Free will?


I listened to a science podcast with a snippet from a norwegian scientist talking about fruit flies and humans. Fruit flies are driven by biology and instinct and have no free will, in contrast to us humans who have free will since we think and make choices.

It is easy to see this as a little naive. Why draw the line between free will and no free will there?

When I explore free will for myself, where do I find it? I look at thoughts, and find that they happen on their own. I bring attention to choices, and find the same. I notice a thought, a choice and an action, but cannot find causality. I notice a thought, choice and action, and a story that “I” did it, but this “I” (the doer) is just a conglomerate of sensations and images.

I can also take any simple choice or action, explore its causes in a conventional sense, and find that there appears to be infinite causes for any choice or action. Always one more. And one more. Stretching back to the beginning of universe and out to the widest extent of the universe. Can I find room for free will? Is free will neccesary?

But there is also wisdom in talking about free will since it helps us take responsibility for our chocies in a conventional way. It makes good sense to act as if we have free will, at least until (if) that story falls away on its own through thorough and repeated investigation.

Here is one way to talk about what is going on: The idea of free will, as anything else, has infinite causes. This idea of free will becomes one of many causes that helps us take responsibility for our choices and actions. This in turn influences these choices and actions, helping us to act in a more responsible way. And in the midst of this, we can investigate to see if there really is free will. Can I find it anywhere?


Initial outline….

  • free will
    • thoughts, choices, actions – happen on their own
    • where draw boundary between free will and not? (flies = no free will, humans free will b/c of thoughts + choices, why draw the boundary there?)
    • helpful in a practical sense, but no reality


  • flies=no free will, humans (thinking, choices) = free will
    • easy to see as a little silly, not examined
    • but also wisdom in there, b/c helpful to act/believe as if we have free will (help us take responsibilty), until we examine it more closely

I listened to an interview with a norwegian scientist who talked about flies as having no free will, in contrast to use humans who have free will since we think and make choices.

But why draw the line between free will and no free will there?


When we explore it for ourselves, can we find free will anywhere? Doesn’t thoughts and choices happen on their own, as anything else?

But there is also a wisdom in talking about it that way. It helps us take responsibility for our chocies in a conventional sense.

4 thoughts to “Free will?”

  1. Hi, What you are saying is my experience too.

    Look up the work of Benjamin Libet, he found that brain activity indicates decisions are made BEFORE we are consciously aware we have made them.

    He said that free will does not exist, but paradoxically said that “free won’t” does. We can’t stop thoughts appearing but there does seem to be the ability to veto those thoughts. To me that is just another thought though.

    Interesting subject…


  2. Thanks, James. I remember hearing about that research but didn’t have the details.

    I agree with you: Assuming we have free will in not acting on certain thoughts is another thought. But for most of us, it is good to keep that assumption for practical reasons. Maybe that is why Libet promotes it?

  3. Thanks for the interesting subject. I’m kinda of obsessed with the concept of free will. I hope you’re patient enough to read what i think about it:
    I think it is a scientific issue. Should only be viewed as such. If someone allows human experiences of free will to affect their judgment on the issue, they will most likely not find an answer.
    Scientifically speaking, here is the question:

    Do humans have free will? That is to say, is one or both of the following statements true:

    1) Atoms, molecules, and other particles inside the human brain display a spectacular behavior where they don’t obey laws of physics at certain times so that they behave in ways which lead to events which ultimately result in that human’s satisfaction.

    2) Laws of physics are not totally deterministic. That is to say, the “formula” that all particles have to obey leave a window open for randomness, so that, at certain times, random choices, which are impossible for physics to explain, take place.


    A) If “1” is true, then there would be absolutely no experiment that could be devised to determine, or pin-point, the “formula” of physics. As it would be impossible for a group of particles from inside the system to make an absolutely accurate measurement of the system (hence, uncertainty principle).

    2) and if “2” is true, then it would be impossible to confine the randomness to the spatial boundaries of the human brain, or to certain times. Which would lead to the conclusion that the whole universe is random at all the times, which leads to the same result as “A”, i.e. it is impossible to make an absolutely accurate measurement of the system .

    Therefore, I believe it is impossible to determine wither humans have free will or not.

  4. Thanks, qass. Good points. I agree it is a scientific issue, but not only – it is something we can explore in direct experience as well (phenomenology), and it also has to do with culture, ethics and so on.

    I am aware of quantum randomness and how some use it as an opening for free will. Another way to look at it is that randomness is just randomness, not connected to free will. And even if it looks random to us, can we really know it is?

    I also agree that no matter how much we explore it, it happens – fortunately! – in the context of “don’t know”. Which is no reason to not explore it through many different means. What we find can still be interesting and helpful.

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