Is Your Free Will a Delusion?

Written by on September 26, 2015 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living, Thrive with 37 Comments
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By Marcus T. Anthony, PhD

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Do human beings have free will? Can people actually make decisions of their own accord, or are they just robots mindlessly responding to the brain and the world around them? Most people assume they can make independent choices, but you might be surprised to learn that the dominant position in modern cognitive science is that there is no free will.

There are so many philosophical issues with the idea of free will that one could spend many hours going through them all. I will just note a few in this post. I will refer to two fascinating experiments which are important to the discussion.


The Libet experiment

The most famous experiment regarding human free will was conducted by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet. Libet and his team measured changes in the brain and the timing of ‘choices’.

Libet investigated what happened when people made ‘conscious’ choices. He measured the electrical activity of subjects’ brains by via electroencephalograph (EEG), with small electrodes placed on the surface of the head. The subjects were asked to flex one of their fingers or push a button whenever they felt like doing so. They also had to state when they ‘decided’ to do so. The surprising finding was that the conscious decision occurred about 200 milliseconds before the finger movement. But most crucially, electrical changes began in the brain about 300 milliseconds before any conscious decision was made. Many scientists use this experiment – or similar ones – to conclude that there is no free will because the brain changes first and then conscious awareness comes about a third of a second later. Therefore, it is concluded, the brain causes the ‘decision’, not free will.

Related Article: Do Premonitions Negate Free Will? Time to Create a New Paradigm

A little philosophy

Of course the conclusion that there is no free will leads to a whole heap of paradoxes and problems.

Even scientists who believe they have no free continue to act as if they do. Sheldrake makes this point, too. For example, they continue to hold meetings to decide how to attract funding for their desired research projects. If they truly believed that everyone’s brains are making all these choices, and that those handing out the funding have no free will, why bother having the meetings in the first place?

The same scientists will continue to write papers, book, blog posts, magazine articles with the implicit assumption that they are choosing to do this – and that they can influence the opinions of others. ‘They’ – or at least their brains – will sometimes even get annoyed with the brains of people who have the audacity to claim that they have free will. But why have the debate in the first place, or get annoyed about it if nobody has any choice in proceedings, and their opinions have been decided by their brains?


There is also the obvious paradox that we are supposed to believe that we have no power to change our thinking or actions, yet our entire society spends millions of dollars attempting to manipulate perception and the choices that follow from it. Advertisers, government policy makers, educational administrators, CEOs and even torturers are all trying to change the way people think or feel. As a long time school teacher who has taught students of all ages from pre-school to university, I know that even small children can be masters of manipulating adults, using charm to ‘put it over’ them.

So we are expected to believe that we can readily influence other people’s choices, but not our own? How does a creature with no free will come to the ‘decision’ to try to change the way someone else thinks?

We all make regular choices with the implicit objective of influencing our own behavior and feelings. Why would you bother to decorate your house in aesthetically pleasing colours if you cannot influence the way that your environment affects you? You might as well just slump in the corner and vegetate. But even that would require a decision.

Related Article: Study Shows Even Earthworms Have Free Will

We can also influence our mental structures, and even autonomic processes like heart rate. Yogis can even slow down their respiratory systems to minimal activity. A prime function of meditation is for the student to gain better control of mental processes, and develop the right relationship with the body and the mind. This is clear evidence that conscious choice can influence the body and brain. This should not be possible if there is no free will. One could argue that it is the brain that is telling itself to relax and breathe deeply. But again, we get into semantics. It seems that the idea of ‘brain’ has simply replaced ‘mind, with the same implicit meaning.

Finally, no matter how many correlations one finds between action and mental activity, in the end the science is merely descriptive.

There isn’t any way around it. We make choices all the time, even if we don’t believe that we are.

Sheldrake and time

In his wonderful book The Science Delusion, biologist Rupert Sheldrake discusses this issue of free will and comes to the same conclusion that I do – namely that even though the choices we make are subject to a whole range of factors that are wholly or partly out of immediate awareness, we are perfectly capable of making conscious choices. There is no contradiction.

Interestingly, even Benjamin Libet believed that there is a place for free will, stating that in the 200 milliseconds between conscious awareness of a ‘choice’ and the action taken, the individual can actually change the decision. Sheldrake writes:

“This conscious decision depended on what Libet called a ‘conscious mental field’ (CMF), which emerged from brain activities but was not itself physically determined by them. The CMF acted on the activities of the brain, perhaps by influencing otherwise random or indeterminate events in the nerve cells. This field also helped integrate the activities of different parts of the brain and had the property of ‘referring back’ subjective experiences, and thus worked backwards in time. The CMF would unify the experience generated by the many neural units. It would also be able to affect certain neural activities and form a basis for conscious will. The CMF would be a new ‘natural’ field. It would be a non-physical field, in the sense that it could not be directly observed or measured by any external physical means. That attribute is, of course, the well-known feature of conscious subjective experience, which is only accessible to the individual having that experience.”

The most interesting thing for me about Sheldrake’s take on these experiments is that he makes the same point I often have, and that is that consciousness is not localised, and that time is not linear. Logic is only as sound as the solidity of the premises which underpin it. Science is only as good as the presuppositions which scientists take with them as they go about their work.

Related Article: Free Will: A Guide To Conscious Being

Time can work backwards as well as forwards. While this may seem even more incredible than the idea that no free will exists, it is perfectly consistent with my own mental experience, as well as reports of human experience going back as far as human beings have recorded history.

The idea that the brain records stimuli before they happen has evidential support from scientific experiments. In these experiments subjects are tested for physical and neurological responses, after being exposed to randomly presented stimuli.

One such experiment was carried out in the 1990s by parapsychologist Dean Radin and his colleagues. Photographs were randomly shown to people. Some of the photos were of a peaceful or neutral nature, while others had deliberately shocking or arousing content such as corpses being autopsied or sexual content. Radin’s team measured changes in the skin resistance of the subjects with electrodes attached to fingers. People’s emotional state are reflected in the electrodermal activity of the sweat glands. Significantly, in Radin’s experiments, changes were detected three or four seconds before the emotional images were shown.

Sheldrake argues that mental causation, unlike physical causation, works from the future towards the past, and points out that ”the materialist interpretation of Libet’s finding assumes that causation works in only one direction, from the past towards the future.” He notes that if mental causation works in the opposite direction, then “the conscious choice could trigger the readiness potential.”

It is clear to me that human beings have free will. It is one of the defining characteristics of our species at this time in human consciousness development. Human intention is like a attractor in physics, pulling information into it from pasts and futures. For those who wish to live a mindful life, the key is to bring awareness to the moment of the decision, and to then choose wisely and joyfully.

Marcus

 

Reference

Sheldrake, Rupert (2012-01-05). The Science Delusion. Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.

Marcus Anthony

 

Marcus T Anthony, PhD is the author of ten books about human awakening, including Discover Your Soul Template. He is also a life coach and teacher of profound intuition. His web site is www.mind-futures.co

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  1. 10205670694704671@facebook.com' Dave Kenney says:

    it is not … it may be a delusion to deny it, or lead to one ..!

  2. 1052564514754769@facebook.com' Daniel George says:

    I’m not surprised, as I am aware of this belief, but I mostly disagree with it. There are circumstances where free will is limited, and there are times when we think that we are choosing but are just following a program. That said, there are enough times when most people have free will. Granted, some people seem to have less than others.

  3. 536521023168838@facebook.com' Andrej Capin says:

    isekla se na zicu

  4. 1713297198893670@facebook.com' Martin Lee says:

    ……Free Will…..?????? 🙂

  5. 409782735883183@facebook.com' Marsha Creary says:

    I learned this phrasing at Boystown
    “The illusion of choice”

  6. 487334698089087@facebook.com' Michael Contreras says:

    bullshit! you always have a choice its up to you to make it!

  7. 1490503114577566@facebook.com' Javed Hider says:

    The choice is always to be considered by you but not the control. Somehow we are trapped in delusional state or let’s call it samsara which is another level of illusion.

  8. 10152950758831207@facebook.com' Accardianca Bianco Hughman says:

    This is great for finally being recognised but has anyone given consideration how to free it? 🙂

  9. 729770580500756@facebook.com' William Novello says:

    Alexandros Luis Campos

  10. 1182078438486462@facebook.com' Liz Richartz says:

    In the system we live in, we have manufactured consent (see Noam Chomsky for example) There is free will but it is more or less dangerous depending on which part of the world you live in. When you truely become aware of what a farce we are living in…you may have to make the choice of do or die. As in, “my free choice means leaving the system, becoming a menace to society and becoming a victim. What to do?

  11. 911947698870339@facebook.com' Johanna Busher says:

    Free will without a choice

  12. 938131019593353@facebook.com' Ryan Barr says:

    Just follow your heart, follow love and everything else shall fall in place.

  13. 954383667936792@facebook.com' Darren Walshe says:

    We are sheep to all the adverts, TV, fashion of all sorts we are programed, hypnotised all the time

  14. 10152908235725044@facebook.com' Justin Patch says:

    Not in a million years.

  15. 896875913727995@facebook.com' Karama Bora says:

    { ( Free ) }

  16. 1691305581101993@facebook.com' Helmut Harnischmacher says:

    What Idiot doesn’t know that,if we had free Will there would be more than 7 billion of us and growing at an other 100Million a Year! Even the so called holyFather said don’t breed like Rabbits,but what is he doing about it,how about investing in Birth Control and modern Education, Talk is cheap, I am good at that too,

  17. 1626070434339302@facebook.com' Jason H. West says:

    I’m working on it. Get off my ass.

  18. 511624845672113@facebook.com' Lee Shean says:

    You have a free will to make choices and your life to date is the accumulation of the choices you have made !

  19. 10208140674541609@facebook.com' Mindy L. Studley says:

    Right?

  20. 10203579329643906@facebook.com' Vincent Tan says:

    Technologically EnSlaved… ByThe Clock Of God… (Y) CLN… TTT-Challenge…

  21. 1644586239113678@facebook.com' Leo Cooper says:

    Nice to see some thing of Rupert Sheldrake, God’s speed (y)

  22. tankgirlkaz@gmail.com' Kaz says:

    I love this quandary!!! Free will is a choice but then do we have no choice to have choice!!!!

  23. tankgirlkaz@gmail.com' Kaz says:

    Is Delusion and idiosyncratic belief even if it can be disproved? As you cannot disprove the free will theory would it not be an illusion that could be a misidentifcation or the delusion. A padded cell dweller is known to be delusional and to make up reality to fit their axiom but with choice of illusion you can shift the paradigm to fit a theory that works for you!??????
    I am asking a question with the above statement not making an assumption, although I could make it my axiom as self evidence is important to creative thinking which leads us back to the choice of choice!!!

  24. 10153752138198083@facebook.com' Joan Cuylaerts says:

    NO

  25. 876079722468674@facebook.com' Bayo Dania says:

    THERE IS NOTHING LIKE FREE WILL. THERE IS NATURE, NURTURE AND ENVIROMENT. THESE THREE DETERMINE OUR ACTIONS AND INACTION.

  26. 911718478895101@facebook.com' David Bailey says:

    ever think is an illusion

  27. 10154235470224202@facebook.com' Jen Strauss says:

    We do not have free will, at all. Then end.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Only for a few seconds if you concentrate on it, other wise you are controlled by age old “Suggestion” which has a evolutionary ability of its own. Humans has a brain thet can think abstract, which is a breeding ground for suggestion.

  29. 10156097060200321@facebook.com' James Heymans Randall says:

    if one can choose to opt out of the reproductive success requirement for life, I would have to suggest that we do indeed have free will

  30. 10153100254165922@facebook.com' Robert Smith says:

    we have free will but it is limited !!

  31. 1500247503625029@facebook.com' Taj Tal says:

    “Man’s freedom lies in being able to maintain the
    equilibrium in all of creation, to sustain it and balance it
    “standing on one foot.”
    On the right side of the scale is the Nature’s force of bestowal.
    On the left side of the scale is the Nature’s force of reception.
    These are direct and opposite sides;
    the holy and evil forces. And if a person
    can balance himself in between them, he
    is given the freedom of will from the influence of both and
    can thereby express his free choice.”
    https://www.kabbalah.info/files/public/Files/kabbalah-info/qa/michael-laitman_kabbalah-on-free-will.pdf <3

  32. 10153045011840443@facebook.com' Manisha SG says:

    Gautam Sachdeva

  33. 883124018432119@facebook.com' Rob Fragomeni says:

    I think people make independent choices all of the time! It’s who they involve in their lives that it ends up affecting. Free will is everywhere as long as you use it within your own life. It’s not so free when you use it and drag someone else with you.

  34. 178839599117757@facebook.com' Kenneth D Smith says:

    Nova text check the grid!

  35. 10155924829940346@facebook.com' Spencer James Smith says:

    Bull crap.

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