Free Will … Maybe — Part 2.3

Why you should never say "Bite me!" to Bear Grylls

So: Most of you is not even you. It’s something else, something beastly. Beastly in physical nature, but also beastly in mind. Run by hormones, urges, biologically programmed mandates … just as every other animal is.

Where does that leave us in a quest for Free Will?

Well, it leaves us still looking, doesn’t it? And not a lot of hope in the search. If we’re 99 percent animals — fucking and fighting, eating and shitting, birthing our befurred primate infants and suckling them on beastly milk-faucets little different from those of cows (ladies and gentlemen, I’m exaggerating for effect here), living a little while and then dying dead — that doesn’t give much hope of finding within us this otherworldly and evolutionarily-sudden desirable trait, does it?

If most of you is animal, and if THEY don’t have Free Will, what hope is there of seeing yourself honestly as anything more than a meat machine?

If you back up even farther and consider the underlying biochemistry of the matter, and then the underlying physics of the matter, you pretty much have to flush Free Will out of the picture. There’s no room for it. Face it: We’re machines made out of meat – sloppy pumps and tubes and bioelectrical circuits – and there is nothing extra. No possibility of extra.

(Oh well, unless you’re religious, and then there’s all kinds of room to imagine such stuff. We can live after death, fly with white feathered wings, walk around with golden rings floating above our heads. Slip through walls, communicate with ghostly telepathy, see without physical eyes, think without physical brains, simultaneously possess a shell-body of  embalmed, rotting flesh and a freed, ghostly one of pure energy, on and on. But come on, you might as well say ANYTHING.)

We do not have Free Will. We are robots that operate in a universe of strict physical laws, where everything real and material arises from something else real and material, operating by known rules that admit of no exceptions.

IF, that is …

IF you define Free Will in terms of physics.

But it has seemed to me, from my earliest grapplings with the question when I was about 13, that you cannot use such a definition.

Practically the first argument I heard on the subject was “If you can’t flap your arms and fly, you don’t have Free Will.”

If Free Will means “the ability to flout basic laws of physics on a momentary personal whim,” it means nothing at all. You can’t even talk about the subject, except in self-defeating, air-wasting circular arguments.

On the other hand, if it IS a subject worth thinking about and discussing – and it seems to have bubbled up in my life every few years, so apparently some of us think it is – it has to mean something else.

Here’s what I think that something else is.

[ Continued ]

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  • Beth

    Why aren’t animals considered to have free will? That always struck me as right up there with the assumption that animals don’t go to heaven – entirely dependent on how you define heaven/free will.

    As far as most of you not being you, I like how Dawkins put it:

    “You are not the stuff of which you are made.”
    Richard Dawkins, July 2005, 10:45

  • tmaxPA

    The Quest is (or should not be) for Free Will, but rather for Self-Determination. Which works a lot like Free Will only it isn’t contrary to the laws of physics. Mostly it is just a refutation of the dualism you invoke in your opening. The whole thing is you. Rather than drawing a line between the things you know you don’t control (hormones, neurobiology, et. al,) and the things you think you do control (nothing but your “will”) you should draw it between things you don’t control (everything) and things you do control (how you feel about that.) No, you don’t really control how you feel about not controlling anything. But you can talk as if you do, and that is called “self-determination”.

    • tmaxPA

      Sorry. Out of the gate and nonsensical due to lack of proofreading. The first line should be: “The Quest is NOT for (or should not be for) Free Will, but rather Self-Determination.”