On Illusion of Free Will

You’ve probably of illusion of free will. If you didn’t then the gist of it is that the world is deterministic, meaning that each current moment is predefined by the previous state of the world. And it spans across the entire universe. You can think of it at macro level in terms of space and time: if you’re right now located in US (or any country), you can expect that the exact next moment you’ll still be there (unless right before that you were crosing the border, where you’d expect to be in another country). Or if you kick a ball, it will move in the direction it was kicked. So having the world being deterministic is actually a good thing.

But here’s the kicker - it would mean that everything you (and think) is predetermined, so really you don’t have control over it. Whatever you did and you’ll do, is predetermined. And this is the point where one would ask - so what’s the point of it all? The answer is not very satisfacatory, but basically you still want to avoid pain, and you still want to feel pleasures. So regardles of how everything works, you’ll still do you (instead of just dropping everything because there’s no control).

I still can’t accept it as a truth, but I found an interesting middle ground that satisfies the “illusion of free will” while maintaining some “hope of control”.

People from western culture (especially US) often think that they have complete control over their lives. And if something good has happened to them - this is because of their hard work. While if something bad has happened - this is all their falt, and no one’s else.

Unfortunately this is far from truth. Anyone who made themselves a promise (say I’ll not eat sweets today) know that somehow that doesn’t just work. Part of it is because we have the illusion of “self” as the entirety of “us”. You can think of “self” as of the part of you that’s “playing the thoughts in your consciousness”. But “self” is only a small part of “us”, as each human is much more than just the thought that pop-up in consciousness. Think of all the things that happen in subconsciousness - who does all the “background thinking”, or who chooses what thoughts to think about at every single moment, or the dreams, or controlling your body.

You’re much more than the thoughts you assosiate yourself with. Btw this is the mechanism that Vipassana meditation is using - teaching you to observe your thoughts as such, and be less reactive, less self-centered and more conscious of these thoughts and what you choose to react to them.

So if you think about free will as a construct that your “self” has, you can see that it is a deception. Your “self” doesn’t have full control over everything (nor it should, as we’d be overwhelmed if we’d have to make millions of decisions every single second).

Instead you have a partial control, or a very small set of free will. Whenever you choose to direct your attention to one thought or activity, and not direct it to others, you’re changing your inner state over which you don’t have control. Say you pay more attention to what you’re eating, and you stop eating most sweets. Initially very little is likely to change, or rather it will change but not the way you want - you’ll crave more sweets. But in time your body, gut, pallet, expectations, insulin resistance/response… will change, so your cravings and your future affordances.

This way by directing your attention to some things, and not to others, you’re changing the current state of you that will make certain things more likely and others less likely.

You still don’t have full control over yourself, but you do have some control that ultimately cascades over those things that you don’t have direct control, and changes the probabilities of different outcomes.