Free will ...one more time

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Free will is a widely discussed subject with several billions of opinions on the matter. Here are my two cents.
A common sense definition: free will is the ability to act at one’s own discretion. It is to make conscious choices of our own volition about anything under our control. Free will, apart from being a big part of our lives is a multifaceted issue, so here are some perspectives:
Physical perspective: As long as we assume the world is material and leave any out-worldly issues to somebody else, there is no place for free will in our current understanding of the material world.
The causality has two components: deterministic and random. The random component is out of our control by definition, some things happen by chance – end of story. The deterministic component is a bit more complicated: we are our history (not our choice in a long term) and the circumstances are just there. Our actions are the result of a long chain of events starting from the Big Bang. Genetics, family, the luck to be born here or there, everything has its contribution and none of it is our choice. A very different question is if we can infer our actions or at least the deterministic part. It depends on our understanding of ourselves and the related laws of nature. I want to say: yes we can but if we are intelligent enough.
Phycological/personal perspective: That perspective is the biggest concern for each one of us.
Imagine you have a toddler and you follow every step he/she makes. After a while, you can predict with a very good probability what would be our kid’s reaction be to any circumstances. For you, your kid will be as predictable as anything could be, but your kid feels mostly free. He/she is conscious that he/she makes his/her own decisions and that is our instinctive (default) feeling of being free. All that means that free will depends on our understanding and knowledge: the more we know the less we consider ourselves really free.
Free will is a feeling that we need to feel in control, without that feeling we would perceive ourselves as entrapped or imprisoned. It does not matter if the feeling is based on reality or not. Being delusional may have some disadvantages but that is the price we pay to have a reason to get up in the morning.
Sociological perspective: Let’s continue with the toddler example. Would you tell your toddler that you know in advance every step he/she will make? I guess not. What good that will bring, just a good excuse to do “bad” things because it wouldn’t be his/her fault. So what we do: we keep an illusion of free will along with Santa Claus. That illusion (or delusion) will allow us to punish or reward the child because we need to guide their behavior. That way we teach our kid responsibility, which from our point of view is just teaching them to include the consequences of their actions in the decision-making process.
One may say that free will is a social convention that helps us live a responsible life and be just a bit kinder to one another. It’s a precondition for a better decision process which includes an awareness of the consequences of our actions in the process.
In olden times God was the vessel of that delusion, gifting humans with free will, only that he could judge them later. The idea may contradict the concept of divine plan (or fate) but I don’t recall a case when logical contradiction has been a problem for religion. Jean-Paul Sartre goes even further by saying that we are cursed to be free. Our criminal law is based on the assumption of free will, ergo: no free will = no crime. Without free will, we would be just preprogrammed entities that interact with each other. Can you judge the weather?
Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting any behavior change one way or another. For me, it’s purely an intellectual exercise, and for you – hopefully some clarification and brain food on the matter.

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Categories human condition, society

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