Ishan @seefromthesky StockSnapIO, Creative Commons CC0

Six Ways to Direct Free Will as You Like

Brain freeze

Let’s say, for example, you see someone eating ice cream. Then you want to eat ice cream. It’s more likely, perhaps that you’ll eat ice cream later, but if you do, was it still your choice? Or is your only choice at that point to veto having ice cream? Involuntary behaviors are definitely not about free will, like a sneeze. But what if you take a big whiff of strong pepper to make yourself sneeze? Where’s the free will there?

If we can’t study free will directly, what can we study?

Belief in free will and the existence of free will are totally different things, philosophically and logically speaking. Unless belief in something is the cause of its existence, and I guess there isn’t a consensus there either. Measuring correlations with belief in free will and various outcomes is a cool approach. It changes the nature of contemplating free will’s existence to have data about what reality looks like with and without free will.

Do inanimate shapes do things on purpose? Source: Genschow et al., 2019

The ineluctable crucible of the present moment

There are many times when what happens in life can lead us to doubt free will. Our faith in free will may waiver as our efforts to have influence of what happens in our lives are more or less successful. If we don’t respond well to failure, we may stop believing in ourselves, our self-esteem may falter, our sense of self-efficacy flounder, our optimism may fail to persuade us to keep going. Any kind of obsession or compulsion may rob us of will, when we are caught in habit loops.

What is free will?

The way we respond to things can be very knee-jerk, which itself can be good or bad depending on whether the programmed response happens to fit what’s at hand. It can depend on our repertoire of responses, and how we’ll we can appraise and select pre-programmed responses when we don’t have time to pause and think, planning reflectively. Free will is blurry, complex. Why complex? Because choices usually have tiny effects, nudges, to change the nature of reality. Whether or not a decision was a choice, a combination of factors among which free will may be, or forged in stone at the dawn of time may be a matter of complex perspective.

How powerful do you want your belief in free will to be?

Actual possibilities vs. belief in influence Source: Grant H. Brenner

Additional resources

The Free Will Inventory: Part 1

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Advocate

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