Free will as people almost always understand it is an illusion. There's little or no doubt about that, as I noted in a recent post.
Here's an idea that is well worth pondering. I've enjoyed doing just that as I go to sleep, letting my mind wrap itself around an intriguing notion.
So far as we know, we humans are the only entity in the universe that doesn't exist in full accord with determinism -- causes and effects operating in a lawful, orderly manner.
Oh, but what about randomness?
Sure, randomness is real. Every programmer knows about random number generators. Quantum physics is based on probabilities of things happening at the atomic and subatomic level.
But randomness is lawful.
Certain rules determine whether a sequence of numbers, for example, truly is random. And quantum phenomena also are lawful. That's why quantum physics is so amazingly successful in serving as a foundation of modern technologies.
Thus here we are, some 13.8 billion years after the big bang that brought our universe into being, with everything in the cosmos going along with the laws of nature, galaxies forming, stars appearing and disappearing, our planet forming from primordial material, single celled life becoming multicellular life, mammals eventually evolving, then primates, and finally Homo sapiens, while sunlight strikes Earth, continents drift into their current configuration, millions of species come and go, volcanoes erupt, hurricanes form, mountains rise and are eroded away.
All without a single trace of free will. Everything occurring naturally. No one wondering other than we humans, "Should this be happening?"
Human consciousness is the only known place in the universe where a belief in the illusion of free will, and a downplaying of lawful determinism, introduces a sense of It could have been otherwise.
Should we be proud of this? Or is this a flaw in what evolution has brought about, an unfortunate side effect of a human brain that is able not only to be aware, but to be aware of our own awareness?
I enjoy looking on myself as a very, very, very small cog in the vast machinery of the cosmos. I find peace in viewing my life as fully determined, causes and effects leading to the sort of person I am now, in the place I am now, surrounded by the circumstances that affect me now.
Human consciousness is wonderful.
But it isn't perfect. Or infallible. Sometimes what seems to be, actually isn't. That's how I've come to view my sense that I'm in control of my life, that I possess free will, that I can stand outside of the deterministic laws of nature.
Lying in bed, pondering this stuff as I gradually fall asleep, I have a glimpse of another way of viewing my place in the universe that doesn't make me something separate and distinct from the rest of nature.
And that feels good.