Free Will: Illusion or Reality?

Uploaded 9/9/2022, approx. 22 minute read

Okay, svanpanim chmadmadim vesheva vinsheli. Look it up.

I am being asked constantly the fact that a narcissist suffers from pathological narcissism. Does it exempt him from responsibility and accountability? Can he help himself? Does he have free will? What about the psychopath?

Psychopathy anti-social personality disorder is a brain abnormality. There is little doubt about this. There is a very strong correlation between severe structural and functional disturbances in the brain and the ultimate development of psychopathy.

Psychopaths in other words don't have the same brains that healthy people do. Can we blame them for being psychopaths? Can we hold them responsible and accountable for their actions? Do they have free will?

Now I have dealt with the question of responsibility and accountability in other videos. So just go to my channel and search for the keyword responsibility or the keyword accountability.

On a laptop or a PC use the magnifying glass symbol. On a smartphone click on the down arrow to the right and there will be a drop down menu. Click on search and look for the keywords.

But today what I want to focus on is the very concept of free will. Is there such a thing? Is it illusion or reality like me? Because I am real and my name is Sal Baknin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited and no matter how much it hurts you I'm a professor of psychology.

What can you do? There's no justice in life. The bad guys get it all. Maybe because they are the only ones with truly free will.

Okay, Baknin enough with your nonsense. Get to the point. And the point is an interview that I recently granted to Long Suffering Scott Douglas Jacobson or what's left of him on the news intervention website. And I'm going to describe to you my answers. I'm going to skip his questions. You can find them on the interview. There will be a link once the interview is published. I'll place a link in the description of the video which happens to be under the video. Not over the video. Not to the right or to the left but under as in my finger.

So Scott asked me what is free will. And I said free will is a useful fiction. Not human affairs, human societies, human civilizations. They are based on fictions.

One of the most famous fictions if not the most famous of all is God. It's a piece of fiction. After life is a piece of fiction. And yet these are useful fictions. Free will is a useful fiction because it imputes to people the ability to make choices. Only agents with free will can be held morally responsible.

Let me explain this in layman's terms. If you don't have free will everything you do is not your choice. If you don't have free will you are predetermined. You are predetermined. If you don't have free will I can't hold you responsible for what you're doing. If you don't have free will I can't blame you. You can't feel guilty and I should never punish you for anything you do because it's not your fault. You have no free will.

But if you do have free will you are what we call a morally responsible agent. You have agency and the minute you have agency you are deserving of praise or punishment depending on your choices.

So free will comprises three conditions, three elements.

Number one the ability to choose, the ability to act otherwise. Not the way you did but otherwise.

This ability to survey the terrain and then pick up an option and then act on it. This is the first condition for free will.

The second element in free will is having control over one's choices and actions. When you are intoxicated, when you are mentally ill or severely mentally ill for example when you are schizophrenic, there is a question. There is even a legal defense and the insanity defense not guilty by reason of insanity.

And so you need to have full control over your choices and actions in order to qualify as an agent with free will.

And then the last element is the choice or act that you have adopted, are rationally motivated.

If you act irrationally, then there is an open question as to whether you have free will.

Because theoretically at least free will is intended to maximize the good, your good, your interest, other people's interest.

Free will drives all of us inexorably towards maximizing the total good in the world.

When we make choices that enhance evil and increase it, it is very doubtful whether we have free will.

But you say why?

People can choose evil. People do act in evil ways.


But history shows that these actions are usually self-defeating and self-destructive.

And so there is a question of who would freely choose to self-destruct or self-defeat.

Wait a minute you say. What about people who commit suicide? People who commit suicide, they make choices, they take actions and these actions are intended to obliterate and negate them and destroy them, invitiate them, harm these people and down with free choice.

Again it's an open question. Suicide is motivated by very powerful internal processes. Do these people have control over these processes?

We are not sure. Actually it seems that they don't.

Because nine out of ten people who have attempted suicide and failed are very happy that they had failed. That is not a strong indication of free will.

But be the case as it may. These are the three elements.

The ability to choose or act otherwise than you have done. Having control over your choices and actions.

And that the choice or action are rationally motivated.

The majority of cases this would lead to an increase in the total good in the world but not always.

The very concept of free will is founded on convenient delusions. Delusions like time or like causation. Time and causation are short hand language elements. They don't really exist out there.

We know in physics for example. There's no such thing as time. And causation as many philosophers, Hume, Mill, others, many philosophers have said clearly causation is simply a mistake. It's when event B follows event A. All the time we tend to think that event A had caused event B.

At any rate, time and causation are convenient delusions because they make sense and order of the world. We'll come to it a bit later.

Free choice is founded on these two assumptions.

Because free choice implies that you make a choice A and it is followed by action B. So it implies causation and it implies an error of time which progresses from the past always to the future.

But here's a strange thing. There is a concept called teleology. Teleology is when we attribute purposeful actions to objects, to animals and so on.

In science, teleology is a no-go word. It's forbidden. You are not allowed to attribute purpose to events.

So for example, you should never say the B collects pollen from flowers in order to make honey. In order to make honey. The purpose, this is teleology.

What you can say scientifically is the B collects pollen from flowers and then the B makes honey. That's a scientific description of what happens.

But the minute you say the B does A in order to do B, that's not scientific and it's strictly forbidden and it is known as teleology.

There is one exception though. Teleology is prohibited in all sciences but it mysteriously permeates foundationally philosophy and more specifically the field of ethics.

We do say that people have purpose, direction, goal. They choose A in order to do B. They do B in order to continue with C in order.

Teleology is the cornerstone actually of free will and free will is the foundation stone of ethics.

And so the whole edifice is on shaky grounds because what have you, either, the teleology is acceptable as an explanatory hermeneutic principle in thinking in science and philosophy or it is not.

You can't have it both ways. You can't have the teleological cake and eat it.

But this is precisely what we're doing because free will implies purpose, directiveness, intentionality, going towards a goal, accomplishing something premeditated.

And so both the external world and our internal world serve as constraints.

They constrain us.

For example, you cannot jump 10 meters up in the air. Why can't you jump 10 meters up in the air?

Because a small thing called gravity. Gravity constrains you. You cannot live to be 300 years old because biology constrains you.

There are many things you cannot do because you're constrained by the external world.

But what we often neglect is to realize that we are also constrained by our internal world, not only by the external world.

We are constrained by our upbringing. We are constrained by our childhood trauma and abuse. We are constrained by our character and temperament and personality. We are constrained by internal processes which we can self-regulate or which are dysregulated. We are constrained by our attachment style.

So many things constrain us from the inside. One could even say that we are as constrained from the inside as we are from the outside.

And so we inhabit these two systems, external and internal, and we are limited by them. We are hampered by them.

They are impediments to our full potential. We cannot choose and we cannot act contrary to nature.

But we also cannot choose and we cannot act contrary to our individual nature.

What we call change is merely a transition between different constrained systems.

When we move from one system to another, we affect change. When we move from Earth to space, we can jump 10 meters up in the air. That is change.

But we are still constrained. We are still constrained by the new environment.

We move from one set of constraints to another.

So on the face of it, ostensibly, free will is a myth. There's no such thing.

The number of constraints, external and internal, is so enormous that it's very dubious or doubtful that you can make any choice or take any action, which is unconstrained.

But the word free in free will implies a lack of any constraint.

Because the minute you're constrained, even by one constraint, you're not free. The minute you're limited, even by one limit, you're not free. The minute there's a boundary which you cannot cross, even if it's only one boundary, you're not free.

So it's very questionable whether the word free in free will is applicable.

This is called nomological determinism.

But nomological determinism, determinism based on laws, is merely optical.

And this is the approach in philosophy known as compatibilism.

So determinism in this case is optical for two reasons.

First of all, there are always other options. One of the arguments in the philosophy of free will is that if I put a gun to your head, I take away your free will. That is, of course, explicitly untrue. If someone puts a gun to your head, you are still possessed of free will. You can choose to die.

Actually, in Judaism, one is instructed to choose death over certain transgressions. Someone puts a gun to your head, tells you to commit incest with your daughter, you should choose to die, according to Judaism. There's always a choice. It's wrong to say, as many have in philosophy, that there are situations where there's no choice. There's always a choice.

And if there's always a choice, then nomological determinism is very doubtful.

Allow me to plug in my laptop. I forgot to plug it into the battery.

You see, no free will.

Okay, Shoshanim, we are safe again.

So this is the first argument against nomological determinism that we're always faced with a monopoly of choices.

But much more importantly, there's another argument in hyper, super duper complex systems, such as the human body, the human mind, the universe, societies, human societies and civilizations in very, very complex systems, the number of probable pathways is so enormous that for all practical reasons, for all practical purposes, we can never, ever specify all these pathways, or even most of these pathways.

I repeat this very complex sentence, because it's crucial.

We live in complex systems, we inhabit as human beings, complex systems, we have our bodies, which are exceedingly complex, we have our minds which are even more complex, we live in societies and civilization, on a planet, in the universe, and all these are super complex systems.

In super complex systems, the number of possible pathways, the number of possible evolutions or developments is so gigantic, so humongous, that we can never, ever make an exhaustive list of all these pathways, or even most of these pathways. We can never get it fully right. This is Gödel's theorem of incompleteness, chaos theory, quantum mechanics.

We are beginning to realize the limitations of our ability to describe the world, let alone comprehend it.

So these systems, as far as we are concerned, appear to be either random or subject to free will.

If these systems are random, there is a school of philosophy called libertarianism, and it says that we actually do have free will, because the world is random, it's not predetermined, and so we act in it as free will agents.

This is a serious mistake, we'll come to it a bit later.

I think that a good definition of free will will be that it is the conscious, conscious, introspected experience of the degrees of freedom in systems such as our brains or society.

I'm going to repeat this again.

Free will must be conscious, must be introspected, because you observe yourself in this process, you say I have free will.

So free will is a conscious, introspected experience, because you experience your free will, but experience of what?

Experience of the complexity of these systems, experience of the degrees of freedom in these systems, such as the brain or society.

Free will reflects the fact that our ability to know the world is limited by our own finitude and mortality.

Our descriptions of reality, including psychological reality, will always be subject to uncertainty, indeterminacy, and apparent randomness.

And this is a frightening realization, because what I'm telling you is that we can never get the world right. We can never understand reality fully.

There will always be darkness, dark matter, dark energy, black holes. The world is becoming darker by the minute, at least according to physics.

And it is terrifying, because understanding the world, comprehending it, grasping it, allows you to predict it. And prediction or predictability is the foundation of survival.

So it's a terrifying realization, and it produces anxiety.

Existentially, let's call it angst. It implies that there is an external locus of control.

If you don't understand the world fully, your life is determined from the outside by forces and processes, which in principle, even, you can never fathom.

And this creates a sense of profound helplessness and hopelessness.

So we defend against this helplessness and lack of autonomy and agency by deceiving ourselves into believing that we are somehow exempt from the laws of nature, that we can alter the ineluctable course of events, that we have superhuman powers, so to speak, that we are Marvel Comics superheroes, because a stone, a bee, an elephant, a comet, a black hole, a white dwarf, everyone and everything in the universe are subject to laws which are deterministic and unfold inexorably.

Even if we are incapable of fully grasping these laws, even if in principle we can never map out the territory, we can never make an exhaustive list of all the possibilities, we still know that they are out there, that the universe is a machine, and that if we at some point would be able to gain total knowledge of this machine, we would be able to predict it perfectly, including predict every one of its components, humans also.

So to say that humans are the only exception to this rule, that humans somehow are not determined from the outside, that they are not subject to the laws of nature, that they are not machines, to say this is of course self-deceiving and counterfactual, but we need this deception, self-deception, we need this lie, we need this confabulation, because otherwise we will feel totally diminished, we will feel gun-blasted, we would feel cogs in a machine, we would feel that our lives are of no importance, we will feel exempt from moral responsibility, we will feel that everything is determined, predestined, to use a religious term, and so this would destroy everything we've ever built as human beings.

We can't afford this, and so we light ourselves, we say yes, maybe we can't know the universe perfectly, maybe we will never attain perfect knowledge of the world, but we know everything there is to know about ourselves, so we know for sure that we have free will.

It's a useful bit of self-deception, and it should be perpetuated for two reasons.

Owing to our inability to secure all the information about reality, free will feels real.

You ask anyone, they will tell you of course I have free will, of course I have agency, I make choices, I determine the course of my life in small matters.

The second reason that we should perpetuate the myth, the legend, owing free will, is that the concept of free will guarantees the acceptance of moral responsibilities and their reactions to moral responsibility, just deserts, blame, guilt, and restorative justice.

We can't survive without this, so we can't survive without the construct of free will.

It is the belief in the freedom to choose, the belief in the freedom to do otherwise, regardless of whether such liberty is merely an illusion. That's not the question right now. The belief that it is not an illusion is the foundation of human civilization, its core.

Free will is an article of faith, it is not a fact, it is not a hypothesis, it's not a theory, it has no truth value, it's not true or false, it has no ontological status, only an epistemological status. It is faith, it's a form of religion.

And so Jacobson asked me at some point what forms of free will, if it exists at all, would fit the modern scientific discourse.

The answer is none. There is no form of free will that fits the modern scientific discourse.

Modern science is dichotomous. Some of it is deterministic. In other words, some scientists and some disciplines believe that there are laws of nature which unfold, they cannot be stopped, they are inexorable, and they lead always from A to B.

This is the nomological approach, it's determinism.

In other fields, like I mentioned quantum mechanics, believe in probability or randomness.

But in both approaches, whether you are a determinist and whether you are a probabilist, whichever attitude you have towards reality, whether you believe that reality is essentially random and order comes out of randomness, or whether you believe that order is dictated by laws which are the hardwired built into the fabric of reality. Never mind what your attitude is.

In both approaches, there is no place for free will, and this is called the intelligibility problem. Free will has no place in modern science, period. No form of modern science, no branch of modern science, no discipline in modern science accommodates or can accommodate in principle free will.

If the universe is preordained and predestined, for example, by God, then of course individual agency is counterfactual, cannot exist. Ifon the other hand, events are random, there can be no will, there can be no choice, there can be no action actually, because choice, will, action imply intentionality, they imply order, they imply causation, they imply choice and premeditation. So they imply the opposite of randomness.

And if the world is random, they can't exist.

Some people say that man converts the random into the structured, that man is an agent of increasing order in the universe, a negentropic agent, an agent that fights entropy. Humans, in this view, are agents of determinism, actually. They are the shapers of reality in accordance with the laws of nature. They kind of enter reality, they're subject to laws of nature, but then they use the laws of nature to make choices and decide on courses of action.

But this is just kicking the can down the road. We are still faced with the issue of randomness.

When humans make decisions and actions, the consequence of which is an increasing order, they make these choices, they embark on certain actions in a random universe.

So there's still the question, how can you have choice and free will and structured action and an increasing order in a random universe?

It's a problem. If the universe is random, there can be no negentropic agents or at least no long-term negentropic agents. There could be local agents and short-term agents.

On the one hand, and also if the universe is random, the very concept of choice or action or will are counterfactual. They can't exist in a random universe.

If on the other hand, the universe is deterministic, then what is the role of mankind? If mankind just translates the laws of nature into an increasing order, this does not or doesn't necessarily involve free will.

And according to the law of parsimony, which is the law that governs science, good science or comes razor, if we don't need a certain assumption, we should not use it. We don't need free will to explain the actions of human beings in a deterministic universe, so we should not use free will. We don't need God to explain reality in the world, so we should not use God.

Every single philosopher I ever heard of grappled with the question of free will and tried to square the circle. Ultimately, I think it is just a question of frame of reference and level of description. The level of description is crucial because when you transition from one level of description to another, there's a total disconnect between the ensuing descriptive text.

Let's give you an example. The same substance can be described on a molecular level as two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. It's a formal description. It captures a lot of the essence. It's valid. It's accurate. It's subject to falsification. So it's scientific. It's a level of description.

It's a molecular level.

But now let's transition to another level of description, the human level.

Human are much more complex than molecules, so the human level of description is much more complex than the molecular level of description.

And when we look at the same substance, from the more complex human level of description, it becomes water, cold water. Both descriptions are valid statements. I repeat this. Both descriptions, the molecular description and the human description, they are valid statements about the reality of this substance and yet they have nothing in common.

I think free will is this kind of problem. It depends crucially on the frame of reference and the level of description.

From a fine-grained point of view of the entire world, when your frame of reference or level of description is the whole universe, free will is a confabulation. From the point of view of the universe, there is no such thing as free will. There are only pathetic creatures who believe that they have free will, delude themselves into having free will because it's good for social functioning.

But if we go down, if we transition from the cosmic point of view to the human being's perspective, if we go down a few levels of description, free will becomes a very useful organizing and explanatory principle.

From a human point of view, free will helps us make sense of life and provides one with self efficacious guidance. And as I said before, it also feels completely real.

Scott asked me about my cronone field theory and developed by Eitan Satcher and others. And he asked me if in cronone field theory there is free will. And I answered by saying that more so than any other theory I'm aware of, there is free will in cronone field theory.

The cronone field theory is all about time as a field of potentiality.

As some of these potentials materialize, they constitute input, but input not to any deterministic process, as in other theories in physics.

The minute a potential materializes, it feeds into other probable processes or events. In other words, events feed potentials. Potential bring about more potentials. Choice and action easily fit into this view of the universe because our brains are just another such superposition.

I will not go more deeply into this. There are videos on my other channel, Black Moon Musings, where I describe cronone field theory. Learn more about it there.

Daniel Jacobson begs for mercy. He says, any final words of anxiety, discomfort, if not anguish and torture?

I do not do comfort.

But thank you for giving me the opportunity. Everything whose work I've read has miserably failed in tackling the thorny topic of free will. Even the most rigorous among these philosophers made fools of themselves in plain view.

Don't go there. There is a thin line separating overthinking from inanity and overanalyzing from stupidity. Don't cross this line.

Free will exists the same way Harry Potter exists, the same way Sherlock Holmes exists. They most definitely exist.

Free will is real. It is a force to reckon with. It shapes our minds and lives and societies. It exerts a huge influence on multiple spheres.

What more do you need to know? What is the meaning of exists? Of course it exists. It exists much more than many other things, which are mere objects. Enough said.

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