Free Will

Question 1

Do we have a free will ?

Question 2

What is the definition of free will ?

Question 3

Give an example of our free will. Give also an example that does not show our free will.

Question 4

Do you agree with the sentence: Our free will is an illusion ?

Question 5

What are the greatest problems which each discussion about free will ?.

Question 6

What are the most important reasons which one gives that humans have no free will.


For many years people have discussions about "free will". The discussion comes from two directions, from the philosophical corner and from science. Here I try to come to one point of view.

Answer question 1

You cannot answer this question with out first answering the question What is Free will. See Question 2. In my opinion the answer is Yes.
A free will quarantees our responsability. That does not mean that our free will is always the same. You can manipulate free will, your capabilities to make decisions.

Answer question 2

Free will is part of our brain activities. Those activities consist of processing information received by our senses. Free will has a strong link to our consciousness.
The defintion of free will is our capability of each human being self, independent, to make choices and decisions, starting from information in our brains.

Answer question 3

  1. The best example which shows that humans have a free will is the following:
    I have a bag filled with balls, which all have the same size. You can not see the induvidual balls. Go with your hands in the bag and feel the balls. Task: Select one ball at random.
    If you perform this experiment multiple times you will see that each ball will be selected almost the same number of times.
  2. Question: Select a number between 1 and 10
    If you perform this test many times you will find out if each number will be selected equal.
  3. You start with 10 books, of which you do not know who is the writer. Question: Read them all and put the books in the order of which you find the best.
  4. Question to a class with children: Who has a Question, it does not matter about which subject.
    And if there a question you continue with: Who thinks he knows the answer ? It does not matter if it is the wrong answer.
    It is the intention with this question to stimulate free will.
Three examples in which there is less or no question of free will.
  1. How much is 2+2 ?
  2. Which number comes after: 1,2,3,5,7,11,13 ?
    There is only one correct answer and that is 17, because 17 is the next prime number. Also here you have no choice.
  3. Question to a class with children: Who has a good Question
    And if there a question you continue with: Who knows the correct answer ?
    There is a high chance that this question and answer session will be short.
With a mathematical question, there is no free will involved, because the answer is ambigous; there is no choice possible.

Answer question 4

There are two problems with this question:
  1. that this sentence is logical inconsistant. In fact you say that "something" what is (supposed to be) true, is not true.
  2. what that "something" is, is not clear.
The following sentence is logical consistant:
Albert Einsten, Isaac Newton and Pierre Simon Laplace are very clever people. The idea that "You" think that "you" are as smart is an illusion. With different words: is not true. (With "You" meaning one specific person)
The reason why this sentence is correct, is because one first start with a definition (which is true) and after that shows that in certain cases that that is not true. With the sentence: "Our Free is an illusion" you do not have this subdivision.
Again one more example:
Orange tomato are an illusion.
This sentence is clear but wrong. Tomato exists and there normal colar is red, but there are also orange tomato . That means orange tomato are no illusion.

Answer question 5

The most important reason why most discussions about free will are so difficult are:
  1. because one does not start with a clear defintion of free will
  2. in order to explain free will aditional concepts are introduced like for example Determinism (See answer on question 6) which defition is also not clear.
  3. besides that aditional concepts are introduced which also have nothing to which human behaviou like Quantum Mechanics.
  4. If you start from the idea that we do not have a free will does than each discussion becomes extremely difficult, because how is it than possible to define free will ? (That is not possible because you do not have one)

Answer question 6

The most important reason which one uses to explain "Free will" is the concept of Determinism, which claims that all happens accordingly to certain laws. One of those laws are Newton Laws, If you start from the idea that all happens accordingly to laws, then there is no place for free will.
The second law that one uses is the concept action is reaction. If you use that law in extreme all in the present is determined in the past by a string of events. Also here there is no place for free will.

Humans have the capabilities to describe what he sees in the form of text. At one side these are things that are static and do not change, but at the other side and much more important are the things that are subject to change, of the processes that exist in nature around us and that happen in the total world.
It are those descriptions ( of mostly stable processes) in mathematical form, which we call laws. It wil be clear immediatly that we can not describe all in mathematical laws. As such we can describe the paths of the planets by for example Newton's Law but not the initial conditions, that means the positions at a certain moment.
The same is true for the complete human being. You can describe a human by means of text (more often it is easier to make a drawing) but not by means of mathematical eqautions ie. laws. That is true for our brains , our consciousness, our understanding, eand our free will. Al those issues have nothing to do with mathematics and mathematics does not say anything about this. The only thing that is regular is that everyone has brains, consciousness, understanding and a free will. But that is only it.

Literature and comments

  1. "Free will" in Wikipedia
    This article should explain "Free will" for the layman and starts with the following text:
    (1) The question of free will is whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions and decisions. (2) Addressing this question requires understanding the relationship between freedom and cause, and determining whether the laws of nature are causally deterministic.
    When I read those sentences many questions pop freely up in my mind:
    1. Why does one start with those difficult sentences in order to explain the concept of "Free will"?
    2. Why does one not use simple words ? Is it so difficult to explain "Free will" ? (I expect for the many writers yes)
    3. Why does one use words like "rational agents", "Control", "freedom" "the laws of nature" and "deterministic". Each of those words require an explanation.
    4. Why does one not start with the current defition of free will ? Apperently there is none.
    5. The laws of nature have nothing to do with our free will. The same the with concept of determinism. See question 6.

    A little bit lower is written:

    According to McKenna (2004), neither determinism nor its opposite, non-determinism, are positions in the debate about free will
    And read: "Compatibilism" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    In that article we read:
    Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem. This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism.

    Why introducing a new concept when both earlier concepts are not clear ?

    If you want to read more about this subject go to : Determinism and Deterministic

  2. Neuroscientist against lawyers
    In the NRC article (in Dutch): 2007.12.29 - Neuroscientist against lawyers? is written:
    (1) At the present suggestions are made that increasing knowledge about the fuctioning of the brain, one of which is the influence of the genes, should cause problem in crimal law. (2a) When it is possible, using scientific methods, to establish that certain behaviour would follow from physical aptitude of the offender , (2b) than the supposition of "Free will" would be untenable. (3) As a consequence, the idea to reproach the offender and inturn to justify punishment, would be refuted. etc. (4) Even if one would start from complete determinism, criminal law keeps its function and justification. etc. (5) The question of Free will as such is legal irrelevant.
    Sentence 1 is in principle possible. There can be a link between our genes and our behaviour.
    Sentence 2a is also correct but the consequence as written in sentence 2b is much too strong. A better description would be: "Than this could also have consequences for your Free will". Unfortunately there is no defition of Free will. (Sentence 2b starts from the idea that humans in principle have a Free will ) Sentence 3 is only important if you start from the premises that humans have no Free will, only than can you say that someone is not responsable for his deeds. Sentence 4 it is not necessary to take deteminsm into consideration. Sentence 5 is completly irrelevant. The issue is if your behaviour, controlled by your genes, has any legal consequences. To answer that question it is not necessary to introduce Free will.

  3. Do you want to read this? and Free will without a soul
    In the NRC article (In Dutch): 2008.07.05 - Do you want to read this? - in NRC of 5-6 July by Niki Korteweg. She writes:
    There exists a way to decide how consious your decisions are. That is as follows. There are two buttons, one under each forefinger. You may select yourself which one you will press and also when. etc
    Such was the task who John-Dylan Haynes and his fellowworkers from the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin asked the persons as experiments in the fMRI-hersenscanner. enz.
    Seven seconds before the decisions consious was executed, the researchers allready saw brain activities who predicted which button would be selected, they wrote in Nature Neuroscience.
    The problem is that those tests nothing have to do if humans have a "Free will" or if they don't have. Such a test only says something about your reaction speed.

    A little further on is written:

    (1) She (Susan Blackmore) decided twenty years ago to live without a free will. (2) In daily life people mean with Free will: (2a) that I consious decide something to do, (2b) not because my brain tells me, (2c) or the world, (2d) but because I myself decide to do something, (2e) without any other reason. <3> And that is an illusion.
    Sentence 1: If "Free will" is an illusion, how is it than possible to live without a Free will ? The parts 2a and 2d describe the same, namely that I myself decide something and that decision you take with your brains (part 2b). But what is now the illusion. What is now not true and what is true.
    A little below is written:
    (1) Everything what happens, happens because of earlier events, happens by other circumstances and random circumstances. (2) Not as results of our consciousness. (3) It feels as a free decision, (3a) but decisions are caused by many factors that did happen before.(4) She mentiones education, surroundings, etc.
    With sentence 1 you should add: and humans play an active role in this process. Sentence 2 does not say too much. The subject is not our consciousness. With sentence 3 you should add the word "partly". Sentence 3 should be: "Decisions are partly influenced by factors over which we have no direct control." Besides that there exists still a large area to make free decisions.
    A litle futher is written:
    (1)I (Blackmore) am used by the idea that decissions are taken by itself. (2) Blackmore does not asks herself, when she studies the menu in a restaurant, what she wants, but she is curiuos what her brains will select.
    Sentence 1 is wrong. Decisions (making choices) do not happen by it self. Sentence 2 is also wrong. Your brain does not make choices. You make choices yourself, conscious with your brain.
  4. Karel Soudijn and free will
    In this article is written:
    (1) The definition of "Free will" is the capability to make decisions which in no way are decided by factors which are outside your control. (2) As such Free will hides itself from natural law. (3) The result is that the concept of Free will is outside the area of science (4) Because science starts from the idea that all is controlled by laws.(5) If psychologist want to take there science seriously, etc than they have to deny "Free will".
    The problem with sentence 1 is that this is a very narrow definition. Free will is about the capability to make choices and decissions, but that does not mean that if one choice disappears that than also you do not have a Free will any longer, because there are still other choices. You also have to be carefull with such a reasoning. If an astronoom wants to observe the stars and it is a clear sky than he can select any one with his Free will. Suppose all of a suden clouds appear and he can not see the stars any longer, does that mean thta all of a sudden he has no Free will any more ? Sentence 2 is correct: "Free will has nothing to do with laws". But what has this to do with sentence 1 ? Nothing.
    Sentence 3 is correct, except the word result. Free will is outside the area of physical science.
    Sentence 4 is simple not true. Science does not start that all is controlled by laws. Science searches if "all" can be described by (mathematical) laws. In fact it turns out that only a small part of the physical reality can be described by laws
    The conclusion of sentence 5 is IMO completely wrong
  5. The Illusion of Conscious Will By Daniel M. Wegner
    if this link does not work go to Google Book Search and search for: "The Illusion of Conscious Will By Daniel M. Wegner"
    At page 3 of that book is written:
    “1. Conscious will is usually understood in one of two major ways. 2. It is common to talk about conscious will as something that is experienced when we perform an action - actions feel willed or not, and this feeling of voluntariness or doing a thing “on purpuse” is an indication of conscious will. 3. It is also common, however, to speak of conscious will as a force of mind, a name for the casual link between our minds and our actions. 4. One might assume that the experience of consciously willing an action and the causation of the of the action by the person’s consciuos mind are the same thing. 5. As it turns out, however, they are entirely distinct and the tendency to confuse them is the source of the illusion of the conscious will that this book is about.”
    Sententence 5 is the most important. This sentence shows the conclusion, which is that consciuos will is an illusion, but the way that the writer reaches that conclusion in my opinion is wrong. How can you starting from two defitions of the same concepts (those defitions are in the sentences 2 and 3) from one side say that those defitions are the same (sentence 4) and from the other side say that they are not (sentence 5) and than come to the conclusion that the whole concept is an illusion. This seems wrong to me. Why does the author not write one definition of "conscious will" that is true ? Or why does the author not immediate say that each of those two definitions is an illusion ?
  6. "Do we have a free will" door Keith Mayes
    This is a nice document, using simple language. Keith Mayes writes:
    I think we do have a free choice of actions. I do not think it possible that we are all following a pre-programmed course as laid down at the instant of the big bang. Could it have been predicted from those initial conditions that tonight I would go to Burger King, have a flamed grilled Whopper then go on to the cinema to watch Tomb Raider? I think not. However, we can't be certain.
    It just makes me a little uneasy that I can't prove it. You would think it a simple thing to prove, but how can you?
    The problem is you can not. You can not prove that you have a "Free will" nor that you do not. You also can not prove that "Free will is an illusion". In fact you can not prove any law. You can not prove Newton's Law. What you can is to show that Newton's Law is the best possible law (or even better General Relativity) in order describe the movement of the planets. You also can not prove determinism, nor the Big Bang. Laws are descriptions of the physcical reality. In a more general way de physical reality is described by Models and the simple one's we call laws. If you look in Literature you will see that many of those mathematical models are quite complex and that we find more and better models each day. You can only prove something within the mathematical environment. You can prove using mathematics what is the shortest distance between two lines. You can use that, together with Newton's Law, to find the shortest distance between two planets. If that result matches with observations than you have demonstrated that Newton's Law is a good and powerfull tool to describe the reality. That is all.
  7. Blog of figaro28 with 3 articles about Free will
    The three articles are:
    1. Unrest around Free will Ergens in deze discussie zegt figaro28:
      That humans have the capability to make decisions themselves is here issued as an proposition without any underpinning, and that is now the whole question at stake with "Free will"
    2. Two types of Free will
    3. Natural Science Point of view In reactie 2 zegt figaro28:
      The proposition that every human being has a free will, with as example the selection of a number, is in my eyes an opion without underpinning. The following sentences are no arguments: "In both cases are you completely free to make a selection" does not tell what makes me free, and "That part of your brains that makes this choice, contains also your "Free will"" does not tell me why this "Free will" free is. "
      It is a pity that figaro28 every time uses the words "without underpinning" as if he himself good underpins and clearly explains that the opposite true is.
      In reaction 4 figaro28 writes:
      I would have the feeling that selecting the number happens out of "Free will", but I think that this feeling is an illusion, because I think that my complete choice is decided by factors which are outside my influence.
      Ofcourse you can think that, but if I ask figaro28: which are those factors ? Than I get no answer.

      In reaction 4 figaro28 writes:

      All the time there is no underpin.
      I do not understand why all of a sudden you expect from me an example of "Free will", while I have hinted a couple of times that in my idea "free will" is an illusion.
      I accept that something in certain instances can be an illusion. But than that something has to be clear. However figaro28 (With many others) no clear definition what "Free will" is and than can you in my opinion not clearly explain that it is an illusion, nor the opposite.
  9. A Forum discussion in Nature About Free Will.

Personal Thoughts

Free will is a powerfull and rich subject and describes that we ourself, independent can decide and make choices. Ofcourse there are constraints. We can not always select all, but that does not mean we have no Free will. (and that all of a sudden Free will becomes an illusion). If I ask you to select a number in between 1 and 10, than you are not allowed to select a number greater than 10 (which is a constraint). But that fact has no influence on my Free will.
On the other side you can influence someones conduct and Free will by force and or by rules and by punisment if you do not follow those rules. The consequences can be a permanent change and that makes the study of our conduct and our Free will so important.

You can influence someone's "Free will". By saying that you can do everything and that it is easy you increase the number of choices. By saying that it is difficult and dangerous you decrease the number of choices.

What I see is that it is so difficult to find a clear defintion of Free will. You make it yourself difficult, if you immediate start by claiming that "free will is an illusion", because how can you describe something that is not true. We know all that a complete free world in which everyone can do all what he wants is an illusion, because there have to be rules. Tasks have to divided among us. Traffic from the right has the right of way. That does not mean that all of a sudden we have no Free will. That would go to far.

In the discussion about Determinism and Deterministic I explain that I was already busy with the subject "Free will "when I was roughly 10 years of age. Ofcourse there was a reason why I started to think about this subject. The raeson was people, who discussed this subject and the common point of view was that the world is deterministic and that we have no "Free will". I was only listening and thinking.
There could be different out comes out of this thought process:

I used my "Free will" and I selected the last choice as my point of view.

I live in a Free country where I can express my "Free will". I hope that your situation is the same.



Created: 1 August 2008
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