Sunday, June 15, 2014


(I encourage commenting and debates, however, please read the entire article first to make sure I have not already addressed your proposed issue. Thanks.)

The strangest things have been occurring recently: Many whom agree with me on the subject of free will, disagree with my claim that responsibility is an illusion administered by those who wish to feel justified when they blame and seek retribution. (which, oddly enough, there is scientific evidence for)

I find this half agreement to be completely bizarre, because to admit there is no free will removes any accountability. The only conclusion I can draw from the outcome is that those claiming they agree that there is no free will are either lying or they do not truly understand what "no free will" means.

So, this article is to make a point. It is to explain why there is no free will and why this proves there is no accountability. I will also argue against the ever-disappointing philosophical stance called compatibilism.


Choice, the idea that we are "picking" one or more options from a greater selection of options while maintaining that we could have done otherwise, and most importantly, doing so without coercion.

My argument against this is that nothing is without coercion. All action is influenced. To argue against this is to proclaim there is no such thing as causation. You would have to believe that anything could "just happen" for no apparent, causal, and actual reason. Imagine being a carpenter and cutting a 2X4 to a length of 6 ft. to fit a particular gap and then when you got back to place the 2X4 into the gap it was now 27 ft.long. And then to no surprise, because all of this must make sense, it suddenly turned into an army of fairies which flew into the sky and exploded, raining down rainbows and salt-water taffy. To believe in choice is to believe things happen without cause. To believe things happen without cause is to believe that anything, literally anything, can just happen. And however delightful this scenario may be, I doubt that anyone would find this a possibility. On the contrary, if people truly thought this way, things would not get done. We would not have buildings, automobiles, generators, cell phones, internet, or anything that was built through the use of the understanding that things do not "just happen". Buildings do not make themselves. They do not "just appear". People labor, parts are made, priorities are organized, plans are drawn, land is surveyed, wood is cut, concrete is poured, structures are measured, stability is calculated, and so on.

My only answer to this strange contradiction, where people obviously do not believe in the consequences of what it means to have a choice and yet still believe in choices and responsibility, is that it is convenient to a stubborn way of life. This is what someone like this must sound like:

"I am certain that things are caused and are not happening "just because", but people still have choices and should be held responsible for their actions."

I actually know a few (intelligent) people who would say this, but if analyzed just a little, it sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person.

If you believe people should be held responsible for their actions, then you believe they are the sole cause for their behavior. This is claiming that no influences are coercing people's actions. Yet this directly contradicts the claim that "you do not think things happen "just because"". The statement again with this clarification:

"I am certain that things are caused and are not happening "just because", but people can do things just because."

So, an individual wakes to find his or herself in a cave, high up on a cliff side, with no supplies. When looking out of the cave, the individual notices there is a ledge connected to another cliff wall that looks just outside of jumping distance. The only way down seems to be a path leading from the other cliff. In this situation, there is really only so many options available: try to jump the gap, or don't. However, you cannot hold the person responsible for, lets say, not eating cake, or not riding a bike, or not growing wings, etc. So an individual's actions are always influenced by their surroundings, epoch, biology, disabilities, talents, desires, education, and the list goes on and on. In no real way is  any person truly the cause of their own actions.

Others may jump in here and say "I'm not saying they are responsible for the things that cause the action, but they "did" perform the action and should be held accountable."

To this I argue, to what metric or standard do we hold the individual too? If the person in the cave was being told to jump from a guy behind him/her with a gun, would we claim the individual was still responsible. Or when the individual is falling, do we hold him or her responsible for not being able to fly. Our method today is to not blame the bullet, but to blame the individual pulling the trigger. Yet we blame people all the time for being stupid, when the aliment (the fact that they could not know better) is the standard we are holding them to. Are we to hold a child, who has never seen a stove before, responsible for being burned. Of course not. To do so would be to hold them responsible for something they could not possibly know. So we blame the parents, yet if someone passes a driver's license test, because the administer was too lax, and then unknowingly causes an accident, we blame the individual for his or her "ignorance". (How the the hell do you blame someone for ignorance?)

If people saw a scene where a man shot another unarmed man, it would be a convention to hold the shooter responsible. If we could rewind the scene a bit, and saw that the unarmed man had just strangled the shooters wife, we would switch the blame over to the unarmed man. If we rewound further, and discovered that the shooters wife had just murdered the unarmed man's children, we would shift the blame to her. If we determined that the woman had a tumor that caused her to crave the harming of children we would then blame her biology, however, if we learned that her craving to hurt children was instilled in her by her parents, we would give them part of the blame but maintain our blame on the woman. We would forget that, tumor or not, a grown person that craves the death of children is sick. We would then proclaim, "well, she had a choice.", and provide evidence for our idiocy. Truth of the matter is, we have no logical, or moral, reason for applying responsibility where we apply it. As we discover more and more proponents for the cause of something, as we look further back, we shift our titles of responsibility. Even if time was not infinite, there would be an inconceivable number of causes for every event, yet somehow, in all our glorious splendor, we strain out the truth, that this one individual, who does not even control all the functions of his or her self, is solely and entirely responsible for everything that has lead up to this particular actions performance.


Another objection is randomness. This is the most recent argument I have had flung at me. That an individual can do something random, and as such- things can "just happen" because to be random means there is no influence in the action, meaning the person must be solely responsible. At least this is what I think the individual meant when he/she was saying it. This, however, doesn't work on so many levels. The convention of randomness that people talk about doesn't mean "cause-less". Randomness is the level of our current inability to calculate something. It is not an actual thing, and I feel sorry for anyone who would actually believe it was some actual thing. (So, I feel sorry for Epictetus.)

I wrote about this in the entry "Probability", that if something behaves in a way we do not understand, all it proves is that we do not understand it. This does not prove that randomness is a thing. If I built a robot that could shoot an arrow, which always hit the target at the same point indoors, but outdoors the arrow landed at various spots, the phenomenon is not some magical randomness "causing" the arrow to sway this way and that, it is the wind variable, which, due to it's complex number of variables, is extremely difficult to calculate.

When applied to behavior, randomness is just a lack of understanding of one's own behavior, a scenario which makes it even harder to attribute blame to the individual. If a person was hypnotized and performed some tasks, we could not hold his or her so-called will responsible, and from the persons perspective things would probably appear random. This really is a silly argument, considering that we claim someone must be consciously deliberating their actions to be held responsible.

The argument could turn to- "I decided to do something random.", which I would argue that the individual would have had cause for behaving as such. Even if the person claimed that he/she didn't, the action itself is proof of a disposition. Most likely the action would be performed in hopes to make an argument against my case.

Also, humoring the idea that actual randomness could exist, we would quickly find ourselves in a contradiction. If something was caused by randomness, then there would be a cause. However, actual randomness would mean cause-less. So randomness itself would disprove randomness. Rather the existence of randomness would disprove the existence of randomness, and if randomness could not exist, then there would be nothing to disprove in the first place.


Finally, compatibilism, the claim that determinism and free will coexist. This appalls me the most, because it is the stance held by the majority of the worlds greatest minds, and I am convinced it is nonsense.
If it is not nonsense, then there would be merit to the idea of holding people responsible even when there is no free will.

Lets start with a few compatibilist examples:

Example 1. Lets say that Bob has a test to study for, but is scared that he may end up partying instead. So Bob prays to his god to help him stay focused on studying. Bob's god commands an angel to stay near Bob, and if he starts getting off track, to help put him back on track. Finally, when everything is said and done, Bob studies without the help of the angel.

The point that compatibilists are trying to make here is that both outcomes would have been the same, but in one outcome Bob "chose" to study, rather than being coerced to study.

This example is actually really great for pointing out the major flaws in compatibilism. Determinism states that there is only one possible outcome, where compatibilists are claiming there are many possible outcomes. Compatibilism, being the claim that determinism and free will are compatible, is failing to submit to the stipulations demanded by determinism. So again, where determinism states "an action or an event is proof that the said action or event was the only possible outcome", compatibilists state "an action or event is proof of one of the possible outcomes." The problem with the compatibilist view is the same as the problem with randomness- they are giving merit to some impossibility. It's a pompous conclusion. Rather than stating that we do not understand the variables at work they state that there exists actual entities of randomness and probability.

I think the misunderstanding, on all accounts, is the assumption that thoughts are some mysterious things that exist outside reality. For instance:

Example 2. Bob is at a fork in the road. Right is the quickest path to take for Bob to reach his destination. Left is the scenic route. Unknown to Bob, the bridge is out on the right path, so no matter what Bob chooses, Bob would have to take the left path.

To the compatibilist, each scenario is the same. Whether Bob goes left or right, the only concern is the outcome, but for some odd reason there is an exclusion of the state of Bob's mind, time, location, and experience. Compatibilists promote this as choice, and for some reason disregarding the action as proof that it is the only possible action per said moment in time. They are saying that there are several different possibilities, but they are all the same (See the contradiction?). How else could they have tied choice and determinism together?

For a moment, lets consider disposition. If Bob was in a hurry to get wherever he is trying to get to, the right path is the quickest, Bob understands very well that the right path is the quickest, but he does not know that the bridge is out, he would have a great disposition to go right. And if these were all the variables at play, he would indeed go right. So Bob, at 10 am, on the second, turns right, as expected, and finds that the bridge is out and that he, subsequently, has wasted time, and has actually taken the longer of the two options. So lets rewind time back to the exact conditions. This also means Bobs brain (memories), which I think many compatibilist forget to equate, is reset as well. It is again 10 am, on the second, and Bob has all the for-mentioned dispositions. He is unaware of the state of the bridge, and will again take the right. Rewind this an infinite number of times and the outcome will always be the same. The only way this outcome could be different is if we did not return to the previous conditions.

There is a scientific principle of probability that states that per infinite amount of time, all possibilities will be achieved. Compatibilists, in my eyes, fail to understand this "per infinite amount of time", or rather they do not understand that returning something to the exact previous conditions requires the turning back of time as well. Instead, they bend this principle to their meaning: that if we repeat this scenario an infinite amount of times, then it equals an infinite amount of time passing, which means, if we are to fulfill the principle, all possibilities would be achieved. This is not only wrong, it is poorly thought out (especially for the caliber of the people who endorse this philosophy).

This hypothetical we are speaking of is scientifically and temporally impossible (i.e. the same moment cannot happen a period of time after itself). It is a tool for observation that we use to understand such things as causation, again, something I believe the compatibilist doctrine has overlooked.

For clarity, were it actually possible for time to reset over and over, it would not matter, for we could never understand what has happened because we would be returned to our previous conditions, because those conditions are directly linked to given points in time (i.e. my 31 year old self knows that I have lived to be 31, where my 20 year old self could never know that with certainty). If we were not returned to our previous conditions, then it would have to be a different point in time. For example: If Bob kept his memory "after" the reset, and knew that the bridge was out, then in Bob's perspective this would be the second time he was sitting at this fork in the road at 10 am, on the second. There would be a clear temporal distinction in Bob's perspective despite the actually temporal impossibility. 

Note: Another way to think about compatibilism is to imagine a physics problem. Okay, so...

Imagine a ball is travelling at a velocity "V" to collide with a perfectly cylindrical bat, being swung at force "F", at point "p". The bat and ball have specific densities, "D" and "d" respectively, and are perfectly elastic. Determine the angle the ball travels from the bat and the distance it will travel if there was no wind resistance. 

This is a perfectly normal physics problem, which does indeed have an answer. It has one answer. To physicists, and many other people, this makes sense. One answer is really all you can get. For compatibilists, the result is not the same. To them, there must be multiple, and they may even argue an infinite, number of answers. This is obviously ridiculous. If the conditions were exactly the same the result would be the same, or rather if the result is different, then the conditions must be different (one, or many, variables must be altered).

Quantum physics, though not measured or observed in the same manner as Newtonian physics, is the same in that conditions produce singular outcomes that, should the conditions stay the same, will produce the same outcome. I mention this, because brains function on a quantum, but completely physical level, and each firing of a neuron is subjected to a particular set of conditions, of which, has a singular result. Just because we cannot observe as well as we like on this level, does not mean we get to say that there must be multiple possibilities. 

When the conclusion is that "there are multiple possibilities", this only means we do not understand the variables involved enough to understand what, whatever it is that we are observing, is doing.


If your comment is that I am over analyzing, that I am using to much reason or "thinking to much into it", please stop and ask yourself if you are using reason to determine this argument. Please stop and ask yourself if you have ever figured anything out without thinking. If you simply do not value reason, I would love to hear your explanation for this. No doubt you will be using reason.

I look forward to your thoughts,


One final answer to a discomfort a friend of mine has.

The question: If you don't believe in choices, and that everything is determined, then why do you try to convince others to choose that there is no such thing as choice?

If you wish to read my answer click here.

1 comment:

  1. Josh, thanks for the great read. I'm glad you suggested that I check it out. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the future.