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Do you believe we have true freewill?

I am curious to know if you believe we are more than just chemical and physical reactions in our brains.

What do you believe, and does that belief affect how you live and make decisions?

Edit: I have modified the question to allow for a more broad discussion on the general concept of freewill.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around the definition of the term "freewill". I have gathered some definitions from a few sources below to use:

"The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion"
Source: Google dictionary

"Free and independent choice; voluntary decision: You took on the responsibility of your own free will."
Source: Dictionary.com

Lets try to not get too caught up on the semantics. There has been some interesting discussions so far. I would like to summarize the main points on each side of this topic when I have time.


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  • Jun 17 2011: There is a very simple philosophical argument one can take to at least show that our choices are the results of circumstances beyond our control:
    1. actions are either impulsive [involuntary] or voluntary [rational]
    2. rational acts are an attempt to balance costs with benefits, and are thus based on available information
    3. available information derives either from involuntary exposure or voluntary enquiry
    4. voluntary enquiry is a rational choice
    5. premises 3 and 4 regress to that point where we, as childs, accesed information involuntarily only, as we were incapable of voluntary enquiry.
    6. Thus all choices are ultimately the result of something involuntary.

    Free will is a useful myth.
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      Jun 17 2011: Interesting.

      "6. Thus all choices are ultimately the result of something involuntary."

      Indeed, this is the reality of our choices. - Upon understanding this reality, do you not feel you have something that would be like "free will"? OR do you feel you are more wise to your own choices - I'll explain. Free will is the idea we have the absolute choice over absolute amount of decisions, roughly. True free will is impossible, but free will-like considerations should be made in my opinion, agreeing with your final statement fully.

      Do you feel you have a better "existential understanding" of the world, from understanding what you have dictated in response to this conversation?
      • Jun 17 2011: My feeling is that whether or not I recognise that ultimately my choices are not voluntary, the vast complexity of my mind is such that for all intents and purposes I should act as though I do choose. That in itself is the result of a work ethic others have inculcated in me, though, and possibly the simple fact that fatalism is evolutionarily untenable.

        If we accept that a person's behaviour is the result of the information available to them, then it follows that we should not concern ourselves with morally judging individuals but rather with morally judging behvaviours. If we hope to reduce the prevalence of a 'bad' behaviour, then we should identify what information is likely to move a person to this behaviour and what information is likely to move a person to eschew this behaviour, then minimise the social presence former while maximising the latter.

        Ethics becomes a strategic enterprise, whereby we calculate how best to engineer society according to our moral norms.
    • Jun 19 2011: I am not certain of your intention when you use 'myth'.

      I am in the midst of considering the TED talk concerning memes, so my interpretation of free will in in a state of flux. However I do not believe my decision to have a brew vs. a coffee is a useful interpretation of the standard arguments.

      Personally speaking only, whether I am able to demonstrate free will or not has very limited interest to me, especially when the topic revolves around the decision-making process. Whether I am engaged in the myth-enhancing process associated with being human is more engaging.

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