Why we don’t have Free Will & Why that’s OK

here we have Truman his kind boss Lawrence has just given him the chance at a lucrative account in Welles Park unfortunately Truman never meets the client because he decides not to board the ferry so he never makes it to Welles Park so did Truman have free will in this situation what I mean by free will is or his actions the result of conscious thoughts and intentions that he decided upon and could he choose to do something different if we rewound the universe back to the moment before he walked away from the ferry the first part of this video will address this question do we have free will by looking at what parts of the mind we have control over the second part will address why acknowledging a lack of free will could actually give you more control over your life back to Truman you might say I’ve set the bar too high because the memory of having lost his father in a boating accident was too traumatic of an experience for Truman to be able to freely control his response so on that note let’s think about some situations where we would say someone wasn’t acting of their own free will let’s say for example you introduced your friend Tom to your girlfriend and he is excessively flirtatious with her making you and your girlfriend uncomfortable you might be pissed but then you remember Tom just had a frontal lobotomy you also know that the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe of the brain facilitates inhibiting inappropriate behavior with this in mind you’re probably more likely to forgive him but you’ll keep him away from your girlfriend actually a man named Phineas Gage became very famous after receiving an unrequested frontal lobotomy when on September 13th 1848 an explosion sent a huge iron rod through the front part of his skull he survived but he became uncharacteristically brash and sometimes inappropriately sexual I think most would agree that in this case Gage wasn’t choosing to be a jerk of his own free will so let’s categorize this as freewill inhibition level 5 another example of level 5 inhibition would be a brain tumor one example is the mass murder Charles Whitman on August 1st 1966 Whitman murdered 16 people and in something like a suicide note he left he said I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man however lately I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts in the note he even requested for an autopsy to be done on himself to find out if there is a biological reason for his drastic changes the autopsy was done on August 2nd and a pecan sized brain tumor was found there’s even a case in which a 40 year old man starting around the year 2000 suddenly developed a disturbing interest in children the day before he was about to go to jail for being guilty of child molestation he went to the hospital complaining of a massive headache and an egg sized tumor was found in his brain the tumor was removed and his inappropriate urges and behavior disappeared then about a year later the tumor came back and so did the inappropriate urges the tumor was removed again and the urges disappeared again in situations like this where the actual physical integrity of the brain is compromised is safe to say that free will is greatly inhibited if these examples represent level 5 inhibition then level 4 could be something like being addicted to drugs because the user develops specific brain changes that result in uncontrollable cravings and less ability to inhibit impulsive behavior another example of level 4 inhibition might be someone with Parkinson’s disease of course the disease itself means a person has less freedom in their physical movements but the incidence of pathological gambling is significantly higher in Parkinson’s patients thanks to their dopamine agonist medication next level 3 free will inhibition could be being drunk or going without sleep for a very long time level 2 might even include something seemingly minor like just being hungry Jonathan Laval of Columbia Business School in New York and colleagues analyzed over a thousand parole hearings for four Israeli prisons made over a ten-month period they found that if the judge Eton recently prisoners had a 65% chance of being paroled but the longer the judges went without food the lower this percentage dropped and it would often decline to prisoners having an almost 0% chance of getting paroled after some food during lunch break however the percentage shot back up to 65% so then what would the lowest level of free will inhibition look like it might just be the base programming of our brains dan Ariely professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and author of predictably irrational points out that people’s decisions can be swayed in predictable ways simply by presenting the information differently for example people were asked who’s more attractive Tom or Jerry if there was a clone of Jerry that was slightly uglier normal Jerry was the most attractive of the three if there is an ugly clone of Tom then tom was the most attractive people tend to pick the choice whose value is easiest to calculate it’s hard to say if tom is better than Jerry but tom is surely better than his ugly clone this is known as the decoy effect and it’s a great way to get people to buy stuff do you want a small popcorn for $3 a medium popcorn for 650 or a large for $7 I don’t know if this small is a better value than the medium but the large is clearly better than the medium so I’ll get that this shows up in other quite important situations like here it really is showing the drastic difference between countries organ donation rates why are the countries on the left’s rates so low compared to those on the right it’s not the culture but the format the DMV the form for the countries with the low donation rates says check the box below if you want to participate in the organ donor program the forum for countries with high donation rates says check the box below if you don’t want to participate in the organ donor program when faced with a difficult decision the easier decision is to take no action and leave the Box unchecked Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman says in his book Thinking Fast and Slow that we have two systems of thinking system one operates automatically and quickly with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control system two allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it and is often associated with the subjective experience of agency choice and concentration some examples of system 1 are activities like orienting to the source of a sudden sound making a disgust face when shown a horrible picture and reading words on large billboards again automatic things system 2 on the other hand includes activities like assessing whether a product is worth paying more for or not focusing on the voice of a particular person in a noisy room and looking for a woman with white hair these are more deliberate here’s an example Mary’s mom has four daughters April May June and if you said July this is because your system one got in the way an active system two would notice I said Mary’s mom so the fourth daughter of course is Mary we are at some level aware of the competition between these two systems hence our tendency to ask is this a trick question when things seem too easy Kahneman describes several ways the brain takes certain shortcuts wherever it can for example if I show you this you’ll probably think of soup instead of soap thanks to this restaurant scene you were just looking at this is called priming your brain was primed with the restaurant scene rather than a a shower scene but priming goes much farther than this Kathleen boasts in a paper titled the psychological consequences of money showed that simply being exposed to images of money made people more individualistic and less willing to be involved with or depend on others over 418 pages Kahneman paints a picture of how many of our decisions are a result of our minds use of several time and energy saving shortcuts heuristics rules of thumb and we are mostly unaware of these shortcuts working in background if they influence our conscious thinking this still isn’t enough to disprove free will like a train conductor having the free will to choose which track to drive on you could say these mental processes are just some boundaries that come with being human and we have free will within the limit of these boundaries but which processes of the mind do we have the free will to control well before conscious behavior occurs there is a cascade of things happening in the brain to present my next point let’s look at just a few things that affect our choice of behaviors one is likes and wants we’ll just call this desires for example liking wine will generate behaviors like drinking wine two is emotions different emotions will color people’s thinking patterns and behaviors in different ways 3 physiology will also affect behavior things like heart rate blood pressure how much adrenaline is in your system how much you slept if you’re sick etc the last thing is beliefs as in the ideas and principles you feel strongly about or feel are part of your identity these will affect how you act and how you think so which of these four do we have control over moment to moment first your desires you can’t really control these yet they affect your behavior and your thoughts right now I have no control over my dislike of sea urchin and my liking of macadamia nuts I could not conveniently decide to like sea urchin when I’m at a sushi restaurant or suddenly choose to dislike macadamia nuts when I’m saving money if we had free control over our desires life would be far easier on a diet just stop the desire to eat unhealthy foods want to get a lot of studying done just make yourself like chemistry more than you do video games and so on you might be able to distract yourself from desires but you cannot choose to have desires appear or disappear let me again clarify that I’m talking about controlling desires in the moment because you may change your likes and dislikes eventually I used to really like gummy bears but after keeping my sugar intake very close to zero for quite a while gummy bears now taste far too sweet and don’t appeal to me at all nowadays maybe if I ate a bunch of them I start to like them again but I cannot have myself like gummy bears in this moment this is still the case for more strongly held desires say it is my ambition to become a painter I cannot now decide to suddenly like math just as much as I like art or I guess I wouldn’t want to do that next is emotions which of course affect your conscious thoughts most people are more or less good at preventing emotions from affecting their behavior but for the most part you do not control whether emotions arise or not considering the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are coming up there’s a lot of construction going on in the city nowadays sometimes right outside my window when it gets loud enough one of three things will happen one I’ll notice it without any irritation to I’ll notice it be a little irritated and then choose to ignore it or three I’ll be pretty pissed and maybe even say something out loud like man I’m tired of this my response will depend on a couple of things including if I’ve been sleeping well and if I’ve been exercising or meditating if all these things are going well then the construction noise barely bothers me however if I didn’t sleep well or if I’m hungry or I didn’t exercise then I’m prone to some level of irritation I feel that I can choose my response to this irritation but whether the emotion arises or not is already decided before the construction noise starts you may be able to willfully evoke certain emotions like an actor preparing for a scene but you are not in control of whether emotions will arise or not in the moment when something sad happens you do not make a decision to be sad before you become sad then there’s physiology your heart rate blood pressure your immune response which hormones are being released etc are not controlled by your conscious thoughts with enough training you can gain some control over certain aspects of your physiology but your physiology for the most part doesn’t operate with your permission to quote Sam Harris in his book free will at this moment you are making countless unconscious decisions with organ other than your brain but these are not events for which you feel responsible are you producing red blood cells and digestive enzymes at this moment your body is doing these things of course but if it decided to do otherwise you would be the victim of these changes rather than their cause some argue that physiology is actually the primary cause of emotion the james-lange theory of emotion Sasa emotions are first expressed by the body then recognized by the brain and then they come into consciousness Anil Seth gives the example of how seeing a bear does not in itself generate the experience of fear rather seeing the bear sets in motion a load of physiological changes hormones being released heart rate increasing etc this set of changes is known as the fight-or-flight response and your body’s perception of these bodily changes in the context of the bear being around leads to our experience of fear the James langa theory has received some criticism but there’s a lot of examples that corroborate his hypothesis for example in this lecture Robert Sapolsky points out that someone may be given a benzodiazepine like valium to decrease their anxiety but someone who’s pulled a muscle and is having muscle spasms may also get a muscle relaxant a benzodiazepine even at the same dose how does that work part of anxiety comes from the brain monitoring the level of tension in your body because you’re sitting there and you’re saying things are just as horrible as they were an hour ago but I am so relaxed I’m like dripping out of this chair here it must not be so bad so your brain is getting feedback from the muscle tone and seeing that you’re incredibly relaxed so your mental state becomes relaxed to match the state of the body other evidence for this emotion physiology and mind-body connection thing is that as this finished group found based on data from 700 people certain emotions seem to be consistently mapped to certain areas of the body such that they came up with a heat map for each emotion physiology will also of course affect your desires for example even if spareribs is your favorite food you probably won’t have the desire to eat that if you have the flu and or nauseous also being drunk can strongly cue various desires and obviously hunger or thirst will queue your desire to eat or drink you know I pick up the tea because I’m thirsty is that free will you know in another video I talked about how people deprived of salt develop strong cravings for it and vitamin deficient babies developed an uncanny liking for cod liver oil next is beliefs by the way I’m lumping principles values and ideas in with beliefs with enough exposure to certain types of information you can surely change your beliefs eventually for example a conservative person may slowly shift to being more liberal if say they move countries and are exposed to a totally new culture for a long enough time or someone could spend enough time reading the work of a compelling conspiracy writer and they might start to believe in certain conspiracies that they used to think we’re totally crazy however you cannot suddenly decide that you believe the moon is made out of cheese you could have that thought but you will not truly believe that maybe you could sign up for a cheese moon brainwashing service but even then whether the brainwashing works or not is not in your control either the brainwashing technique is so effective that you come to believe that the moon is made out of cheese or it’s not an atheist may decide that he wants to become religious and tries his best to believe in the tenets of some religion but whether the books he reads or the people he talks to are convincing enough to result in him genuinely adopting his beliefs isn’t up to him beliefs are perhaps the hardest thing to change in control but at the same time may most greatly influence our conscious thoughts and behaviors so in the moment we have at most minimal control over our desires emotions physiology and beliefs it each of these affect our behavior and our conscious thoughts so is it the case that each of these can influence your conscious thought but we still have control do you control your thought think about this question for a second you may have been unfazed by my videos so far and you reacted to the question with something like of course we control our thoughts or maybe you thought no our thoughts are controlled not by us but by unconscious factors or maybe you haven’t had enough time to decide what to think now you might be thinking did he just say hair vent in any of these cases did you freely choose which reaction you had here is sam harris giving a lecture on free will in 2012 from the perspective of your conscious mind you are actually no more responsible for your next thought then you are for your your birth into this world you can see that you you know more author the next thing you think then the next thing I say thoughts simply appear in consciousness and what are you gonna think next what am I gonna say next I could suddenly start talking about why we don’t eat Al’s why don’t we tails they seem perfectly good what where did that come from it came it came out of nowhere as far as you’re concerned but the same thing is happening in your own mind at this moment I mean I’m standing up here trying to reason with you and you you will think he does look a little like Ben Stiller thoughts just emerge in consciousness we are not authoring them that that would require that we think them before we think them when I was watching this part and not in my head in agreement I didn’t consciously decide to agree and then nod it just happened why did I select this reaction and not scoff in disagreement well because what he said made sense to me so why did I decide to have it make sense to me well it’s in line with the other information in my brain that came from books I’ve read and conversations or experiences I’ve had why did I choose to insert such information in my head questions like this could go on and on until we’re asking why my parents chose to be born from their parents even if you could trace what life experiences led to the way you talk or the desires and beliefs that influenced your thinking patterns when you analyze your thoughts close enough realize that they just appear out of a void if you sit down close your eyes and attempt not to think you’ll immediately see that this is close to impossible your mind is flooding itself with thoughts almost all the time and the thoughts that we feel we consciously choose to think are merely the ones we happen to agree with we of course have a will to do things my will to make this video is what caused it to exist but I did not freely choose this will so are our choices matter and they’re they’re clearly paths toward making wiser ones of you there’s no telling how much of a conversation with a smart person could change you but we can’t choose what we choose in life and when it seems that we choose what we choose and perhaps when going back and forth between two options we don’t choose to choose what we choose this kind of discussion might provoke someone to perform arbitrary actions to demonstrate their free will look I have free will I can sit in this chair and do nothing because I want to but all this would demonstrate is that your past experiences have created the type of person that would choose to sit in a chair when someone challenges the existence of free will I have to agree with Daniel Dennett’s point on freewill realizing the u.s. dollars value is in an illusion since it went off the gold standard is not going to have people burn their dollars and start bartering in the same way coming to the conclusion that free will is an illusion doesn’t necessarily have drastic repercussions all the drivers that had you survive and live your life in a way such that you’d be watching this video right now or for the most part still going to drive you going forward the repercussions of committing the crime will still prevent people from being criminals fulfillment and compassion will still drive people to help others ambition will still drive us to achieve goals and boredom an aching butt a hungry stomach and a full bladder will still prevent you from sitting in a chair forever in that case why am I even talking about this acknowledging that we don’t have free will is useful even if you’re not looking for an existential crisis if you accept that conscious thoughts decisions and behaviors spur from a cascade of prior events that occurred in and outside your body your better equipped to understand why you operate the way you do rather than blaming an immaterial self for your shortcomings you can acknowledge the fact that what deserves blame or praise is not you but the information put in your head your interactions with other people the food you put in your body and the habits you engage in this kind of thinking allows you to control your behaviors more effectively any aspiration you have that involves changing the type of person you are becoming more disciplined more productive more caring will benefit from a logical examination of how your physical body and brain have come to operate the way they do when you don’t succeed and say finishing everything on your to-do list you can be curious about what factors affected your focus didn’t sleep well ate a poor-quality lunch drank too much coffee the office was too loud etc then you can start making modifications am i more focused if I exercise in the morning or at night which makes me feel best cardio strength training or high intensity interval training with meditation or yoga helped my focus maybe if I remove X and add Y to my lunch and one gets sleepy afterwards this approach is an assuredly better use of your time than just blaming yourself for not using your freewill to stay focused and saying tomorrow tomorrow or work really hard the other thing about dismissing free will is that it promotes compassion hatred for others doesn’t make any sense and people can become more interesting like the example with Phineas Gage at the start of the video if someone is a jerk that of course makes sense to avoid them or be critical of their actions but wasting your energy on hating them doesn’t make any sense they were unlucky to be afflicted by the circumstances that caused them to be a jerk you might even become interested in the factors that had them turn out this way and if you choose to continue associating with them you’ll understand how to better deal with their behavior this kind of thinking may also lead you to be curious about the people you do like wanting to learn more about their past experiences that made them the way they are and what things are most important to them and why in the process you’re sure to strengthen your relationship with this person the idea that we don’t control our conscious thoughts and our actions are governed entirely by complex algorithms running inside a squishy hunk of meat inside our skulls can be a harrowing thought but being curious about how these algorithms work can actually make life easier and more enjoyable [Music]

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