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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 24 2011: I think meditation only appears to cause a dilemma. The same logic can be applied with Harris' thought experiment...

      "Imagine that a mad scientist has developed a means of controlling the human brain at a distance. What would it be like to watch him send a person to and fro on the wings of her “will”? Would there be even the slightest temptation to impute freedom to her? No. But this mad scientist is nothing more than causal determinism personified. What makes his existence so inimical to our notion of free will is that when we imagine him lurking behind a person’s thoughts and actions—tweaking electrical potentials, manufacturing neurotransmitters, regulating genes, etc.—we cannot help but let our notions of freedom and responsibility travel up the puppet’s strings to the hand that controls them."

      -From Sam Harris' "Free Will (And Why You Still Don't Have It)."

      Now imagine that the mad scientist forces you to meditate. This is no different than any other act he may make you perform, against your own "volition."
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          Jul 4 2011: Thanks for replying Jim, I always look forward to what you have to share!

          Do we have control over our subconscious? Can I make decisions with my subconscious? I don't think we can. What I think we can do is struggle with our perception of consciousnesses.

          This is is where I disagree with Dennett as to what consciousness "is." I believe consciousness to be nothing more than an illusion as well, brought about by a sophisticated and complex blob of neural networks. Sam Harris probably shares this same view as well, and thus why it is so easy for him to accept his determinism analogy. Like you said, the feedback loop of stimuli changes our behavior, so why invite free will to the party if he isn't needed?

          Thanks again Jim!
    • Jun 24 2011: I think that we have free will in the vein of "Free and independent choice; voluntary decision" but only to a certain extent. As humans we are bound to the constraints of our mind, intelligence, creativity, and decisions are all mental constructs and as such are limited by sheer cognitive ability. That said we can only have cognizance of that which we are capable of perceiving/understanding in our limited view of our surroundings.

      Our free will or ability to choose from available permutations of action/response is severely limited both by our intellectual and analytic skills as well as our ability to perceive said permutations or courses of action. Imagine a situation in which a person, let's call him John, comes across a relatively simple fork in his path. The fork has two visible branches, neither of which have any indication as to their destination or quality. John thinks that he has only two choices(technically all choices are available but they do not pertain to this example. ie: John decides to do the Macarena) if he wishes to proceed: the left fork, or the right. However there is an alternative which he cannot observe: an underground path leading directly to his destination. Does his lack of perception mean that he is fated to choose from only a fraction of the possible paths? Does his hand preference make him lean towards the side of his favored hand(as it do most) thus making him slave to innate bias from birth?

      Certainly both factors play a part but let's exclude the perception factor as that is somewhat more abstract. In the case of subconscious bias, either innate or learned, we are subservient. As people, we are automatically prefer our race to other races(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq1PDYB1G1U) no matter what we do to consciously counteract it, we have an unconscious preference. So, to a very real extent, we have a default leaning which may supersede any conscious decision, thus voiding "free will".

      Sorry if this comes off as a "wall of text"

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