And observe where those colors come from. If you have free will, they should originate from you. Some center that is you ought to be coming up with colors through some process that isn’t random and isn’t inscrutable. If it’s random, it’s not will. If it’s inscrutable, it’s not you.

Instead of being created in some center that you can call you, colors just appear. In your mind. Out of the void. And your mind just goes: ‘I did that!’

One final observation. When you’re having a conversation, observe what you’re saying and try to follow your own words back to their source. How exactly did you make that particular sausage? Where is the you that created the words you just spoke?

There is consciousness to which those words appear. But the words are new to that consciousness when they appear. They did not originate in consciousness. They appeared to it.

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