A truly terrifying thought!


what would you say if I were to tell you that your free will is just an illusion? To me this is one of the scariest thoughts I have had in years. I am a scientist and have a materialistic view of the universe. If we are biological machines (which I believe we are), our constituent parts, the molecules, atoms and subatomic particles follow the laws of physics. Our cognitive functions including our consciousness and decision making processes in our brain would be entirely deterministic and free will would be an illusion. In fact there are scientific studies that point in that direction. In these studies subjects had to select different tasks while the scientists tracked the underlying neurological processes of their decision making. The interesting finding was that the „neurological decision“ was made before the conscious decision (the subjects had to report when they decided which task to perform).

If free will is an illusion, there is no guilt, no merit, no real control over one’s own life, to me an utterly terrifying concept. Every time we decide to become a better person, to lose weight, to learn a language, the outcome would already be predetermined. Every moment of achievement, every little yes-we-can moment in life but also every failure and defeat would just be a predetermined manifestation of the laws of physics. While this is terrifying, since I am a scientist, I cannot really dismiss this idea even if I don’t like it.

Stop talking about this immediately! The illusion of control is the only thing keeping the masses happy!



My freewill disappeared when I said “I do”.

Now I mostly tell my wife… “Yes ma’am”

antimatter, stick it to the man.

Sounds about right to me.

Nothing terrifying here at all Friedemann. I lead my life as if what I do, and what happens to me, can be greatly influenced by my determination, will, energy,purpose , and how I treat people. The fact that all of these aspects of my personality have been shaped by my DNA and environment, and what happens to me in the future will also be largely determined by any number of factors outside my control, has never dampened my enthusiasm.

Lighten up, and enjoy the smell of the flowers!

The type of reactions here tells me that this topic is maybe a bit too esoteric for most people, I’ve encountered the same if I discuss this with friends. But in fact it is a very down to earth one and modern science is now capable to research it in detail.

Steve, maybe you don’t fully understand my point. If we are “machines” you don’t lead your life, your life just happens. I’d like to think that I can convince people or myself to do the right thing, I’d like to be in control of what I do. If there is no free will at all, all this is an illusion and we cannot even be mad at Stalin or Hitler. It’s a world like in that matrix movie. How can that not be terrifying???

In fact, I think we all would agree that there are many personal traits about us that we would like to change but are unable to. This doesn’t prove determinism, but in a way corroborates it.

Let me say something else.

I think, human personality stands between determinism and free will. But predetermined thing haven’t written by someone else. This thing(or event) shapes based on previous events. For example, I always have thought if the French revolution and Spain-the US war would never happen it won’t occur the WW2. Of course, events are uncountable. Millions of events cause thousands of events. “Million” determines “thousand”. A brain simply could not analyse such quantity of information(that is way we can’t predict future). Another example, we are predetermined in nationality. We simply can’t change this. As a individual we demonstrate our “determinism of nationality”.

If we look at a human being as a biological entity we are simply a manifestation of our DNA. And where the DNA comes from? From our parents. They don’t create us, of course, they transfer information. They determines us. We are all information.

Natural desires(instincts) are our fate. We can’t rid of this. If we look at this side free will doesn’t exist. And I want to close my thought with a quote from Spinoza: “Men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.”

They determine…

Friedemann,I have read lots on the subject.I am happy with the extent to which I can decide what I do each day. And I judge people, all the time.

When you experiment - asking a person to take a decision - checking if one takes a decision before or after the brain structure shows the taking of the decision - you always see the brain showing first - that is not because predestination.

It is simply because the person takes the decision first then after informs you of the taking of decision or takes the decision first then after implements the decision.

I do not think anything is wrotten before - the best evidende is that I learn to speak before I know there was a possibility to write.

Is he still at large?


the experiment was set up such that they could detect the neurological, unconscious decision was before the subject felt he or she made that decision. The person’s perceived free will was in fact an illusion.



you said you judge people all the time. How can you judge anyone, even a child murderer if we are biological machines?

I take it then that you reject the materialistic view of the human body and the human brain. Do you believe in a metaphysical soul then (for which there is no scientific evidence)?

Just curious


Is there a particular experiment you’re referring to here? Though I’m by no means an expert, this is a topic that interests me and the only experiment I’m aware of that claims to do what you’re talking about is one by Benjamin Libet, in which he recorded a “readiness potential,” a sort of neurological decision that could be identified significantly before the subject in question became consciously aware of making a decision. I don’t think Libet’s findings have any real bearing on the question of free will, (and I’ll be happy to discuss why, if this is the research you’re talking about) but I am curious as to whether there are other experiments of this sort floating around in the scientific world. Also, I’m quite a fan of esoteric topics, so thanks for injecting the forum with one.

Science cannot predict where a paper plane is going to land even if the track of it in the air is determined by some laws of physics. The existence of free will might be an illusion in some respects, but pursuing deterministically reductionistic theories is usually a futile attempt.

Predicting the track of a sheet of paper in the air might be more difficult.

Steve, are you also an esoteric biological machine as these our friends?

Rohr, I do not believe in a metaphysical soul. I believe in the wonderful and uplifting vision of natural evolution that has created the world in which I live and of which I am a part, however briefly, even in terms of sharing my genetic makeup with all forms of life.

For the relatively brief period of my life, I judge, just as all humans make moral judgments, and decisions, otherwise we could not live our lives. It is of no consequence to me that my judgments are forged by a combination of my inherited genes and the influence of my environment. I enjoy my freedom to choose nonetheless. I like what I like. I enjoy what I enjoy. I do not question the mechanism that makes me like and enjoy certain things and disapprove of others.

I believe that our will power is a major force in our lives. We can will ourselves to learn languages for example. Our attitude towards language learning is the most important factor in our success or lack of success. I may be an esoteric biological machine, it does not matter to me. I am certainly not a paper airplane.