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April 15, 2016


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Brian, while I agree with much of what you say, I'm afraid this no-free-will business, which you often write about, and also quote (and I know, we've discussed this many times in times past) continues to sound pure gobbledegook to me. No doubt because I'm not comprehending something very basic somewhere.

Tell me please, how exactly do you define this "free will" that allegedly does not exist? What is free will?

Appreciative Reader, there are various definitions of "free will." People who believe in free will try to make the definition as loose as possible, so reality fits the definition. For example, the compatibilist view attempts to reconcile determinism with free will by saying that a willed action is free if it isn't constrained by outside influences.

So if you think "I want to go outside," and the door to outside isn't locked, your will is free. But this ignores the important question, "What made you want to go outside?" In other words, you will to do something. Where did that will or intention come from? Wasn't it determined by physical brain processes?

To my mind, and that of others like Sam Harris, the only definition of free will that fits with the usual conception (in law and everyday life) goes like this: the ability to do something other than what was actually done. Or, the ability to do something other than what was actually done, even if every atom in the universe was in exactly the same condition.

In other words, there is some source of "free will" that is independent of physical causes and effects, such the electrochemical goings-on in the brain. Someone who accepts this view considers that the person who thinks "I want to go outside" had the unfettered freedom to think instead "I don't want to go outside."

The physical fact that it is warm and sunny outside, rather than cold and rainy, can't be an influence on the person. Because this would mean that if the universe was different, the decision to go outside could have been different.

So this definition of free will -- our will is free of external physical influences -- requires that some part of us be transcendental, non-physical, separate from the brain. More could be said about this. If you put "free will" into the Google search box in the right sidebar, you'll find lots of posts I've written on this subject.

In Rumi's Tulsi's and RSSB version we have ALL free will because nothing exists outside God

But He or She has ( Einstein ) randomly? throwed out His I -ness for a good reason :
Love Collection.

These resulting separate particles ( we included ) being processed don't know they have all that power.
The only power (freedom) they experience from time to time are these serendipities (miracles)
I explained extensively in former comments;
or, no it's : AND
after a sometimes (rarely) a long traject: tremendous admiration for the Inventor of this process

It's understandable, . . if it happens to you , . . very understandable

The day you understand you don't want, you don't need this power ( free will included ) anymore.

The moment you are implemented ( absorbed) in the Source ( the primordial Sound Vibration ) You have total free will and you know it.
And you know that you arranged to NOT have it a certain period of time_ and consciousness
What a grace for everybody else that Ego is deleted in the same process
and that those with a lot of ego are completely cut off from free will

It explains perfectly the 7 th heaven stuff c q inner vertical hierachical plains of consciousness : The highest one is containing the complete realisation of free will

The fun is that complaints are welcome : Within your own Self where the Maker, the inventor of all this discretely still is. - Isn't that correct ?

Let me repeat my question to Brian the fourth time:

"When you imagine a minute to be that immense power, . . having everything :
What do you like to receive for your birthday ?"


The only will that exists in Beas is that of Gurindher Singh Dhillon aka Radhasoami. Anyone who questions that will will be done in. The only will that existed in Gujarat was that of Modi who went on to become the PM of India. Will belongs to those who know how to swindle.

Yes, it is becoming clearer the more we learn about the brain that free will is an illusion - and a very persistent one.

If free will exists why (for example) do people follow and live under the shackles of religion. Surely if free will was exercised in such matters no one would go along with the ridiculous illogical beliefs that such lives are lived by. The reason is that they have no choice due to the investments made from a 'self structure' that is programmed to maintain itself at all costs. Of course, such automatic behaviour will inevitably be justified - which again is an inevitable reaction in preserving the illusion.

To observe ones own behaviour is to see the instinctive, cultural, environmental and deeply ingrained conditioning that determine our everyday responses. The denial of this is almost inevitable as it snatches the rug from under an ego/self that is as illusory as a 'free will'.

Free Will is: "the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion."

So what is your problem with this Brian? I really don't understand your position.

How about this definition of "free will":

1.) Some do come here, into this particular realm, from elsewhere (maybe another universe) out of their own free will. They choose to come here for a certain purpose to archive.

2.) Some come here NOT out of free will but out of karmic dutys they have to fullfill. That means they would rather not take on a form here, but have to, because they created something they now have to try to undo.

3.) Those who are here out of free will advocate a free will perspective. The other ones do not.

That means in regard of Brain that he is here for karmic reasons (dutys) to undo something he created in a former life-time. Maybe that's why he denies and rejects all god-concepts. He maybe once created one and is now here to negate, refute, deny and reject that. Maybe his (former) god-concept did not help but harm.

Could be, I think.

And of course I'm here out of free will.

And is there a god or gods? For some there is and for others there isn't. For some that question, if there is a god or gods, does not matter at all and some have to simply reject it.

We don't all like the same combinations of ice-cream flavours. Why would we all be under the same kind of cosmic rule? People are different, obviously. For a variety of reasons.

That's my take on it. And be lucky you don't have given a TED-talk yet, Brian. TED talks are for loosers, who desperatly need an audiance like the TED-talk listeners to get their brand of delusion across. Out of no free-will, of course.

Thanks for your response, Brian. No, I guess I’ve read most all of what you’ve put up here on free will, but it seems to me that either (a) no-free-will is such an obvious position that it is no more than common sense ; or else (b) it doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s why I thought it might be easier (for me to understand) if we started from the basic definition.

The definition here in your response (which you’ve mentioned in some earlier articles of yours too) seems troublesome on two counts. Let me spell out what I mean, if I may, and I’d be grateful if you could clear it up.

You’re saying, we define free will as the ability to have acted differently from how we’d acted in the past, given exact similar conditions, exact in all respects. Now the difficulty there is

(1) That definition seems a bit of a non-starter, because it is simply impossible to prove one way of the other. You simply have to believe either “yes” or “no”, since there’s no way on earth you can actually put that definition to the test.

(2) The second difficulty I have with that definition is this. Forget “correct” proofs, or some “correct” validation, but even from a common sense perspective, the position that free will does not exist, seems wrong. I know, you’ve written elsewhere at length how most people find this a difficult concept to digest, but I’d like to have a go at spelling out my objection nevertheless if I may. On one hand you have one extreme position, which says you have perfect free will (either theistically, like how 777 expresses it up there, or else non-theistically), and that is obviously plain wrong. You cannot shrug off past influences. But the other position, that we have absolutely NO free will at all, that also seems wrong. I think the reality is somewhere in between.

You talk in an earlier article of treating humans as a force of nature. Whether such a perspective would be moral or not, or chaotic or not, all those are side issues : but the main issue is, is that position CORRECT? You seem to saying that a human being is as un-free as, say, a typhoon is, or a tiger is. 777 seems to think that one’s will is as free as only a God’s can be. I feel (and it’s not just a question of feeling, we can spell out specific instances ad infinitum if we wanted to) the reality is somewhere in between : we have far greater free will than a tiger does, but no, our free will is nevertheless greatly constrained. I think “partial free will” would be the correct description.

You know that old model of Stephen Covey’s, which I think he’s lifted from Viktor Frankl (that holocaust survivor psychologist). There are three contiguous boxes, the one on the left having arrows going to the right, and this represents “action”. The right-most box has arrows going from right to left, and these represent “reaction”. The box in middle is what Covey calls “proactivity”, and what might, in our context, be referred to as “free will”.

In tigers, for instance, this middle box is non-existent, or nearly so. The tiger is a creature of instinct. For humans, however, the middle box does exist. It can be very small (for brutish people, as well as for children) ; for adults it is usually larger. And this can be cultivated. (That’s what one of Covey’s celebrated “7 habits”—oft-repeated to the point that they’re now clichés I suppose—is all about.)

And meditation helps a lot here. Think about it. You’ve meditated far more extensively than I have, but speaking for myself, I can say with certainty that my own efforts at mediation have borne at least this much effect, that I am more “proactive” (per Covey’s terminology—not that Covey is into meditation at all, at least as far as I know), less reactive, more … more free-willed I suppose. In a conflict situation, for example, I now find myself better able to walk away, you know, looking at the big picture. (Without taking away my option to not walk away if I choose not to. Now I suppose you might counter here that my greater number of options is again a function of my life experiences, including my meditation, and you're right, but the point is not that my "free will" is constrained, but that it is LESS SO than what it was earlier, and less constrained than for a tiger (or a storm or a whirlwind).

Does that make my will “free”? Certainly not! The constraints I act under (in the sense of constrained-solutions of engineering problems I mean) are legion. But that does not make the leeway I have as near-zero as it is for a tiger, or even for the person I was ten years ago.

No, a human being is not a “force of nature”. I may choose (acting either for myself, or as part of the larger society) not to “punish” him (and focus only on the redemption and prevention parts), but that speaks to my own ethics.

It’s like talking of the freedom of motion of our bodies. It’s absurd to say we have full freedom of motion, because obviously we can’t fly (using only our bodies) or jump up ten floors in one leap (again using only our bodies). At least not on earth. But nor does that mean that our freedom of motion is zero, nor does that mean that we have no freedom of motion, because within our limitations and constraints, our bodies do have a great deal of freedom of movement. (And forget, for this analogy, meta-type stuff about freedom of motion being ultimately linked to free will.)

- -----------

Okay, sorry, my comment's getting overly long, overly meandering. Let me just draw your attention to that three-box model of Covey’s, and ask you what you think of the middle box, and what I’ve said about it above, in the context of free-will.

Appreciative Reader, I plan to write another free will-related blog post soon, so hopefully this will help clarify how I see the issue.

Which is, basically, this. A lot of neuroscientific evidence/experimentation points to the fact that our feeling of "I choose to do this" comes AFTER the brain has decided on a course of action. Now, perhaps it could be argued that it is the brain as a whole that has free will, not our conscious sense of "self."

But this strikes me, and others, as a weak argument. It would be somewhat like saying that even though the eye of a hurricane doesn't possess free will, the entire storm system does.

Yes, it FEELS like we are freely making a decision to do or think this-or-that, but pretty clearly modern neuroscience shows this isn't the case. We can't trust our introspection to tell us what is actually happening in the brain. One reason, of course, is that we ARE the brain, not something separate from it.

Reading your previous comment, I didn't see any mention of where free will could come from. Since you seem to believe in some sort of free will, fill in this gap for me.

The brain is composed of 100 billion or so neurons, each connected to about 10,000 other neurons. Obviously this is an extremely complex neuronal web that is is capable of amazing things. But where is the capacity for standing outside of that web, and exercising independent free will separate from the neuronal chains of cause and effect?

The brain has been described as a web without a spider. Yet you seem to believe that there is a "spider" somewhere within those 100 billion neurons which is controlling the operation of the brain, choosing to do this rather than that.

Please explain, as this goes everything that appears to be true about the human brain.

For me, mind, self, free will all are all phenomenon produced by natural processes of the brain.

Simply put (because I see it as simplicity itself) :-

Mind - the result of information derived through the senses.

Self - from this accumulated information a self, a sense of me is assumed.

Free will - the assumption of a having a separate autonomous self necessitates that as we feel that this self is real it must therefore have a will that is free.

As the self is a construct formed from information 'stored' in the mind, it is not possible that information has a will. Neuroscience and other brain sciences are de-mystifying these issues and it is becoming obvious that mind, self and free will are all processes of the brain. As 'self' centred humans our ego's cannot accept this so will continue to make up weird and wonderful belief systems to justify who/what we believe we are instead of simply being - just this.

Turan, I agree very much

That is : reasoned from the molecular point of view

But one step higher ( astral, producing chakra_auras containing blueprints )
this reasoning is say 98% valid and 2% free will exists

Next another step ( time_space_environment ) higher we have 10% free will

Again one step closer to what is called our Soul
The rssb, Tulsi s Third region free will is 50% or so

This is the highest we can (be) come by vast ascese/meditations/kill the thoughts process/, combined
with acceptable love for these proctors/administrators/deities of the corresponding regions/environments, called Yahweh/Brahm, . . . Jehovah/ParaBrahm
who only know strict justice up to the little grain coming to you by the wind

We can't go higher ( in free will ) because it has to involve ENDING SELF AWARENESS !

But if we AT THE START fall in real Love with an individual who wondrously is already higher
than the great barrier ( Sunna ) the vast blackness/nothing-ness
around creations/time_space_creations and other imaginations/illusions/spheres
This barrier bigger than all these creations,

this Individu will ( because of the Love ) give you everything S-He acquired Her/Himself
and more free will included

So if Gurinder its such an individu and He makes you certain of that, . .
You are already in Heaven with 100% free will after some Anahabed ( unstuck - continuous ) Sweet Sound meditation
We just have to Love The Song
something each iTunes subscriber or Bach Lover can understand :)


Guru Granth JapJi ; " That my mind may be imbued with Thy Name night and Day "


You know, what you say does strike me. You say that the neuro-scientific evidence points to the fact that our cognition (or recognition, if you will) that we choose something, comes after the brain has already decided on a course of action. And then you say, it can be argued, then, that the brain as a whole has free will.

That’s exactly what I do feel. And no, I’m not sure that’s a “weak argument”. Let me try to take this forward using another example.

You’re into Tai Chi and stuff, aren’t you? Well, they say that when some martial artist is very skilled, very practiced, then they react to attack situations “from the spine” as it were. I’m taking this from pop sources, like Bruce Lee movies and the Bruce Lee book, and also some Zen stuff I’ve read and heard spoken of in the context of martial arts. Shallow stuff all, I admit, but they’re far too numerous for them not to be true in essence. Anyway, so apparently if you’re this super-expert-to-the-point-of-mastery martial artist, then, when someone attacks you, you are able to respond from the gut as it were, and bring your sword down (or your knuckles, or your knees) and incapacitate your would-be assailant before you yourself have actually realized, at a conscious cognitive level, that such-and-such series of motions is what you “should” do. Is that right?

Well, in that martial-arts context, just because your movement of your sword (or knuckles, or elbows, or knee, or whatever) precedes your cognition of this movement as the correct one, that does not mean that that movement is not real, or that that movement is chimerical, or whatever, can you? Why then would we say, that just because our brain’s choosing of an option (apparently) precedes our cognition of such choice, that such choice is not “ours”?

Just because our brain might recognize some visual pattern before our neurons recorded our cognition of such visual pattern, that does not mean that we do not see. We don’t say, it is our brain that sees, not us. In that same sense, the fact that our brain records (or our neurons record) some choice we’ve made before our brains and neurons record or cognition of having made that choice, that does not in any way mean that we do not chose. There is no reason, it seems to me, to say that “we” don’t choose but our brain does, just as in the earlier example we don’t say that “we” don’t see but our brain does. Our brain is part of us after all, our brain IS us. (And should you say that “we” don’t exist at all, then that would be a whole different discussion, and the sequence of choosing and cognition of choices at a neurological/neuronic level would then be a non sequitur.) Do you agree with what I said in this paragraph?

To answer your specific questions :

“Reading your previous comment, I didn’t see any mention of where free will could come from. Since you seem to believe in some sort of free will, fill in this gap from me.”

Why would our (partial) free will need to be “coming from somewhere”? You say we ARE the brain ; well, then, that is where it’s coming from, or emanating from, or arising, or whatever. Why do we need to assume that in order to be even partially free, our “will” has to come from something other than what we know it comes from?

True, if our “will” comes from our brain, then it does mean that it can’t exceed or transcend that the brain itself places on it. Well, fine. No absolute free will, I freely grant. But there’s a huge leap from “no absolute free will” to the other extreme of “no free will at all”. There’s a vast middle ground in between of “partial free will”.

“The brain has been described as a web without a spider. Yet you seem to believe that there is a “spider” somewhere within those 100 billion neurons, which is controlling the operation of the brain, choosing to do this rather than that. Please explain, as this goes everything that appears to be true about the human brain. ”

No, I DON’T believe there’s a spider somewhere there in that web. I have no difficulty accepting that the web has not been spun by a spider (if that is indeed what bona fide scientific evidence points at). Indeed, I fully agree that that would be the default position, and any contrary position would need to be definitely proved. And we’ll proceed with this discussion with the assumption that indeed there’s no spider within the web.

However, you’ll grant me this much, won’t you, that this particular web, that comprises a human being, has a sense of self? (Unlike, as far as we know, the web of forces and phenomena that comprise a bacterium, or for that matter a hurricane?) This web (this concatenation of phenomena, this concoction of materials and forces that we know as a human being) is AWARE, is SENTIENT, and HAS A SENSE OF SELF. So what if there is no spider (read as : So what if this sense of self is no more than a consequence of these phenomena, and so what if this sense of self arises with and ends with this concoction of phenomena ), let’s then talk of this spider-web that is aware and conscious and has a sense of self. Why not?

There are other spider-webs (other collections of phenomena) -- like the hurricane, like a bacterium -- that do not (so far as we know) have anything corresponding to this sense of self of ours.

Whether or not we have a free will, that is a separate discussion from whether or not there’s a spider there in the web. Whether or not we have a free will, that’s a separate discussion from whether we have a sense of self that transcends our body-mind complex. (If we had no sense of self at all, then there would have been no “we” at all, and therefore no free will for “us” to have. But we do have a sense of self, transient though it may be.) A sense of self that is no more than a function of our body-mind complex (including our brain) is fully capable of having (partial) free will.

So no, I don’t necessarily have to believe that there is a “spider” there in that web that controls the operations of the brain, in order to subscribe to a (partial) free will.

Sorry, this is getting convoluted, again. I’m not sure I’m succeeding here in putting across clearly what I’m thinking. Just read that comment I left at the end of your next article, will you, and tell me if I’m on the right track there?

Appreciative Reader, I certainly agree that the brain exercises will. That's obvious. Anyone with normal brain function (meaning, not in a coma) engages in actions both mental and physical all day long.

The question is the "free" part of free will. Your analogy of a martial arts expert acting intuitively and without conscious thought involves nothing that I'd call "free." It was instinctive action based on past experience and present circumstances -- attackers doing this and that.

So this example seems just as much a part of the web of cause and effect as me deciding whether to have a large or small coffee, or vanilla ice cream rather than chocolate.

Brian, I guess that's where I'm getting mixed up. Perhaps I'm not defining "free will" (in my mind) in the same sense as you do. Perhaps that (clearly understanding what the literature, and you, refer to as "free will") is what I need to work on to understand this better.

(That other definition, the ability to have made a different choice given the exact same circumstances, may not work. I mean, it would at most be an attribute of free will, rather than the actual definition ; and in any case it is wholly unverifiable, and in that sense [in the sense of being unverifiable] irrelevant, much like claiming that there was a God who set off the big bang, but our laws can't detect him. It can only remain a belief.)

Incidentally -- not to beat this thing to death, but just to clarify -- I wasn't likening the martial artist's super-quick reflexes to free will. One of the points you'd made was that neuro-scientists have apparently proved that the brain makes a choice before "we" take cognizance of that choice ; and basis that you'd concluded that that proves we have no free will. I hadn't understood that argument, and took those two examples : the fact that the martial artist's reaction is triggered before his mind takes cognizance of the appropriateness of that reaction, doesn't mean that "he" (the martial artist) isn't reacting ; nor does the fact that our brain records something we've seen before "we" take cognizance of a sight, mean that "we" haven't seen it ; therefore, I was saying, I didn't see why just because the brain makes a choice before "we" recognize that choice, means it isn't "our" choice. That description of the mechanism, the sequence, of how we make choices was interesting, but I didn't see how it was relevant to this discussion.

Appreciative Reader, regarding your last point: few people would consider that if the brain makes a choice without a person's conscious awareness, that constitutes "free will." Will implies a conscious decision; free implies that the decision could have been otherwise.

This is how "free will" feels to almost everybody (even though the feeling is almost certainly an illusion). I open the refrigerator and stare into its depths, because I'm hungry. Among other things, I see some strawberries and some leftover tofu. I decide to eat the strawberries. It feels as if I could have chosen the tofu. That's the ordinary understanding of free will: everything being the same, I could have chosen differently.

But if the brain chooses "strawberries" outside of conscious awareness, and hence conscious will, how can this be free will? The choice about what to eat was determined by neurological happenings outside of my knowledge, in much the same way as a slot machine determines what the outcome will be after someone pulls the lever.

Going back in time, and causation, I also wasn't acting freely when I went to the refrigerator. My hunger caused me to do that.

You seem to consider that if the brain makes a choice, and a person is able to act on that choice, this constitutes free will. That basically is a compatibilist point of view, where determinism isn't considered to be incompatible with freedom of will. Some people are fine with compatibilism, but to me, and others, it redefines free will in an unacceptable manner, to preserve the illusion that we have it.


Thanks for your response, Brian. (Incidentally, this is what I love about spending time on your site, how it broadens one's horizons about these things. I hadn't even heard of "compatibilism" before, and I enjoyed looking it up on that Wiki link you've provided, and in some easily-googled philosophy sites.)

As far as I can make out, basis what I read just now, I seem to be comfortable enough with compatibilism. More or less, I mean.

Except for two things. (Sorry, here I go again! But no, these two things I cannot, on my own, wrap my head around. Sorry if I'm being dense her, but I'd be grateful if you could clear these two specific points for me, as I ask them. Two points, with three questions.)

1. Going back to what my brain has decided, and how, and in what sequence : here's the thing I find totally incomprehensible. See, my brain is part of "me", right. (Forget "no self" for now, else we'll get derailed.) Perhaps my "me-ness" is no more than an effect of my body-mind mechanism (including my brain) ; or it could be (just perhaps) that I'm bigger than my physical equipment ; BUT EITHER WAY, MY BRAIN IS PART OF ME, RIGHT? So, if my brain chooses something, it is me doing the choosing, right? Just as if my brain registers a sight, it is "me" doing the seeing. And if my hand lifts a weight, it is "me" putting in my gym time. MY BRAIN CHOOSES SOMETHING, MEANS "I" CHOOSE IT. Perhaps I recognize that a choice has been made a bit later, but so what? IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THIS CANNOT BE AN ARGUMENT AGAINST FREE WILL UNLESS ONE IMPLICITLY ASSUMES THAT ONE IS SOMETHING OTHER THAN ONE'S BODY (INCLUDING ONE'S BRAIN). I am not making that assumption, at all. My brain is certainly part of who I am!

Do you agree with what I said in that paragraph above? Or what have I got wrong there?

2. I guess #1 above makes me a compatibilist, but then again, DETERMINISM PER SE I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT AGREE WITH. Determinism would be what nineteenth-century physicists would be at, I suppose, as well as plenty of believers (believers in many different faiths) who ultimately believe that all is in God's hands. OKAY, LET'S JUST TALK ABOUT THE BRAIN BUSINESS IN EVERYDAY WORDS HERE, AS REGARDS DETERMINISM. If you've recorded and calculated everything in the universe, including what choice my brain has made, but don't know yet what cognizance my brain has recognized, then you can predict my choice. That I grant, freely. (Actually that's no more than tautology.)

So here's the crux. Let us say there is this team of scientists that know everything in the universe, but not what choice my brain has made (and nor, therefore, whether or not I have taken cognizance of that choice). So can they, or can they not, make a 100% sure prediction (not just a likely prediction, but a 100% sure prediction) of what choice I will now make?

Have I captured the idea rightly, and expressed that example properly? If I have, then what would be your answer?

I expect you will answer "yes", but then you'll have to answer why you're saying that.

(2)(a) For one thing, why would Heisenberg not stop you with his Uncertainty?

(2)(b) For another, do we really know the brain well enough to make these predictions? This assumes that the brain is no different from a very complex computer. That may or may not be the case, but do we really know, yet, whether the brain-as-computer analogy really holds? My very-cursory-and-very-sketchy knowledge of these things (what neuro-science has actually found out about the brain) would indicate NOT.

Okay, let me just clarify this one :

You've said there in your comment : "You seem to consider that if the brain makes a choice, and a person is able to act on that choice, this constitutes free will."

Not quite. What I actually think is this : IF THE BRAIN MAKES A CHOICE, THEN THAT IS WHAT I WOULD ACTUALLY DEFINE AS "WILL". Whether or not that choice, that will, is "free", is something that is a further discussion -- and will depend, among other things, on how one defines "free".

But our choosing something (or our brains choosing something, which is the same thing), is, to me, the same as "will". I mean, what else is "will" if not that?

Forget "free will", and tell me, what exactly is "will"? I would say it is our choosing something (and since our brain is part of who "we" are, it obviously is the same as our brain choosing something). How would YOU define "will", in this context, and using these terms?

----- Again, sorry if I'm persistently being dense!! Just can't seem to be able wrap my head around this thing.

Appreciative Reader, I don't see how "free" and "will" can be viewed separately when we're talking about human "free will." They go together. A rock is free to roll down a hill when pushed. Is this the sort of freedom you're thinking of with us humans? If so, "free" just means that whatever is determined to happen by the laws of nature, does happen.

But this isn't how virtually everybody views "free will." Consider the law, which embodies the cultural/societal conception of free will. Someone has a gun in his hand. He points it at somebody with whom he's having a fight. He pulls the trigger and kills the other person. The law considers that the man was free to choose between pulling the trigger and not pulling the trigger, and so is held responsible for that choice.

An exception would be a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict. In this case the law would consider that the man's mental/brain condition caused the trigger to be pulled, so he didn't have the freedom to decide what to do.

There's a big difference between being judged guilty or not guilty of murder. Yet you seem to be arguing that our "will" is the brain making a choice, and there isn't much or any distinction between a conscious choice or unconscious choice. I happen to agree, which is why I don't believe in free will. Yet you appear to hold onto the possibility of free will. I'm confused about this.

Again, it isn't possible to separate the concepts of "free" and "will," then recombine them to examine "free will." Free and will depend on the context, in this case human behavior/brain. Our dog wills to drink from her water bowl several times a day. Nothing stops her. So she is free. Does this mean our dog has free will? I'd say, no. But it would seem to follow from your point of view.

Any Magnetic Resonance Scan operator
will see if you go right or left

A WHOLE SIX SECOND period before your conscious decisions
So, the discussion is over


Thank you, Brian, for patiently helping me unravel this apparently complex and tangled web of No-Free-Will theory.

You seem to be saying in your comment above that “free will” is a term that carries the same connotation as “will”. I don’t follow that, at all. And why can we not view “will” and “free” separately, and bring them together into “free will” -- as we would any other qualifier adjective and any object/idea/concept/noun? I don’t understand that either.

I’m largely ignorant (except for your articles here, and some very cursory reading online) about these terms, but it seems to me that it ought to be simple enough, using simple everyday language, and by thinking through straightforward everyday concepts, to talk of “will”, of the “free”-dom (or otherwise) of that “will”, and therefore of “free will” (or its absence), like so :

What is “will”? “Will” would represents one’s desires, wishes, choices. Since one’s brain is part of who one is, the choices of one’s brain would be the same as one’s choices, one’s “will”. (My leg is part of me, so when my leg is hurt and is bleeding, it makes sense to say “I am bleeding”, or “I am hurt”, without necessarily always mentioning which part of me it is that is hurt and bleeding. My arms and hands are part of me, so when my arms/hands lift a weight, it makes sense to say “I am lifting up that weight”, without necessarily having to mention which part of me is doing the lifting. Similarly, since my brain is very much a part of “me”, saying “my brain chooses this” is no different from saying “I choose this”.) It seems to me that the only way this could be otherwise (that is, the only way you could say “My brain chooses this, but I myself don’t”, or “This is my brain’s will, but not MY will”) is if you implicitly believe that “you” are something different from your body, some transcendental soul perhaps, and that your body (including your brain) is only something you use, rather like a tool. Many religious traditions (Abrahamic, as well as Karmic) do make this assumption, implicitly, and also explicitly spell it out in their theology. I don’t.

And what is the “free” part in “free will”? “Free” how, “free” of what? And the obvious answer is, “free” of constraints. What kinds of constraints? Both internal and external. So “free will” would refer to “will” that is “free” of internal and external constraints.

“Internal constraints” would refer to one’s past influences and experiences, one’s instincts, one’s innate predilections and dislikes (e.g., an instinctive liking for strawberries, that impels you to “will” to eat some today). As far as “external constraints”, I would say that these don’t always matter, at least not directly : you may not be able to eat strawberries because there are none in your house, and none available in the market, but that external circumstance does not affect your “will” itself (the will to eat strawberries), but the execution of that will. However, in so far as they end up influencing your internal constraints, external constraints do affect your “will” indirectly : for instance, if at some time in the past, you had ended up with a very serious stomach ailment after eating strawberries, then that might put you off strawberries for good ; or for instance, if at some time you had had an exceptional pleasant time while eating strawberries (perhaps on your first picnic date with someone you love), then that may subconsciously result in your liking strawberries very much : just examples, those, they need not be as dramatic every time : and to the extent those external constraints become embedded internal constraints for you, to that extent your “will” (in this case, your “will” to eat strawberries, or your “will” to NOT eat strawberries) is “not free”. And of course, it is easy to think of examples where an external stimulus directly affects our will.

To the extent you can overcome your instincts in deciding whether to eat strawberries or not (either by examining your self via meditation, or by examining your self via therapy, or simply by ordinary thinking), to that extent your “will” is (more) “free”. [At least as regards your Will to eat strawberries at this time ; your Will to meditate, or your Will to visit your therapist, or your Will to think about your instinctive inclination or otherwise for strawberries, these also can be seen as having their roots in instincts or past behavior, etc, but that is a further (and different) discussion.]

NOW JUST HOW FREE IS “FREE”? If you have a glass that is half-full of your favorite red wine, then is the glass half-empty, or is it half-full? If your will is partially constrained and also partially free, then is your will free or constrained? How free of constraints would your will need to be in order for you to call it “free will”?

You could take one of three approaches :

(1) You could say that unless “will” is 100% free, then it is “not free”. Unless your glass is 100% full, you’ll focus on the emptiness, and call it empty. That is not illogical, just a way of looking at things. Using this paradigm, then, unless man is accepted as godly and potentially all-powerful, or at least as a soul that is more durable than the body, then obviously man does NOT have free will. If you choose to focus on the constraints and not the leeway he still has despite the constraints (that is, if you focus on the empty part of the glass not the wine), then true, he does not have free will. No Free Will, then.

(2) You could, alternatively, say that if the will has even a milli-centimeter of wriggle room, even half an inch of latitude, then it is not constrained, but free. If there is even half an inch of wine in your glass, you’ll focus on what you have, and refer not to your empty glass but to the wine in your glass. That also is not illogical, merely another way of looking at things. Using this paradigm, then, unless man is accepted as an automaton, obviously man DOES have free will. Yes to Free Will, in that case.

(3) The third approach, which I believe is the middle ground that I am treading, would be to recognize that man is not wholly free, but to also recognize that he is (unlike an inanimate object like a falling rock or a raging hurricane) not wholly constrained either. This middle ground recognizes that man’s will is constrained (constrained by both external stimuluses, and by internal compulsions and instincts), but nevertheless is not wholly lacking in latitude. The glass is half-empty, but also half-full, so why not just call it a Partially Filled Glass, with the emphasis on “Partially”? This is what I’ve been (clumsily, I know) referring to here as Partial Free Will. [And yes, it would amount to the same thing if you choose to call it, instead, Partially Constrained Will. In fact, I suppose the really precise way to describe this would be to call it “Will that is Partially Constrained and Partially Free”, only it sounds so very unwieldy.]

- - - - -

Take the gun in your example, that’s ended up killing someone. Or (in order to make the analogy fit with a hurricane doing the killing) take a large rock that has fallen on someone and crushed them to death.

If a hurricane has blown a rock off a ledge in some hill, and dropped it on some person below, killing that person, then no one would dream of “punishing” the hurricane (except perhaps tribes with weird pantheistic beliefs). Here, there is objectively zero free will. (In fact, in this case, there is no Will at all.)

If a dog ended up rolling a rock down a ledge, then too, free will would be near-zero. Unlike the hurricane, the dog does have Will, but that Will is so tied up with unthinking instinct, that it is practically zero. Not literally zero, because you do after all hear, very occasionally, of dogs risking their life or even giving up their life (and thus in some way opposing their instincts, or at least, giving vent to a side of their instincts that is generally inhibited at the cost of those instincts that usually dominate) to save a child or a blind man ; but generally speaking, for a dog, free will would be near-zero.

Ditto if the one rolling the rock were a small child. Even there you have near-zero free will. Although of course, for a somewhat older child, say a ten-year-old boy, who’s rolled rocks down and killed people, one would need to look out for at least the possibility of psychotic tendencies. Partial free will can, I suppose, at that age, start getting meaningful, at least for some children.

If some adult who is literally insane rolled the rock, or pulled the trigger, then, like you say, he would be “not guilty by reason of insanity”. He is recognized to have no free will precisely BECAUSE he is insane. This entire lack of free will, this near-100% absence even of partial free will, in an adult human being is an abnormality, an aberration, it is not sane.

Even for a man who is sane, when he is driven by extreme fear, or even by extreme anger, his partial free will gets compressed, gets ultra-constrained, gets less free : and the law recognizes this, and gives him a lighter sentence.

But the man who is sane, and also is in full possession of his faculties (that is, he acts in cold blood) : if this man uses his gun to kill another person, or rolls a rock down a ledge on a hill to crush another person to death, then his partial free will is wider, he has far greater leeway, and he has CHOSEN this course of action, and so the law gives him the chair, or the rope, or the life sentence, or whatever. We recognize that his Will is constrained (by external circumstances, by his own past experiences, and also by his own innate tendencies), but we also recognize that his Will, despite those many constraints, still has some latitude, some freedom.

I would go one step further, and extend this one step beyond, to say that a generally introspective and self-aware person (and even more so a person who is accustomed to examining his inner self through regular meditation) has even more latitude, his partial free will is even wider, less constrained, more free.

- - - - -

In fact, it is your “no free will” position that seems to be painting with one single brush, and putting into one single slot, the hurricane, the dog, the child, the madman, the man acting from extreme fright or extreme anger, and the sane man acting in cold blood. Each of these, your position seems to indicate, ought to carry the exact same culpability (other things being equal). Actually you have, in an earlier article, explicitly likened man’s no-free-will to the hurricane’s no-free-will. That makes no sense to me.

- - - - -

You asked me in an earlier comment, WHERE DOES THIS “PARTIAL FREE WILL” COME FROM ? The answer would be, that Partial Free Will is simply an attribute of consciousness, and it arises from the exact same source that consciousness itself arises from. I have not come to a definite conclusion, for myself, about the source of consciousness (that is one of the Big Questions that I’m trying, in my humble way, to answer for myself, to my satisfaction if to no one else’s). If consciousness comes from without, from somewhere outside the body, well then, that is where this Partial Free Will comes from. And if it turns out, definitely, that consciousness is indeed no more than simply an attribute of the physical development of human beings that evolution has brought about (a view I am fully comfortable with), why then this partial free will, THIS ABILITY TO CONSCIOUSLY (BUT WITHIN CONSTRAINTS, WITHIN LIMITS) CHOOSE ONE THING OVER ANOTHER, TO CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE ONE OPTION AMONGST MANY), would simply be an attribute of this consciousness (and what is more, an attribute that can be cultivated and strengthened further). If “we” (our consciousness, and our sense of self) are no more than the end-result of evolution, then our “partial free will” (that is, our ability to consciously choose one option over another [albeit within constraints, within limits], our ability to even go against our instincts [albeit, again, within limits], that too then would be a result of that same process of evolution. I don’t see any logical inconsistency in this very common-sense-led position of mine.

In fact, it is the No-Free-Will-At-All position, the one that equates a human being with not only a dog but actually with a hurricane, that appears to me to be extravagant.

Sorry, Brian, I still don’t get it! :-(


PS : I see that in responding here to your last comment, I’ve ended up with another huge comment, one that seems all full of my own ideas and my own clever conclusions! Needless to say, Brian, I don’t for a minute presume to know more than you or the accepted literature, and nor am I trying, through this detailed comment, to argue you around to my point of view. On the contrary, I am painfully aware of my own ignorance and of my inability to understand this. (The first time I ever thought about “free will”, was when you talked of the “no free will” concept when replying, long ago, to a query of mine, on quite a different topic. I hadn’t understood this “no free will” thing then, and gave it up at that time ; and I find I still don’t understand it.) But I do see how important this topic is, in the sense that one’s position, if only implicit, on this discussion on “free will”, can have far-reaching implications on one’s broader world-view. It makes sense, then, to bring one’s position from implicit/instinctive and un-thought-out rejection of “free will”, and to think one’s way through to a position that one is fully satisfied with. Since “no free will” is not just your own particular and idiosyncratic view but the generally accepted position (generally accepted by rational thinkers on free will, as even a cursory Internet search clearly shows), I have no doubt I must be mistaken, and am simply trying to think this through using “normal” everyday layman’s terms and concepts, and putting my thoughts down here, in the hope that you might show me where exactly it is that I’m mistaken.

Just paraphrasing holy books and some half cents experiences
please don't hold me on numbers

related to where an individual consciousness is able to reside
still apply the non static but very dynamic , very living nature of nature
and fluctuating percentages

1% of 1 % free will in this visible would
1 % In - dark matter/energy - before quantum, often called etherical matter
2 % Astral
15% Causal
25% Top of 3rd region
50% Above the vast vacuum: 4th region Where according to Christians the Creating Powers reside

99 %. . . 7th Heaven


It's nice that free will goes equal to the power of humility
like the first = last

truther, a belated reply to your comment. My problem with considering free will as "the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion." is that this isn't the sort of free will most people believe they have.

I wrote about this in a recent blog post:


What you spoke of is being able to carry out a desired/willed act without external restraints. But the bigger question is, are we free to decide what to desire/will? Meaning, does this sort of "freedom of the will" exist outside of the determinism that applies to other brain processes?

Obviously, no. There is no evidence for "freedom of the will." Which, as I said in the above-linked post, is the sort of free will most people believe in: the capacity to either do, or not do something; and the capacity to freely choose which thing to do.

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