Free Will (y…)

Couldn’t help myself with that one. No, it is not a call to walk the streets unfettered by coverings of the groin. Nor is it a free plug for the whale movie. 

Free Will is apparently something that occupies an enormous amount of global philosophical pondering-time. And so it should. 

Are our actions (pre)determined or do we exercise some form of free will? 

It is a very good question, actually. The Big 3 religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) all try one way or another to convince the world that there is a big, benevolent God at work and that this deity is powerful and interested enough to know all that was, all that is and all that will be, as well as being the director of all those all’s (i’m going to call that “determinism”). The problem is that the vagaries of the human condition do not lend themselves to the thought that anyone is really in control. Hence, theologians have introduced the concept of “Free Will”, which helps get God off the hook for being responsible for all the inappropriate things that we do and all of the nasty bits that happen to we mere mortals. 

i am being terribly superficial in these comments but that is important if we are going to have any hope of keeping me on track with what i am thinking. (apart from a small aside about the free will and God business… it is a fairly circular argument to suggest that a God gives humans free will and allows them to decide how to operate within and treat the created world, and if it is not circular then it is a particularly horrible form of operating your creation). 

You see, it is free will that either provides us with an ability to have any control over our thoughts or actions or our actions are predetermined by some process or force.  

We do not need a deity to find some form of predetermination. Here is a small sample of the kind of things that could determine our thoughts or actions: 

  •  Being born. The birth process is a fairly torrid time, and would bring with it our earliest (ex-womb) action/reaction reflexes. We do/don’t like cold, wet, hot, closeness, rough clothing, soft textures. Our reactions are fairly basic but  we already are adding to the pre-set list of triggers for determining how we act in set circumstances.  Childhood experiences. Colours, smells, touch, tastes, fears, happiness and excitement all build an experience bank of input combined with actions/reactions. This is compounded by memory and perception. All is not what it seems in the world and what we think we see or remember may not correspond with what the actual set of circumstances are. Society will impose its list of do’s and do not’s upon us. Customs and expectations will be learned, taught or inflicted. 
  • Language will straightjacket our thinking, imposing yet more guidelines on how we perceive the world and our ability to interpret our place in it. 
  • Gender will mix with all of the previous points to bring about yet more “obligatory” perspectives and thought/activity standards. 
  • The need to comply with society requirements to obtain sufficient basic living needs (in our society money and all that it brings, status, friendship and love) will further narrow our thought/activity options.  The human need for entertainment of the mind drives us to seek activities that are inevitably structured or designed by someone or something else. Again, we are not “deciding” here, we are simply participating. 

The list just gets bigger.  


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