TED Conversations

Joshua  Beers

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If I had 100% of your genes and 100% of your environmental experience I would be you.

I think that this statement is completely accurate. Do you agree?
Yes? No? Why? Why Not?

The repercussions seem obvious. It's the classic question: Do we really have free will?

In my personal opinion, however alluring "free will" is as a subject of belief, it doesn't exist in any form. Every decision we make, from important to mundane, can be either attributed to genes or environment. What other factor is there? A soul? Did we get to choose that? From my standpoint, I don't see how this CANNOT rule out arguments free will.

As a side note, compatibilists may argue that "choice" IS making decisions based on the given "will" but I would ask them to elaborate. Is that really freedom at all? "Of course we have free will, we have no choice in the matter."


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    May 9 2011: Joshua, it would be helpful if you were to tell us what you mean by environment.
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      May 9 2011: Completely my bad Thomas, I'm sorry. I would say that environment is more or less life context, whether that be broad things like time, place, etc or smaller things like overhearing a conversation, seeing an ant on the floor, etc. Perhaps it would be more accurate to define it as "environmental experience" because that articulates the gravity of it...?
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        May 10 2011: What of thought then? Is thought a part of environment or something that may be effected by environment?
        • May 10 2011: I was under the impression that the "environment" includes every physical process and ounce of matter besides our genes.
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          May 10 2011: @Thomas, Yeah I think that thought is just the response to environment (/genes)..and then it just compounds on itself...

          @Austin, I mean for all intensive purposes I would agree
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        May 11 2011: @Joshua, I must disagree with this, there is choice when it comes down to it. Thought is a response to energy, ideals be they internal, external, or extraternal. Some thoughts are simply responses to thinking.

        What of the decisions that have to be made where that equal inputs and researches have been made for all opposing solutions? We are in a nearly constant state of decision making. With the shear numbers of different decisions made in a lifetime there are bound to be some equally balanced decisions. Then to mention the cumulative decisions made by all the people, even if everyone doesn't get an balanced decision a few will.
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          May 11 2011: "Some thoughts are simply responses to thinking."...This is why I said that "it just compounds on itself"...the determination plays on itself...its a domino effect, one effects the other, and another, etc.....but there is a start point, and it's far from random.

          So thinking/thought is the "unbiased source"? To me it can't be. It has to be influenced by something, that seems like common sense...So if its not environment/genes, what's the influence? You say "energy"...what do you mean by that, it seems vague.

          I agree, that there is a perception that we are in constant decision making "mode" But what is "equally balanced decisions'??? do you mean choices in which we are 50-50 split in our preferences???? I would argue that there can never be a decision that comes of a choice in which there was a pure 50-50 preference (even if its the most slight preference imaginable, you can't have a decision from a pure 50-50).
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        May 11 2011: 'By equally balanced decisions' I mean the decisions that have equal argument in favor of or against them. So a pure 50%/50%, or 33.3%/33.3%/33.3%. While odds are they won't happen often, they will happen. For instance if you have decided to get some pizza and you like the pizza from the place on main st. best but the place on holland is much closer and it's already late. You generally will go with the place on main due to preference but the time it takes to get there would be cutting it close to when you need it. This situation played out enough will reach an equilibrium of sorts where that there is no difference between the decisions cumulative reasonings. There are around 7 billion people alive today, with all those making many decisions everyday, not to mention all people that came before. Although it my even be rare there is instance for free choice.
        • May 12 2011: "So a pure 50%/50%, or 33.3%/33.3%/33.3%."

          But just because something has a 50/50 chance of happening does not mean there is any less predictability or causation responsible for the result. For example, both sides of a coin have a 50% chance of landing on either side, but this probability is just in theory-- it does not take into consideration environmental factors such as the specific location of the coin in the person's hand who is going to flip it. Probability gives theoretical percentages, they do not change the fact that the outcomes are predictable when they are applied to each specific situation.
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          May 12 2011: @Thomas, I agree with Austin. And I hope you aren't offended if I say that, in my opinion of course, you have a bizarre outlook on what free will is. From my understanding, you are making the contention that choices can be determined, but in the rare case that choices are equally favoured it becomes an absolute random affair. But I would argue that if there ever is a PURE 50/50 split, there would be no action taken, that AS LONG AS THERE IS A DECISION, there could not have been a 50/50....(there could be a 50.1/49.9). And I will echo Austin and agree that "just because something has a 50/50 chance of happening does not mean there is any less predictability or causation responsible for the result." In my opinion, this is very well put, for it gets at what seems to be the core of your argument.
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        May 12 2011: When I say the equal decision I do mean equal in all aspects. So not only is the chance of happening balanced but the influences are also balanced.

        When this situation comes about you think that the decision is to move on to another decision without making a choice? "If you chose not to decide you still have made a choice"

        This outlook may seem bizarre but free will does exist.
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          May 13 2011: Thomas, I guess we will have to agree to disagree, because I see things differently at a fundamental level. To me, there can never be a CHOICE that is "equal in all aspects" let alone a DECISION that is "equal in all aspects (how does the latter make any sense?...if you've made a decision how could it's factors be equal?) I guess you are saying that what makes it unequal is the "random variable", while I maintain that such a thing defy's logic, that the choice had a preference, no matter how small. Regardless we both seem to agree that there is always a choice made, so there always had to be an inequality somewhere....

          But even if you were correct, I think you still have quiet a ways to go before you label such a "random variable", typical "free will." What you describe seems to be miles away from the cognitive, intellectual freedom often implied in the definition. At the very least, it seems you would have to concede that you are at a loss of true control in your life.
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        May 13 2011: Agree to disagree indeed. This is a very interesting conversation though.

        My view on life may be somewhat different to the main stream. I consider the multiverse as a way in which free will has reign. I can choose to enter different parallels that better suite my wants. Random occurrences are oft the gateway to a parallel.
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          May 14 2011: Hey, sometimes agreeing to disagree is all you can do! I thoroughly respect your position (even though I strongly disagree), and I really appreciate your participation in the conversation (and consequently having to deal with my tedious questioning!)

          I'll be honest and say, I haven't the slightest clue what you talked about at the end there...
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        May 14 2011: Yes, that end bit is a whole other conversation.

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