Thursday, August 25, 2011

Free will

I can’t prove that we have a free will but I believe that this is the case. This is a useful belief, I think. It makes us responsible for at least some of our actions. (I didn’t pay the bills but don‘t blame me. I have no free will.)

There would be no point with doing anything if we don’t have a free will. There would be no point with paying the bills. There would be no point with booking the laundry for tomorrow. Equal rights and justice would be meaningless concepts.

However, what if our decisions are not really our own? Maybe we simply do what our parents have told us to do. Maybe we do what society has told us to do. Maybe our will is not our own.

It’s possible that we don’t have a free will, absolutely. Maybe the free will is an illusion similar to the illusion that the sun is moving and descends under the horizon. Cognitive neuroscientists have in fact been able to show that a decision, such as moving an arm for example, is preceded by specific brain activity up to a second before we become aware of the decision.

I don’t know how to interpret these findings. I may be wrong but I still find it more practical to believe that we have, at least to some extent, a free will. I’m still not totally convinced that free will is an illusion. Moreover, neuroscientists are also admitting that we always have the option to say no. We don’t have to act on all impulses.

Our free will may be very weak and it is often that things get in the way, but still, it’s there to be used if we want to, I believe. We don’t have to live all of our time on autopilot mode.

Some people assume that we don’t have a free will and that only the Gods, or chance and natural laws, are governing the course of events, but most people assume that we have a free will. I’m with the majority in this matter.

None of us knows for sure who is right. It’s a matter of how we look at things, our worldview, our attitude, not how things actually are, I believe. The scientists must also interpret their results and the theologians must interpret their scriptures.

Anyway, I don’t care if my intention to move my arm needs some processing time. I need to do my bills today.

This way of looking at things is similar to the question if an alcoholic a selfish idiot who is afraid of himself or if alcoholism is a disease, a kind of allergy? It depends on how you look at it. You can’t prove that alcoholism is an actual disease but this idea has proved to make it easier for alcoholics to recover. It’s therefore a useful belief.

I think that the question if we have a free will or not is actually a rather silly question which we can leave for the scientists and philosophers to debate. It’s simply not a relevant issue here in the everyday dimension.

Of course I get irritated if I don’t get done what I want to get done, and it’s unpleasant to feel irritation. This is the downside with the belief in a free will. However, irritation is not dangerous if you don‘t get to much of it. The belief that we don’t have a free will has also its downsides. Perhaps your bills don’t get paid. This causes also a lot of trouble.

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