Hello. What I am going to present to you today is the argument for determinism. And so that is that free will is an illusion and not only is it an illusion but the very concept of it just doesn’t make any sense at all. You’re going to want to stick around for this as well because your mind, will be blown and you won’t have any control over that.
We should first start by defining some of our definitions. So free will is the idea that you could have chosen otherwise. If you rewind the clock back to a decision that you once made, free will states that you could have chosen differently. Most people tend to believe this, it’s a very normal, natural conclusion to come to. However, I am of the different opinion I think that everything we do is just due to external factors and it’s all just cause and effect. So no matter how many times you rewind the clock back, you’re always going to end up doing the same thing.
Determinism, as a philosophical concept has been around for quite some time now I am in good company, with the likes of Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, Spinoza, Sam Harris, all of whom believe as I do. And I guess I’ll first lead you down the rabbit hole that I first slipped down because there are some things that we very clearly do not have control over. If you watch this video you’ll see my point.
Most of you would have flinched. And this is what I call an involuntary action. So recoiling from pain like taking hand off a hot surface for instance, is an example of an involuntary action. These actions bypass the conscious thought process of your brain, and instead of thinking about something and performing them, you just perform them. There’s no thought required and there are evolutionary reasons for this as well.
All of these actions don’t require any thought. And I feel my main contention won’t be to convince you that you are not in control of your involuntary actions because, by definition you aren’t. But it will be to convince you that you aren’t even control of the things that you think you are in control of.
So, voluntary or thoughtful actions, are ones that you perform an uncountable number of times on a daily basis. So what you have for lunch, when you decide to cross the street, if you have that extra cup of coffee or not. These are all actions that you think about, and then you follow through with them. Or at least so it seems. But I’ll submit to you that you are no more free to choose any of those actions, than you are choose your date of birth, your eye colour, or how tall you’ll grow.
Think about one of these voluntary, conscious actions that you took today. The first step in committing it is that you need to have thought about it in the first place. If the thought of having a shower never occurred to you, would you have had a shower? Well, no because the thought never occurred to you to do it. So in terms of a voluntary action, you are not free to do something that you do not think about.
So in order to do a voluntary action, it requires you to think about it before you do it. And bear with me because this is just where it gets a little bit crazy, because your thoughts aren’t actually… your thoughts. You do not produce in the way that you think you do. Because to think up your thoughts requires you to think your thoughts, before you have thought them. I’ll say that again, to think up your thoughts requires you to think them, before you have thought them. And this is paradoxical but in order to square this paradox all you do is realise that you’re not the thinking of your thoughts, but you are instead the witness of your thoughts. Thoughts appear in consciousness and people tend to associate that as themselves and that they are their thoughts. But this is simply not the case.
This is can demonstrated during the act of meditation. So while meditating thoughts, feelings and sensations will all arise in consciousness and try to occupy your mind. The idea of meditation is to not get caught up in any one of these things. If you’re inexperienced what you’ll find are thoughts will spontaneously appear and you’ll get carried away with one of these only to realise a few minutes later that you weren’t meant to be thinking about that in the first place. However if you’re more experienced, you can view these thoughts as they arise, you can identify it as a thought and you can watch it dissipate. You can just witness the creation of your own thoughts.
So if you’re still not convinced, I’ll give an even more salient example of this. Have you ever tried to get to sleep but just can’t? You know, maybe you’re anxious about what happened during the day, maybe you’ve got something excited coming up tomorrow and you’re thinking about all possibilities that could happen. If it is indeed true that you can control your thoughts, why are you thinking about all that stuff? Why don’t you choose to not think about it? You want to get to sleep, right? You know, if only it were so simple. But thoughts are like sounds and you can’t choose to not hear them. Remember you’re not the creator of your thoughts, you are witness of then.
So let’s move on to your preferences.This can be your sexual preferences, what food you like, movies, humour, anything. You do not choose how you feel about these things. You either experience it and you feel positive feelings, or you experience it and you feel negative feelings. You cannot genuinely evoke negative feelings for something that you enjoy. So take a song that you like and now choose to not like it. Choose to genuinely hate the song. And You can’t. No matter how much times you try to convince yourself that you don’t like it you’ll always be nodding your head along when you hear it. And if that’s the case, where’s the freedom in that?
So when you bring all of this together, you can never truly explain why you choose to do one thing over another. Because any reason that you decide to give has to have come from a thought, a thought that you did not consciously bring into being. The objection people have to this is when there are two options in front of them and they go back and forth between them before finally landing on one option. But in order to choose that thing, they would have had to have given themselves reasons and those reasons would have came from thoughts, thoughts that they did not conjure up, and they’re only reacting to these thoughts and you don’t choose how you react to your thoughts.
And that is my argument for determinism. If I set up the perfect line of reasoning so that the puzzle of determinism fit together perfectly and you understand exactly as I do, well you didn’t choose to feel that way. The moment that it clicked for you, and you went, “oh my gosh I get it, I understand”, you had no choice but to feel that way, it’s all just evidence of causality. Conversely, if you’re going to walk away more confused than ever and convinced that I’m a mad man - that’s fine, but you didn’t choose those feelings. Whether you’re convinced by my argument or not, choice never comes into it. In fact, free will never enters the equation. At any point. And it never does.
Now most people who do a videos on determinism will end with a really lame joke about how they were ‘forced’ to make this joke or something like that. And I won’t, okay? I’ll refrain. Only because I, don’t have a choice.