On free will

Hello, it’s been a while! I’ve been reading/listening to a lot of Robert Sapolsky lately and have been troubled by the notion/prospect of lack of free will and it’s corollaries; entitlement, reward, punishment, luck in life, etc (here’s a quick review on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv38taDUpwQ). I still don’t think there’s free will in the sense in which we’re all brought up to think about it, but there are certain subtleties that helped me frame it in a way that I can cope with (and hopefully explain it to others, including my kids when they’re old enough to worry about such things).

Our will doesn’t follow “us”, we follow our will.

There is an us in the picture, we’re not puppets. Will is free in the sense that it’s not pre-determined, i.e. we cannot accurately predict it and that’s because of environment, chance events, chaos, Brownian motion, whatever you wanna call it (nobody could tell you exactly what you’d be doing at 9:17 tomorrow morning, even if they had full data on all the atoms in your body). Lack of “free will” is a scary prospect which can be paralyzing (is there any point in doing anything? I’m going to choose the opposite of what my brain is telling me, feeling depressed, etc). So it makes sense that with the evolution of self-consciousness, we have also evolved a sense of free will. And it’s very tough to think about the lack of it and of course it’s depressing and paralyzing.

What now? You don’t have to think about it every day. But think about it next time you decide to judge someone harshly, or fight with your partner about how they “always” do this or that, or your child because they are being “naughty” or an adversary that’s set to make your life miserable. This very comment is not a result of free will, but it is very much a result of circumstance (having a high sense of righteousness, being fortunate enough to have caring parents and a high enough education, accepting a job where I met a colleague who recommended Sapolsky, reading some of his books, and having a blog). However, what this comment might do is, by someone’s chance encounter of it, sway their path in life ever so slightly. And this is how it goes. What is the net effect? We are all gaining more knowledge, empathy, understanding. We are evolving (no surprise there). So I’m not too worried about it. I’m fortunate enough to be stuck with “me”, a mostly homeostatic individual, and I’m loving the ride that my will is giving me!

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