You are free to make choices, but you have no freedom in the matter.
Sam Harris presents this idea in his 2012 book, Free Will. Harris argues that we’re all products of our genes, our luck, and our experiences.
Free Will is an Illusion.
No one can pick their genes. Reading these words online, born to a family that values access to information, you’re already more fortunate than others who don’t have access to the Internet.
We can’t take credit for our lot in life, but there’s no question that it plays a role in our lives.
No one can pick their luck. We don’t know when it might start or stop. Again, we can’t take credit for any advantage luck might give us.
The way I see it, the best we can do is frame our experiences in a positive light and call it luck.
Our experiences are the final piece to the puzzle of our decision making and outcomes.
If we had free will, our decisions would be all over the place.
Instead, we’re formed by countless cause-and-effect relationships throughout our lives. We create behavior patterns and we repeat them. We tell ourselves a script and we live it.
When we have an opportunity to make a decision, our choices are limited to the options in front of us. Hidden influences brought those options into this situation.
We don’t have the free will to pick an option that we can’t think of.
And we can’t stop what ideas do enter our minds. At any given time, some random idea about high school or sharing your toothbrush might just pop in.
These random ideas, and even deeper-hidden variables, influence your thoughts in ways we cannot understand. And in fact, brain scans show our final decisions before we’re even aware of them.
Instead, we make up a story afterwards to explain the reasons we make one choice over another. But we don’t really know at all.
And that is why I don’t have Free Will, says Sam Harris.
It took me until Page 40 to understand that we still do make choices. The outcomes aren’t predestined, and they’re influenced constantly. It’s our options that are limited to what’s available in our lives, and our responses that are deeply influenced in ways we don’t understand.
What’s Your Persuasion Play?
For self-improvement, increasing the quantity and quality of the variables that we put into the system directs us and improves our options in future decisions.
When influencing others, it’s the opposite. Influencing variables can limit the options someone has available.
Putting an idea in someone’s head can have implications far down the road. In this regard, influencing someone’s concept of free will looks (to me) a lot like pre-suasion and building on someone’s confirmation bias.
I probably didn’t do justice to Mr. Harris’ book. Pick it up because it’s a fascinating look at morality and judgement in the absence of this commonly-accepted freedom.
I was once told, “a mind expanded by a thought can never return to it’s original shape.”
A lifetime of experiences certainly do influence my decisions.
Yours as well.
What do you think? Is Free Will an illusion? or is my representation of Sam Harris nowhere near the reality that you live in? Leave a comment below!