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Do you feel like you’re in control of your life? That every decision you make is yours and yours alone? That at any moment you can re-direct the course of your life as, of course, you have free will? Well science has some bad news for you; you don’t. Free will and the ability to choose the choices you make is but merely an illusion. And the following 10 facts / insights will prove that you have more in common with your toaster when it comes to making decisions, than the free thinking human you believe yourself to be.
Your Thoughts Think You
Anyone with a hint of self-awareness can see that they’re not thinking their thoughts, but rather, their thoughts think them. All day long our brains just feed us thought after thought that lead to the choices we make in our lives. So just how many thoughts do think you ask?…
Over 90,000 Thoughts A Day
Science has revealed through the use of brain scanning devices that our brains think well in excess of 90,000 thoughts a day. That’s over a thought every second! No matter how self-aware you are, you could never observe and re-direct all those thoughts. And what, other than the thoughts you’re not aware of are making the decisions you make in your day? Not the free thinking you you think you are.
You Can’t Stop Thinking
It’s clear that you can’t make a choice without a thought preceding it. If you truly think you’re free and in control of your mind – then just stop thinking. You’ll notice that you can’t go a couple of seconds without a thought just magically appearing. This is why meditation is so difficult.
Not Aware Of Your Choices
Benjamin Libet (one of the pioneering experts in the field of human consciousness) back in the 70’s revealed, using brain imaging devices on subjects who were asked to voluntarily move their hand while watching a clock to mark their intent to move, that activity in the brain signaled the hand to move up to half a second before the subjects were even aware of their intention to move it. Later experiments by other scientists using more advanced brain scanning machines were able to predict the choice between two options a subject was asked to make, this time even seconds earlier. Now where’s the free will in that?!
Post Hoc Justification
Ever buy or do something you shouldn’t because you convinced yourself with the following: “Just this one time” “You deserve it”, and “You only live once”? These are the things we say to ourselves in an act of post hoc justification for something our mind decided long before we were aware of it. Haven’t you noticed how your mind will come up with a million excuses for choices you know you shouldn’t make – like eating that last piece of cheesecake for example?
Did it ever occur to you that had you not stumbled upon this article that’s challenging your ability to choose freely, that you wouldn’t be thinking of your free will at all? Of course you wouldn’t. Prior causes; such as traffic jams, arguments with the spouse, a bad night’s sleep – along with a million others – set our thinking down a different course that we’re not even aware of, but affect our decisions nonetheless.
How come you don’t wear bell-bottoms, use a rotary phone, or say, “That’s groovy man!” anymore? Culture, that’s why. There isn’t a facet of our lives that the culture we live in doesn’t influence or dictate. And if culture’s affecting many of your choices, then you can’t claim that they’re because of your free choosing.
Stanford University neuroscience professor, Robert Sapolsky has done studies that show how the foods your mom consumed when you were just a third trimester fetus can dictate the decisions you’re making today. He also points to early childhood experiences and upbringing that almost set in stone the course our lives take. In other words, as he likes to say “Don’t ever make the mistake of being born poor in this country” – as such factors will greatly influence your decisions – whether you want to make them or not.
If you’re not convinced by now, you have to at least come to terms with the fact that we’re not 100% free. You may think that it’s your decision to hold your bladder, stay up later, skip a meal – but at some point if you keep holding out on your body’s needs – you’ll end up fainting, falling asleep, and peeing your pants. Our biology dictates much, if not all of our decisions. And while science is still unclear as to how much free will we don’t have – we can be sure it’s not 100%.
At the end of the day, to be free means to have no constraints. But as we’ve covered; biology, culture, prior causes, a brain that thinks us instead of us thinking it are all constraints behind the decisions we make in life. The hard pill to swallow here is that we’re not free in our choosing. It only appears that way because free will is merely just an illusion.