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Forgot your password? In what does free will consist? How come we have free will, if we do? All other freedoms pre-suppose, are subordinate to, and are irrelevant without free will. Consider one of the ways in which we may see ourselves as free: free as a bird, or as a wild animal. But do these have any power of choice? Are they not on auto-pilot, constrained by instincts, hunger, thirst, social pressures and fear? So are we also on auto-pilot, yet with a greater degree of choice and a stronger range of constraints: prison, blackmail, death threats?


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Humans clearly have the power of self-restraint, good manners, tact, enlightened self-interest; the ability to think through and carry out a plan of action which may or may not be benign, taking into account how others will react. But even in the most perfect world, there will be constraints. Where in all this constrained freedom is free will? Every neuron that has fired has been a response to some stimulus.

So every thought has to follow from some signal. A man-eating tiger must be shot, clearly, even though it surely has done nothing but followed its nature and instincts? Free will is autonomy, the unconstrained freedom to choose values and beliefs.

h2g2 - How to Experience a Sense of Freedom in Everyday Life - Edited Entry

But where does it come from? From nothing? From mass and energy? From a power beyond all science? So, if I have free will, how come?


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Is there something deep within me — self, id, soul, spirit that operates independently of instincts? There cannot be any explanation of free will from science. Yet to abjure free will is to abjure all responsibility, and all credit for any so-called achievements.

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The only possible explanation for free will speaks of a God who gives us choice even with considerable limitations on the freedom to act. We are free in so far as we experience choice. Some choices are extremely important because we know that possibility A will lead to a very different outcome from that produced by possibility B. These lead to lengthy and repeated deliberation.

The freedom we experience when deliberating and considering possibilities must have been acquired in a social context that has led to the emergence of language together with interests, selves, agency, and second-order knowledge. Interests consist in basic needs and long-term goals or concerns.

The self has its origin in bodily recognition with the subsequent establishment of the episodic memories that provide us with a personal identity. Self-control arises because we are able to refrain from actions inconsistent with other, more-highly-valued concerns.

Freedom - The Limited Experience

Second-order ability enables us to categorise our experience, including those interests that we describe as the reasons for our actions. The pursuit of individual possibilities may be constrained by both natural inheritance and exposure to specific social environments. Liberal values and freedoms probably originated in the tolerant attitudes and willingness to negotiate established in predominantly commercial communities, and the desirability of such freedoms has been strongly espoused in Western democracies, especially by those with unfettered capitalist economies.

These, however have produced considerable inequalities of wealth between social classes with the inescapable result that the more affluent are able to pursue interests and enjoy freedoms unavailable to the less affluent. We are free to the extent that we are knowingly and intentionally able to make choices.

To do so depends upon a , our choice-making capacities, and b , our awareness of the possible options. Both are inevitably limited. Our choice-making capacities may be impaired and can malfunction, but even in optimum condition our capacities are influenced by, if not the result of, our individual histories and environments — biological, social and cultural. These also affect our awareness of possible alternatives, and predispose us to veer toward some in preference to others. Of course we can reflect, attempt to compensate for limitations, but we cannot step outside of ourselves.

Thus, how we are free will fundamentally be affected by the equipment on which consciousness depends: our physical being, including crucially, our brains. Evidence from neuroscience supports the notion that apparently conscious choice is preceded by neural activity. It seems clear that we do not possess free will in any dualist sense; that is, through a mental facility independent of the physical, yet somehow controlling the physical.

Any freedom exists rather at the physical level, and only in the sense that the physical organism continually selects from available options in response to a hierarchy of changing needs, ranging from those of basic evolutionary survival through to more involved and complex needs, wants and aspirations engendered in societies and cultures, from the benevolent to the malevolent. Many philosophers, including Thomas Hobbes, have claimed that man cannot be the original source of his actions. All desires and inclinations proceed from some cause. The very fact that I was created is beyond my origination.

Hobbes argues that despite the absence of ultimate freedom, man is still free, if we mean has a power of acting or not acting according to the determinations of the will. We are free what we may call the freedom of action insofar as we follow our own desires and inclinations, and implement our own decisions. A free action is where there is an absence of external impediments, and in the plainest sense it must be voluntary or willing.

This may be described as a compatibilist definition of freedom. It seems that a great deal of our value and dignity is based on a notion that compatibilists refute: that we are the original source of a causal connection leading to decisions and actions. Is not this a ridiculous liberty? The source of our freedom is language. Language enables us to depict alternatives and to understand our choices. Physical processes are inevitable and predictable: chemical A plus chemical B causes reaction C. Instead of being driven by such relentless causal sequences, thanks to language we can see alternative possibilities and choose one path of action from among them.

Some will object to that libertarian view. They will say that language, choices etc are brain processes, and since brains are physical objects, the same causality applies to human behaviour as to any other physical process. I disagree. The fact that there are brain processes involved does not entail that action is solely the product of physical causes. It is over-reaching to insist that everything must be explicable in physical terms, particularly when human action is the product of decisions, not causes.

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Consider this thought experiment: Y has to choose A, B or C. Scientist X has total knowledge of Y chemical composition, brain structure, behavioural history, etc , including total knowledge of the physical processes involved. Having done all the calculations, X states what the outcome will be: for example, A.

Y is told this prediction, and chooses B. Thwarting such physical predictions is a way both to exercise and demonstrate freedom. They say that giving Y that information changes the brain state and so ruins the experiment. I'm here to help other multi-passionate, ambitious women like you! Now raise your hand if that health or fitness goal somehow transformed into this slippery little slope of obsessive thoughts, negative body image, and judgmental food voices in your mind?

Well, sister. I remember how isolating it was when I would obsessively think about every little calorie taken in at a meal or burned off in the gym. You CAN eat healthy without obsessively thinking about the healthy food.