Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

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Rational Atheist
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Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

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Post by Rational Atheist »

Here is a simple, yet powerful, argument against the idea that we 'freely' choose our actions.

1. Our thoughts determine our choices.

2. We do not freely choose our thoughts.

3. Therefore, our choices cannot be free.

I don't think anyone would object to premise 1, especially those who believe in free will, since by definition, a "free" choice, if it could exist, requires a person to consciously make it, which by definition involves thought. Premise 2 may be controversial to some, but with a simple thought experiment, it can be proven to be true. If a person could freely choose their thoughts, then they would have to be able to consciously choose what they were going to think before actually thinking it. In other words, there would have to be a time before a person thinks a thought that that thought was consciously chosen by a person, which literally entails the necessity of being able to think a thought before one thinks it. This, of course, is a logical contradiction. Ergo, free will does not exist.

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

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Post by Purple Knight »

By your logic, though, Two-Face has free will. He lets random chance determine his choices. He does so consciously. He has free will according to what I think you're saying here because his ultimate choice is random. Shall I head to Kum and Go or 7-11? *flips coin* Ah, 7-11. That's a pity because their stuff isn't as good, but oh well. The coin is the coin.

Now, anyone else in the same situation would have just gone to Kum and Go because it is the superior choice. In every possible universe where they found themself in that exact situation, they went to Kum and Go. Now, does this provide any value to Two-Face? He just did something that objectively hurt him.

The key bit is that this is not the kind of free will people want. People don't necessarily care about generating a random result. If so, all I need do is give Two-Face a random number generator hooked up to the decay of a radioactive isotope. And presto, perfect free will. Now everyone is so envious of Two-Face for having free will that they all want my perfect free will box.

What people want is meaningful, plus choice. They want to feel like their actions aren't predetermined - that they made different choices in alternative universes - but here's the key, they also want to be in the optimal universe. They want to roll a 20 every time. Unfortunately, if that happens, it's not a roll.

In other words, just go to Kum and Go, accept that you have no free will, but that what you think are choices can be meaningful. You can do the best thing.

In the case of morality, you can do the right thing. Whether or not you had a choice isn't that important.

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

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Post by Rational Atheist »

Purple Knight wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:35 pm By your logic, though, Two-Face has free will. He lets random chance determine his choices. He does so consciously. He has free will according to what I think you're saying here because his ultimate choice is random. Shall I head to Kum and Go or 7-11? *flips coin* Ah, 7-11. That's a pity because their stuff isn't as good, but oh well. The coin is the coin.
No. The outcome of the coin flip has obvious physical causes, so clearly that's not a free choice either. Not to mention, the very idea of flipping a coin is determined by a thought, so this scenario is actually covered by my original argument also.

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

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Post by Tcg »

Rational Atheist wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:18 pm Here is a simple, yet powerful, argument against the idea that we 'freely' choose our actions.

1. Our thoughts determine our choices.
This is not as absolute as you imply. We can acknowledge our thoughts and choose not to act on them. Mindfulness meditation helps strengthen this skill.

2. We do not freely choose our thoughts.
Once again, this is not as absolute as you imply. We can at least to some degree learn to control our thought patterns. This is one of the skills cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) relies on:
CBT is based on several core principles, including:

1. Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.

2. Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.

3. People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.

CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns.

https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/pati ... behavioral

3. Therefore, our choices cannot be free.
They can be at least to some degree.


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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

Post #5

Post by Rational Atheist »

@Tcg

Not acting on a thought is still a choice. And what determines that choice? Another thought that spontaneously arises in consciousness after the previous thought, which (through no choice of our own) has more power over our action than the previous thought. But if it weren't for a thought, we wouldn't choose not to act on other thoughts. So the premise still stands.


For the second premise, You're missing the key point I think. What determines the choice to attempt to control thoughts? Another thought. Did we choose that thought? No, because in order to choose a thought, there would have to be a time period before we think a thought during which we made a conscious decision to think that thought. But how could we decide to think a thought before thinking of it? That's literally a logical impossibility.

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

Post #6

Post by Miles »

Rational Atheist wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:18 pm Here is a simple, yet powerful, argument against the idea that we 'freely' choose our actions.

1. Our thoughts determine our choices.

2. We do not freely choose our thoughts.

3. Therefore, our choices cannot be free.

I don't think anyone would object to premise 1, especially those who believe in free will, since by definition, a "free" choice, if it could exist, requires a person to consciously make it, which by definition involves thought. Premise 2 may be controversial to some, but with a simple thought experiment, it can be proven to be true. If a person could freely choose their thoughts, then they would have to be able to consciously choose what they were going to think before actually thinking it. In other words, there would have to be a time before a person thinks a thought that that thought was consciously chosen by a person, which literally entails the necessity of being able to think a thought before one thinks it. This, of course, is a logical contradiction. Ergo, free will does not exist.
Nice post. My only comment is that there's no such thing as choice or choosing. We do X rather than Y because we can do no differently. It's what the past chain of cause-and-effect events have led us to do. To do Y rather than X would require some past event that led to the moment of our doing X or Y to be different than what it was, but because there was no such past event that was different we are forced to do X.


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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

Post #7

Post by Purple Knight »

Rational Atheist wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:56 pmNo. The outcome of the coin flip has obvious physical causes, so clearly that's not a free choice either.
Unless he has a random number generator hooked up to the decay of a radioactive isotope instead of a coin. People generally accept that this would actually be random.

So that Two-Face in Universe A does something different than Two-Face in Universe B.
Rational Atheist wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:56 pmNot to mention, the very idea of flipping a coin is determined by a thought, so this scenario is actually covered by my original argument also.
He chooses to flip the coin, but he doesn't choose the outcome. He doesn't choose which action he will take.

It would negate your Premise 1 that our choices are based on our thoughts. Two-Face has a choice: 7-11 or Kum and Go. Whether Two-Face goes to 7-11 or Kum and Go is not based on a thought that originated in his head, but on the coin flip. This is an instance where a choice is not determined by a thought.

This is obviously not the sort of free will people want because he is now a spectator in his own life.

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

Post #8

Post by nobspeople »

Rational Atheist wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:18 pm Here is a simple, yet powerful, argument against the idea that we 'freely' choose our actions.

1. Our thoughts determine our choices.

2. We do not freely choose our thoughts.

3. Therefore, our choices cannot be free.

I don't think anyone would object to premise 1, especially those who believe in free will, since by definition, a "free" choice, if it could exist, requires a person to consciously make it, which by definition involves thought. Premise 2 may be controversial to some, but with a simple thought experiment, it can be proven to be true. If a person could freely choose their thoughts, then they would have to be able to consciously choose what they were going to think before actually thinking it. In other words, there would have to be a time before a person thinks a thought that that thought was consciously chosen by a person, which literally entails the necessity of being able to think a thought before one thinks it. This, of course, is a logical contradiction. Ergo, free will does not exist.
I choose what to think about frequently, thus giving me, in at least some part, control over my thoughts.
I see my car and wonder what I want to do to it next.
I think I'll wrap it.
But not every time I look at my car do I wonder what I want to do to it next.
Have a great, potentially godless, day!

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

Post #9

Post by Rational Atheist »

nobspeople wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 2:53 pm
Rational Atheist wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:18 pm Here is a simple, yet powerful, argument against the idea that we 'freely' choose our actions.

1. Our thoughts determine our choices.

2. We do not freely choose our thoughts.

3. Therefore, our choices cannot be free.

I don't think anyone would object to premise 1, especially those who believe in free will, since by definition, a "free" choice, if it could exist, requires a person to consciously make it, which by definition involves thought. Premise 2 may be controversial to some, but with a simple thought experiment, it can be proven to be true. If a person could freely choose their thoughts, then they would have to be able to consciously choose what they were going to think before actually thinking it. In other words, there would have to be a time before a person thinks a thought that that thought was consciously chosen by a person, which literally entails the necessity of being able to think a thought before one thinks it. This, of course, is a logical contradiction. Ergo, free will does not exist.
I choose what to think about frequently, thus giving me, in at least some part, control over my thoughts.
Nope. Choice is a conscious decision. Consciousness involves thought. Thus in order to choose your thoughts, you would have to think them before you think them, which is logically impossible.

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Re: Why 'Free Will' is Logically Impossible

Post #10

Post by Miles »

Rational Atheist wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 8:02 pm Nope. Choice is a conscious decision. Consciousness involves thought. Thus in order to choose your thoughts, you would have to think them before you think them, which is logically impossible.
So, why did you choose A over B?


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