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Free Will: Not even a good Illusion

Free will is not real. It's not even a good illusion. But it is such a handy shortcut to explaining the world that we use it to avoid all the work we would have to do if we truly wished to understand why we make the decisions we make.

Free will is such an obvious fallacy that we can't even find it in places where it should thrive. Pay attention what happens in your mind as you do the following: pick a song, any song. Did a few songs pop to mind? Did you find yourself considering a list of 3 or 4, a list which seemingly came from nowhere? Did you then feel as if you freely chose one of those few songs which came to mind?


Obviously you couldn't select any of the millions of songs which didn't present themselves at just the right second. They weren't an option, so you couldn't freely chose them (nor freely not chose them). Even the selection of just one song from the small list which came out of nothingness was not free, because you can't explain why you chose what you did, at least not without a story that falls apart upon further inspection. For example, if you chose your song because you heard it yesterday, you can't explain why you didn't decide against it because you heard it yesterday. It all just happened.

This is easier for me to accept than most. I am, after all, a cultural monster, a criminal who forced the rest of you to lock me up for my own good, or for your own good, or to correct me–something like that. But the most infuriating thing about this debate is how slippery free will is. You can look for it in the most obvious of places, but when you zoom in and try to grab it, it slips away, vanishing into the nothingness which it was all along.


From the podcast (S2E13: Free Will), a warm beverage is just one of many environmental elements which can make you much more receptive to an idea someone is presenting. Those findings were published in Science.


If you interview people in a disgusting room, they respond to questions with more conservative positions than if you interview them in a clean room. That makes sense if you think about how related our feelings of disgust are to our feelings of tribalism, our fear of those outside our group. Homophobia, Transphobia, Islamophobia, etc. are a reaction to the fear that those different than us might make their way to powerful positions, that they might achieve equality. That's why those feelings activate the same brain circuits as finding a moldy sandwich under your pillow.


There is tons of evidence proving "How Diversity Makes us Smarter." The only reason we continue to operate segregated schools and board rooms is because we value supremacy and domination more than community and compassion.

If you are curious about the neuroscience behind decisions and free will (which I intentionally avoided in this episode), check out Sam Harris's podcast, Making Sense. You should also check out Jonathan Haidt's thoughts regarding The Moral Foundations of Decision Making.

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