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Monday, October 25, 2010

Do we have free will?

I've been busy this whole weekend.
So I have this new hobby, fishing. I made an earlier post about my friend bringing me pier fishing and now I just can't get enough of it. When I was younger my parents brought me along when they fished, and I never liked it then. I came to the conclusion to never bring your kids fishing if they don't want to, they will grow up feeling like they hate fishing but in reality they haven't really indulged in it. If it wasn't for my friend and my spontaneous self, I would have still hated fishing.

So that's a little explanation of my absence over the weekend.

Now for my real post regards the question of whether us humans have free will in what we call this "universe."

I feel like I'm living a great life on a daily basis, not too routine-like more spontaneous than others, but do I and everyone else have free will? What is free will in the first place? It is the mere ability to decide our own fate, but do we have the power to do that? I don't think so. I think our fate is predetermined and easily predictable, not by us but by some higher-being(s).

I believe there is an illusion of free will, brought upon by the choices available to us. What goes through our mind when we make a choice? Is it the things our mother told us when we were just a lad? Or is it the consequences that may come about if we go through with it. We cannot do whatever we want can we? We have to conform to society's belief of "normal" and moral values.

To sum this up in a creative way there is a short story involving the idea of free will:
It's called "String Theory" as seen on by "Tesla"

Have you ever had an experience that suggested someone else was in your house, and just thought “I don’t wanna know” and left it? Sometimes, fear of the unknown just seems like the preferable option than facing a real, concrete danger. Normally it’s nothing, though. One time, the beeper function of my wireless housephone went off, when I was the only one home. It could only be called from the living room. Another time, I swear someone took some change from my desk. They’re all probably just slightly disconcerting tricks of the memory.
But what would you do when something truly suggestive happens? Would you run, or just ignore it, like I did?
Last Monday was a normal day. I got up, brushed my teeth, changed into school clothes… All little parts of my morning ritual. It seemed like it would be another totally un-noteworthy day, until I saw the strings.
There were three or four thick twine strings in my room. They criss-crossed between the walls around my bed, one attached to the door. No way would I have missed them before; I should have tripped over them. They were tied to pins in the walls, which had also not existed before ten seconds ago.
Nobody could have been in my room while I was in it, let alone set this up. It was early, and my brain wasn’t processing correctly. I simply discredited the sight, untied the strings and left for school, leaving them balled up on my desk.
It didn’t get any better later. Outside my house there were hundreds of them, tied between houses, around cars, across streets… This had to be some super elaborate prank. One of those hidden camera shows, or a comedy improv blog. They had gotten everyone else to play along too; passer-bys were tangled in them, tying them to objects they were walking towards and away from, as if they had been and were continuing to follow the course laid out for them.
I nervously continued my journey to school. On the bus, every except me was tied to the door. At school, groups of friends were tied to each other; teachers were tied to their desks and boards. Oddly enough, at this point all I could wonder was why I had been left out.
When my friend Lucy sat beside me in first period, she simply plonked her bag down on my lap and rested her chin in her hand, looking right past me to the window outside.
“Hey Lucy.”
No response.
“Come on, I didn’t expect you to be in on this too. “
She sighed and started taking books from her bag. All the books were tied to her hands. I grinned, and yanked one of the strings off a book. She didn’t seem to notice, instead simply disregarding the book completely, letting it drop to the floor without a moment’s hesitation.
“Um.” I leaned down, picking up her book and placing it back on her desk. She took no notice.
“Well, if that’s how we’re gonna play it.” I smiled, trying to look playful, but really just trying to hide my nervousness. I bundled all the strings attached to her together with one hand, then pulled them all free.
She blinked, turning to stare at me.
“Holy crap, Martin. You’re like a ninja or something.”
“I’ve been sitting here for maybe ten minutes.” I smiled again, relieved my friend had finally “noticed” me.
“Where did all these strings come from??” She gasped, seemingly noticing for the first time.
“I assumed you were all fucking with me…”
She stood up, backing into a corner. No one else in the class noticed.
“They weren’t here just a minute ago! Do you see them too??” Her tone made it clear she was genuinely scared.
“No. Didn’t you-. “ I was interrupted by my teacher slamming the door behind her. Everyone except me and Lucy murmured a good morning, and still, no one seemed to pay either of us any notice.
“People have been ignoring me all day.” I said to Lucy, before turning to our teacher. “Hey! Dumb bitch! You can’t teach for shit!”
No reaction.
“I’m getting away from all this shit.” Lucy pulled a few strings aside and left the class. I followed, and surprise-surprise, no one else noticed.
We wandered the corridors, leaving and entering classes as we saw fit. Whenever we untied a chair or book from someone else, it was like it suddenly didn’t matter to them. It didn’t exist.
I showed her the street outside; there were more strings than when I came in this morning. Twice as many. We carefully picked our way through the tangle, making our way to a nearby coffee shop. Not particularly grand, I know. But what would you do in our situation? As I said, fear of the unknown sometimes seems like the safer option. On a few occasions, I suggested we untie a few more people. Lucy was opposed to it, remembering how terrified she’d been.
In the coffee shop, we grabbed a couple of sandwiches and drinks from the fridge. We found a table, untied all strings attached to the chairs, and sat down. We both ate in silence, both of us too scared, both of us distracting ourselves by watching the strangers in the shop, oblivious to the strings.
After twenty minutes, Lucy spoke up. “Now she’s gonna take that sandwich.” She said, pointing at a woman across the shop. Sure enough, she walked to the fridge and took the plastic wrapped sandwich she was tied to. “She pays for it and leaves.” She did so, according to the prophecies of the strings. “That guy doesn’t intend to pay.” I watched as a man took his coffee and ran out of the store, the two servers just looking too exasperated to go after him.
“This is horrible.” She whimpered. “Let’s go. Please.”
Outside wasn’t much better. Everyone just followed the strings’ instructions, going about their daily lives. Lucy announced she was going home to sleep this off, and I agreed to walk her home. She only lived ten minutes away.
Away from the busier part of town there were fewer strings. It was nicer; we could pretend it wasn’t happening.
When we turned onto Lucy’s street, she stopped, her mouth falling open.
“What now?” I broke the silence, my voice sounding surprisingly small.
”Look.” She pointed outside one of her neighbours houses.
I saw it clearly, and I’ll take my memory of that moment ‘til the day I die. A little dark imp, maybe three feet tall, walking along with its knuckles on the ground, almost like a monkey. It had two bulbous yellow eyes taking up about half its face, and no mouth or any other facial features. It was holding a hammer and a ball of twine, which it was letting out behind it.
It walked quickly and quietly from the front door of the house to the mailbox. It stopped, hammered a nail into the side of the box, and tied it’s string around it. It turned to face us, and stopped when it spotted us.
My bottom fell out even further than it had already been, but it just stared with a look of surprise and curiosity. You could almost say it was the more frightened one. Suddenly, it beckoned to us with its tiny hand.
I looked at Lucy, she hadn’t moved. I looked back at the imp, which stared at me.
I halved the distance between us, and then halved it again. This wasn’t fear of the unknown anymore; it was fear of this little guy. Didn’t seem like anything to be scared of. When I was a meter away from it, it extended its hand.
“Uh. Hi.” I shook it. It nodded in approval, blinking its massive yellow eyes up at me.
“So you’re the ones in charge of the strings?” It nodded eagerly. I called Lucy over, but she stayed where she was.
“There are more of you?” Another nod. I wanted to ask it so many questions, about what it was and where it came from, but it seemed for now I was stuck with only yes or no questions.
“Do we even have free will?”
It just looked at me, almost sadly. I immediately felt sick to my stomach, and couldn’t bear looking at the little monster anymore. I grabbed Lucy, who had been listening to our exchange, and now sat on the curb with her head in her hands.
“Come on.”
We entered her house, and I made her a cup of tea. When I found her in the living room, she had untied her dog and was curled up with it, crying. I set the tea down and sat beside her.
“I’m so scared.” She whispered after a good ten minutes of sobbing. I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.
“I’m going to sleep” She mumbled suddenly, and was under within the minute. Sleep was starting to sound pretty good all of a sudden, my eyelids suddenly felt like they were being weighed down.
I collapsed to the rug, and the last thing I heard before I fell asleep was the scurrying of several sets of little feet nearby.
I felt much better the next day, as if the whole affair had been a dream. I’d probably have believed that if I hadn’t been awoken by Lucy’s mother that morning, wondering what I was doing sleeping over without permission or something.
Over breakfast, Lucy asked me why I looked so pale and nervous. I turned to her and smiled, mumbling something to her about feeling sick.
But the truth was, I was scared because I couldn’t see any strings, and was wondering whether my actions were truly my own.

Some may disagree, but that's totally okay and acceptable. What do YOU think.


  1. hmm That story actually helps to strengthen my disbelief in it. People want to believe in predestination so that they can lose responsibility for actions. "If it was going to be that way, I was only acting because someone else had already planned it". bogus.

  2. Depends completely on your definition of free will.

    According to every conceivable definition of free will however, most people do not have it.

  3. nice post... I like reading stuff like this.. real eye opener :)

  4. I'd like to think we have free will, but with the grand scheme of the universe, you never know.

  5. well we all have free will and sometimes we choose them sometimes we don't.

  6. Is that graffiti real? Brilliant if it is.

  7. we do not have free will under a socialized gov.
    and yes it works :)

  8. i think that image says it all...

  9. Of course we have free will, but there are obviously consequences to things, and benefits to others which kind of dictates what most people do
    P.S. i am indifferent about fishing, since I never catch anything :(

  10. That was an epic tale. :) Thanks for sharing. I really don't think we do, but I still act like I do. If we did have free will, I don't think predictions and such could ever be true.

  11. I think we've got free will...but we're not super-humans. We can only shape our destiny to the conditions available to us.

  12. learning about free will in philosophy class was great. i love this topic, and that picture is awesome and made me laugh in real life, props to the writer

  13. Nice story. So long as i'm happy, i don't really care whether my actions are my own or not

  14. I have without a doubt come to the conclusion that free will is an illusion. I however think it has absolutely nothing to do with some higher power, or God. What Dan mention "if it's going to be that way, I was only acting that way because someone else planned it" is just as much of a cop out as people believing in predestination to relieve themselves of the consequences behind their actions. We are biologically predetermined, gentically, economically, culturally. Every decision we come to in our lives is not the result of a God deciding it was so but is a complicated network of causes and effects.

    Here's a nice quote (sorry can't remember where I read it) that summarizes what I think pretty much perfectly.

    "All behaviour must therefore boil down to heredity and environement. One doubts the existence of free will because every action is determined by hereditary constitution: examples or teachings of others."

    @Colin B - Are you indifferent about fishing because you never catch anything? or do you never catch anything because you're indifferent to fishing? Just something to think about.

  15. Very good story, I don't think we have true free will, just the illusion of it.

  16. We do have free will, even though our actions can all be predicted.

  17. hi vendeta. we all have free will if we are limited

  18. Never have I felt more oddly about string.

    There is no free will. Only illusion.

    Do not go outdoors.

  19. It's like that quotation that says, "if particles consist of a series of probability and predictable actions, and human brains are made from billions of these particles, how does free will exist?"

    Very deep question.

  20. I think that with the advancement of technology, unity of politics, and growth of the mass media, our free will is being diminished more and more. Our ideas are not our own anymore but merely something we select from the unconsciousness mind which we acquire through other sources in our daily lives. Individualism is disappearing by the minute.
    This is an awesome post, bro. Keep up the good work.

  21. I still say we are really sims and being controlled by someone playing a game on their terminal.

  22. Read the whole story. Very thought-provoking. I'd like to think we have free will, but what does that mean, honestly? We all follow the same routine.

  23. Oh god, it's my course in critical thinking all over again.

  24. I believe we believe we have freedom, but every "Free" choice we make does not really affect or change the system, basically we're still following the system whether we think we're making independent decisions... did that make sense at all? lol

  25. It's a combination of both. Because in theory, if we know everything about a person (genetics, personality traits, interactions with other people. etc.) we should be able to make accurate predictions of what the person will do.

    But there are situations where it is impossible to gauge what a person will do (e.g. when they're uncertain if they're being watched) so it's really depends on the situation.

  26. Heavy topic, man. I've always gone with Sartre's ideas on free will, personally, wherein everybody does have free will but may not have the circumstances to exercise it. Fair compromise, I guess? Great post!

  27. We will never understand we are a raindrop of the whole ocean :)

  28. Good post, I think we all have free will to a degree, your always going to have your parents and family influence, even if you realize it and become opposite of your parents and family they still influenced you to become opposite.

    It's a defense mechanism since we are floating through space on a giant piece of rock, no one truly knows where were going or why were here.

  29. I think we have it to a certain extent

  30. To be honest this post feels a lot like it has "Ayn Rand Syndrome" :P where Joe Schmo looks at Jane Schmo and thinks "ugh what a lemming just walking through life, wasting her life away!" while Jane looks at Joe thinking "ugh what a sheep, just walking through life, wasting his life away!"

    Your faith in others intelligence is lacking.

  31. great post and story. free will is certainly an illusion, because it is an absolute. I think we have partial freedom in some aspects, but not much.

  32. good story man, it widens your thoughts on what we call free will :D

  33. I don't think we all have free will

  34. I like to believe there is free will, and you should try shore fishing in a lake. Sitting on the shoreline listening to music, looking at the calming scenery and easy fishing makes for a great trip.

  35. Thanks for sharing! Very interesting stuff!

  36. Every person faces forks in the road where they have to make a decision, but the decision you end up making is/was completely influenced by that person's history.

  37. I have always wanted to go fishing. The sea, a girlfriend, some chicken and a couple of wine. Just listening the sound of nature, and then having some quality sex. Bad thing I don't know any close river and I don't have a girlfriend, lol

  38. I believe in free will. Fucking thinking my life was pre-destined

  39. I wonder about it sometimes too. But I think challenging ourselves to think about having free will shows free will inside of it's self. Or maybe thinking about is just mean we're "more free" over the people who ignore they have a subconscious.

  40. Good reading bra.
    Fuck yea, we have free will of course. The problem is that we dunno it.

  41. of course we do. we're just forced to either work for money that has no real value except to pay for living conditions and consumeables.

    let's just say we have free will to do what we like, but certain people control the options.


  42. i think freedom goes hand in hand with self control, and the ability to understand your actions and how the affect your future

  43. I think there is free will, when we were younger parents made decisions for us, and now we have our own will...

  44. we are conditioned, but only to a certain extent

  45. most people have a free will but have to live it out within the boundries of society.

    many other people on the other hand just let the boundries of society become there will.

  46. this morning, coming into work, I felt like I have no free will

  47. Free will never has been real. It never will be real. Yehhh

  48. Yes we do. but it won't make any differnece.

  49. come to think of it...i thought i did..

  50. you are free too whatever you want to, you might not be able too though

  51. A little bit of yes and no.

    A lot of times I look at it as being privileged than to go as far to say free will.

    In the end you have the ability to control what happens in your life.