As we go about our days we are continuously faced with many decisions, one after the next. We feel as though we are authoring all of our actions and all of our decisions freely, drawing on an unlimited amount of possibilities.
Most of us spend our time in conversation with friends, family, colleagues or employees and we constantly form sentences thinking that every word spoken or thought was chosen by us from an unlimited source of possible words that could have been used. Is it possible for you to think of a word you have never heard of before? Maybe you have never heard of the word “elucidate’. Could you have thought of this word prior to learning it? Could you use this word in a sentence before knowing that it exists? Of course not. So we know that our freedom of will cannot be all encompassing at the least. It cannot give us the ability to choose from things that we do not know.
How much free will do we actually have? We don’t have the ability to act in ways that we do not already know exist. We don’t have the ability to think of things we do not know, or things we have forgotten. And we cannot create new things that we have not previously had inspiration for. Even the painter who paints things that do not exist draws her inspiration from things that do exist or her experiences or abstracts of what she sees or feels.
I literally do not know what I will think or remember or intend next. – Sam Harris
We don’t even know what the next thought to arise in our mind is going to be. We might suddenly think of the Eiffel Tower but we never question why we thought of it and if we do we think something like “oh France was on TV this morning” or “I went to France when I was younger”. These statements were merely added in after the fact in an attempt to link a cause and effect. But the thought arose of its own accord and we have no control over it.
My argument is that free will exists not in the way we feel it does. Most people feel as though they can drive in any direction. But the car is actually on tracks, going downhill and the doors are locked. They think they can move the pieces in any direction, only the pieces have their set movement and cannot be placed anywhere other than the limited options within their move set. The possibilities are more limited then we would like to think. Our free will exists in a bubble of things which we know and things which we have experienced and been exposed to and we cannot do that which we don’t know can be done. There is no way for you to know what you will think, do or think of doing next.
So how free is your free will?
Audio version: http://bit.ly/how-free-is-free-will-yt