Do Humans Have Free Will, Or Are We Programmed By Society? | Joscha Bach

Do Humans Have Free Will, Or Are We Programmed By Society? | Joscha Bach

Like consciousness, free will is often misunderstood
because we know it by reference, but it’s difficult to know it by content, what you
really mean by free will. A lot of people who immediately feel that free will is related
to whether the universe is deterministic or probabilistic. And while physics has some
ideas about that—which change every now and then—it’s not part of our experience
and I don’t think it makes a difference if the universe forces you randomly to do
things or deterministically. The important thing seems to me that in free
will you are responsible for your actions, and responsibility is a social interface.
For instance, if I am told that if I do X I go to prison, and this changes my decision
whether or not to do X, I’m obviously responsible for my decision because it was an appeal to
my responsibility in some sense. Likewise if I do a certain thing that causes harm to
other people and they don’t want that harm to happen, that influences my decision. This
is a discourse of decision-making that I would call a free will decision. “Will” is the representation that my nervous
system at any level of its functioning has raised a motive to an intention. It has committed
to a particular kind of goal that gets integrated into the story of myself, this protocol that
I experience as myself in this world. And that was what I experienced as will, as a
willed decision, and this decision is free in as much as this decision can be influenced
by discourse. So to me, free will is a social notion. It
means that this interface of social interaction, of discourse, of thinking about things, about
this interface of knowledge, language, conceptual thought, is relevant for that decision. If
you have a decision in which it doesn’t play a role, for instance, because you are
addicted to something and you cannot stop doing it even if you want to, then this decision
I would say is not free. I grew up in eastern Germany, it was communist
eastern Germany and it was a very weird ideological country. A country that believed in stories
about how the world works that I, as a nerd, thought obviously not quite true. I had difficultly
believing the official stories about how the world works. It was like some weird kind of
religion. And then the wall came down and it didn’t surprise me in the least. And
then we entered a new dream, a new shared model of the world that was not quite true,
and I realized that most people now fall for this new model. It was very interesting to
see this for me and if you look, for instance, at the U.S., the majority of U.S. Americans
do not believe in the theory of evolution despite all the evidence to the contrary. The majority of people on this planet are
religious even though there doesn’t seem to be very good evidence for a multitude of
creator gods and so on, in my view at least. And if it existed, if a creator god existed,
it would be very hard for me to understand why this creator god really does care about
whether I worship it or all these things that we attribute to creator gods by religion.
So it’s very hard for me, in some sense, to intuitively understand why humans are religious
and why humans are ideological. But I think now over the years that this is
not a bug, it’s a feature. Humans are a programmable species. Religions and ideologies
are operating systems for societies. They have been so throughout most of our history,
and this idea that we can build society based on rational arguments is very, very recent
and very novel. And it’s not entirely clear if it really works.
But it’s clear that we cannot really build societies on conflicting ideologies that are
at war with each other. In the past it has led to situations where the ideology solved
the problems by killing the unbelievers or the religions did the same thing, and we all
agree this is not what we want to have. We want to have an open society, a pluralistic
society, a nonviolent, tolerant society, but still one where people work together and cooperate
well. And this ability to wake up into a shared dream in which people believe things because
their neighbors believe them has been a very powerful feature that’s probably the reason
why we were able to build large-scale societies. We have to understand that when people cooperate
they’re very often in what we call the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a situation in where in order to
achieve the greatest good you have to give up something for yourself, even in a situation
where that is in some sense a bit irrational, because if everybody else is not doing it
you’re going to be worse off. And for these Prisoner’s Dilemmas we have various solutions.
The easiest solution is to have a reputation system. You basically keep track of who did
what when, and you make sure that only the good guys get cookies in the future. And the problem is that these reputation systems
do not scale. If you have too many people in your tribe or in your family or in your
village you just lose track of who did what when, and you cannot really synchronize it
by talking about it. So after a couple hundred individuals the reputation system doesn’t
work very well. It also doesn’t really work if you are not looking. So if nobody is doing
the surveillance, how do you make sure that nobody is defecting and stealing stuff from
the fridge of your tribe, right? So what do we do? We evolve the ability to be normative:
the ability or the need to be good. And this need to be good, this need to follow internalized
norms, this need to serve sacred principles is something that is probably a feature that
is ingrained into our genetic makeup. And of course this alone would not be good
enough because goodness is like an arbitrary vector in value space. People also have a
need to synchronize what’s good. So people will try to feel what’s good in their in-group.
It works by empathy. Empathy is the primary mode in which we transmit norms. If you dress-up
somebody as an authority, as a priest, as a professor, as a pop star, as a politician,
and this person says a certain thing with conviction and people see that others believe
it, they start believing it themselves. And it’s obviously very useful to do this. There’s
almost never a situation where it’s useful to have an opinion that is different from
the opinion of your boss. So this is the ability that we got, and it
means that people perform the same things, they follow the same rules regardless of the
size of the group. This makes it possible to build agricultural societies with hundreds
of thousands of individuals and then millions of individuals. It makes it possible that
this agricultural society has people that specialize in different foods and different
trades and different materials and different crafts and so on, and produce all the multitude
of tasks and tools that we need to get an agricultural society to run and be able to
compete with the nomadic societies. And I think the reason why Homo sapiens is
the only hominin species that’s left is because we outcompeted them all. We were in
the same competitive niche and we were a species that was programmable, that was able to coordinate
our very large group of individuals. That was very powerful. It just turns out that
this mode of tribal organization is not sufficient for the world that we live in now.


  1. Post
    James Apperson

    Free will is an illusion.
    Even if only one person existed, they would not have it.
    Of course society indoctrinates and controls many facets of our self and our daily function;
    but it's not to blame for our lack of free will.

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    someone who grew up in china will think like chinese people if someone grows up in europe they will think like western people but no matter where you grew up you can always choose to be free or fight your way to freedom

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    Our brain is just a biological machine that works according to it's programming. The reason I don't go to murder people with an axe is not a choice but because it just isn't my nature to kill people. If there could ever be free will it would have to be something that operates outside this biological machine: soul or something. From a pure mechanistic view there can't be free will. But humans are not just the atoms we are composed of. Yeah, we make choices just like mice do but how free are these choices? A mouse run away when it sees a threath. We base are choices on more complex set of factors but it's still the same principle. We don't do something if the cost is too much for us. I wouldn't call this free will, unless we do some magic trick and completely redefine the whole concept. I've seen too many examples that we don't have much control in our lifes. The rich get rich, poor stay poor. Children from happy families become happy and succesful while children who have bad homes develop all kinds of problems.

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    Shame about the jingle at the beginning of the video smothering his words.

    But it's BigThink. The speakers may or may not be great, but the people who run the organization down to the people who title the videos, and apparently now do the editing, are absolute garbage.

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    No, as an evolutionist you know that the whole world is matter. We are just chemicals reacting to stimuli. There is no evil, there is no good. We are all a matter of what makes us up; so serial murderers probably had bad parents. You can't blame Nazis for gassing millions of people; that's how they were raised.

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    Matt D

    Weird how it's always the conformists who are lock step in with traditional thinking and culture who insist that free will is real.

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    David Boson

    the answer has always been – both.

    blend with the concept of cause and effect – both.

    society or genes – both.

    a blend, but those who think it us or them – both.

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    As many discussions turn out to be a combination or balance both sides, i think the free will discussion is the same. The universe is detemernistic while people have various degrees of free will. I dont Think nobodys life is 100% determined and nobody is 100% free but somewhere in between, and i Think its a fundamental drive to train the degree of ones free will, to transcend

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    Can someone tell me what the definition of "free will" is?
    And give a real life example of human behaviour on how it exists/doesn't exist.

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    Daniel Meyers

    mistaken/fallacious thoughts expressed in this video include anything that begins: "of course…" or "we all want…" and especially, "of course we all want…."

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    The real truth is: there is no free will, science has shown this but you are not a puppet. The "you" that you think owns and controls your body and can think and can decide and act and make decisions doesnt exist. Its an illusion. So simply the real you is a process of matter in a shape which you call "yourself" and it is completely governed by the laws of physics. You are the universe being aware of itself. There is no separate you inside your skin being determined, its an illusion. Most people think they are some "thing" encapsulated in a bag of skin. This is not right. Its like saying a flame is the orange thing on a candle. A flame is a continuous stream of hot gas giving off millions of photons and isnt the same for 2 micro seconds. It is a process not a thing and shouldnt be called a flame it should be called "flaming". Same with you, you arent the same for two milliseconds, exhaling CO2 inhaling oxygen, getting rid of old cells and making new ones etc. Every 7 years every cell in your body is different but you say you are the same person. Its an illusion just because your shape has stayed the same. So you shouldnt be called "you", you should be called "youing".

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    Dennis R. Levesque

    "So to me, free will is a social notion"? Well, to me, it's an inherent characteristic of all living things, but, manifests itself according to the biology of that animal/reptile/plant/bacteria/cell. Absurd? If not true, then evolution could not occur. Evolution depends on the first cell to "naturally select" its future, however primitively. External influences only attempt to suggest/force an other-than-natural will. Sometimes logic and nature don't agree, and we have still have to decide between the choices we are aware of. Other choices/truths might be available, but if the decider is not aware of them, then they are null & void or irrelevant. It's easy to pass judgment on what someone believes, but it's not fair to assume that they had all opportunities/knowledge/evidence available to them. And it's not fair to assume that even care. If you want social-free-will, then you must also allow personal-free-will. Just don't confuse which is which. Some can't see the forest for the trees, and some can't see the trees for the forest. The best we can do is to find harmony with our free-will. Slavery, force, bullying, etc might prevent the manifestation of free-will, but it doesn't destroy it. Free-will is more than just a social notion. If you don't believe that, then explain how else evolution could work. Or for that matter, if you don't believe it, explain why religion wants a "higher-power" better than what they got here on earth. Who's to say who's free-will is more valuable/worthy? We just have to deal with it whatever it is. The best we can do, is to find harmony with our free-will. Don't squander it.

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    Sole Substance

    As AI and robotics advance, programable people will lose their usefulness to society's programmers. I think we all know what will happen to them then

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    Mr. Spooderman

    Understanding why we praise our "creator gods" is simply a matter of understanding that some wise men got their heads together way back in the day and used people's own stupidity against them in order to make them adhere to the ways they believed one should act, through their emotions, such as fear, since they were too stupid to understand reason, hence leaving them with simple solutions, such as rendering a thing beyond themselves, and part of a being bigger than themselves.

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    Atlas WalkedAway

    Yeah, so the real answer is that we don't actually know enough about the fine structure of the universe to be able to definitively say whether is is deterministic or probabilistic on scales lower than we can currently model, and the incompleteness theorem describes the possibility that we will never be able to do so, no matter how much knowledge we gain. It simply may not be possible to ever answer this question, but as our current knowledge stands the universe only seems to have a bulk property of determinism, but an underlying structure that allows for traditionally impossible, random deviations from otherwise predictable outcomes. Free will is a possibility. It is on the table, and that is the strongest true assertion which may be made about it. Anyone who claims to have a yes or no answer to that question is a fool, drunk on their own hubris.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

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    Jonathan Vazquez-Perez

    It has everything to do with physics and the materialistic universe. Our brains operate under the law of physics and the physical realm we live on, so yes…it does fucking matter when talking about free-will.

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    We can say you are responsible for your decision. But given your brain state at that exact moment, could you have done otherwise? And if not, where is the freedom? And if it's randomness, like flipping a coin, is that free will? It doesn't seem to be.
    I know it certainly feels like we had a free choice. But if we rewound the tape and played it back with everything exactly as it was at that moment, atom for atom, where is the freedom to have done otherwise? If there was some mechanism that provided randomness, where is the freedom in that?

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    M Dardy

    Technology advances but humans are still very primitive. The fact that most of us believe in an invisible man in the sky shows that.

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    Nicolas Schaffer

    there is a creator god and he doesn't give as many fucks as the church would have you believe however. don't let the evil organized religions confuse you. you can feel what is right and what is wrong in your chest and stomach. they call this the stomach feeling. Christian's and other god believers call this the word of God written on our hearts.

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    Deven Lee

    Absolutely right everyone should be responsible for their actions … when ever you can unless your mentally ill and then it's a different ballgame, they need help and good support system and good counselors and therapists to help them

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    Alex Almeida

    Another good example is the difficulty in showing that a heteronormative world is no longer reasonable. So many people show and tell that they fit differently in the human model …and yet certain religions and political groups double down on their own narrative and refuse to just see perspectives exist outside their own. Like no-one is asking them to be queer yet they cannot see a distinction between accepting the choices of others and being a part of a community. It is as if their group think outweighs their ability to grow as science and observation add new things add to the mix. What we knew yesterday, as an individual and as a group, has already expanded as the experiences and interactions of today have been added. Boxing in one's view of the world does not change the perspectives of the people outside the box, but it would limit one's ability to exercise free will. After all, free will includes having accumulated wisdom that comes from knowledge and experience …and these are found, partially, in discovering and trusting in the truths of who other people share they are 🍻❤️✌🏽️

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    Sad…usually this is a very good channel….All I can say is What? in a confused old man voice…I gotta go put my choppers in. And oh yeah pray for this young man to the God who created him.

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    I do not agree with the concept that we have no choice within every moment. Although I do very much agree the vast majority of people are drones to their automatic associations and automatic reactions.

    I may express to all of you, as I have expressed to other individuals and many, many other individuals, do not confuse yourself. Thought does not create reality. It is not its function. Its function is to translate, to interpret what your communications are. Therefore, it is only as efficient as information that you offer to it. If you are not allowing your attention a flexibility to be listening to all of your communications (emotions, physical senses, feelings, language, etc) and to be moving in awareness of what you are actually doing, which is what you are choosing, you do not offer accurate information to the thought mechanism, and therefore it may not offer you accurate translations of what you are communicating or what you are doing. This is the reason that many individuals become quite confused, as thought does not match what they are doing or what their communications are.

    But if you are generating a balance, recognizing that if you move your attention to all three factors or elements of yourself – thought, communication, and choice/doing, for doing and choice are synonymous – if you are allowing yourself a flexibility in attention to these three aspects of yourself, you shall notice when one is not in harmony with the other two, and in that you offer yourself information. That is the manner in which you begin to balance and you begin to recognize the ‘why’ of your creations.

    I encourage individuals to concentrate upon the ‘what’ of their creations, for you concentrate excessively upon the why and you offer yourself no answer, for the question is too familiar. But in paying attention and creating the balance of these three factors of yourself, you automatically offer yourself the why, without asking the question.

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    Jason West

    Why are the movement of billiard balls determined, but the laws of physics don't apply to the brain? The brain is the store house of the free soul? I don't feel like you answered the question. You assumed free will in your argument. People are painfully predictable and talking about determinism doesn't mean it's necesarily false. Scientist fail so bad when talking about philosophy.

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    Ok. First part of the video is extremely frustrating. Changing definition of free will does not answer the question of free will. For most people the definition of free will has to do with whether the universe is deterministic because that is the most common definition of free will.
    Such free will which most people talk about is completely impossible and avoiding the question by answering whether some other concept of free will exist is simply a red herring and doesnt answer the original question.

    The other part of the video is well thought out in my opinion.

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    Tom Swinburn

    This CLOWN makes the bald faces declaration that "most people in the US don't believe in evolution" He is demonstrably wrong. This notion that the US is peopled with religious wing-nuts is false. Fewer people here now say they are religious than ever. These would be easier to watch and take to heart if folks stuck to FACTS, not their narrow perspective of reality.

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    When someone gives up their child into the indoctrination/education process they are being programmed to think like the herd be like the herd.
    Peer pressures to join the latest trend or be like your group within the herd grows and programs you to do nothing out side of social norms less you are ostracized by your peers.
    We are being programmed by society through media the rich control a good portion of all media successfully maintaining what we see or are exposed to all through out life hard to think of anything other than violence and fear when that's all you get spoon fed your whole life.
    we are also programmed by the consumer mentality that everyone else has this or everyone else eats/drinks this or everyone else takes this medicine.

    This doesn't mean we don't have free will this simply means some of us are taught to give up that free will to who we are told are the older and wiser of the physical realm.

    However you don't have to be programmed and enslaved by the rich and the famous.

    you can be programmed by a cult or a religion which will all join the herd over time as the world begins to attempt to be more globalist.

    so you are always finding a way to be programmed by others to seek the approval of an 'authority figure' or a group within the herd.  

    once again this is a choice within freewill you are not being forced just manipulated into thinking that is what you desire

    only way out is to let go of everything and let God take over I know that seems like enslavement but its actually like your parents cleaning up after you… God seeks to serve you where the world desires you serve them… Jesus is the way the truth and the life…. by faith alone you are saved God will do everything to ensure your bags are packed and you have a plane ticket to heaven xD

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    This is determinism, is social determinism, far from an argument in favor of free will, so what if you get to make a decision about X, your conceptualization of what X is being good or bad was and is already being dictated by the social normatives in which you find yourself, and from those parameters your decision will be derived, and is not your conceptualization but the entire matrix of how you come to react and experience that conceptualization and with it also the reasons behind your decision, because social determinism is not just the macro sphere of society, but the entire thing from your family to your friends, to the political regimen of your country.

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    Harris Lidrapranoto

    This is the giltches massage !!! you are in the simulation right now!!!! All of your family and friend are highly advance A.I. !! Dont trust anyone or anything, search people name "xylar"

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    Bryan Lee Williams

    I think you should have left religion out of it. You don't have to understand why a creator god chose to do a certain thing. They had a reason and it's not our place to judge a god. You dropped the ball big time.

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    James L

    It all depends. Someone that is self-actualize, authentic and understands their triggers and open to challenge their assumptions is more likely to experience true free will.

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    Heather Watson

    To a lot of people, "free will" simply means that a person makes choices: "he acted on his own free will." I think it might even be a legal term. But to me, "free will", or more simply put: a lack of free will, comes from the infinite and constant factors that decide how each of us thinks, factors that none of us can choose. If we cannot choose these factors, then our thoughts and our decisions are, in a sense, out of our control.

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    semih oguzcan

    There is no such thing as free will, period. This became like the discussions on perpetual motion machines.

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    Khal Drogo

    philosophy seems a big outreach for this guy, stick to your field which it seems you are very good at, but in the field of philosophy you sound like a fool.

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    This guy explains it in the best way I've heard in a while. A welcome correction from the madness introduced by the free will deniers like Sam Harris and others. We haven't worked out yet whether the Universe is probabilistic but somehow some people seem to have made up their minds that we do not have free will, why because "determinism". First of all determinism only refutes absolute free will and secondly and most importantly we don't even know whether our universe is even deterministic. Quite irresponsible on the free will deniers part if you ask me.

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    Mekdem Wright

    It seems to me that Bach's logic of free will only holds when we define "me" or "I" as a single, bounded, isolated system separate from but interacting with it's surrounding environment.

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    Read the bible guys, You will find answers, is not up to us to question the free will our father jesus gave us :v

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    Dionisis Makrigiannis

    even if we don't have free will,we must live as though we do.the reason evolution made us fell a form of agency is because if we didn't,we wouldn't do anything for the future and to continue living.

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    Hati Keseorangan

    we human also same as comeputer 0 1 01 010 10 10 10 10 1 with this become memory and who u r…
    but human cannot make computer same human… must have a trilion connection like a neuron sipnaps… 1 brain human have a countless connection… human have never beat a something they cant archieve… this is PROVE something powerfull there exist…
    what we human call its a GOD… just need find who is the True or a fake GOD only… :3

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    the subtitles says:
    "able to coordinate our very large group of individuals"
    shouldn't it be? :
    "able to coordinate *arbitrary large group of individuals"

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    Philosophical Mind

    you cant claim to be responsible for your decision while we know the factors that effect your decision making, like environment, brain, emotion etc, that is where the illusion is, we cant help but to identify with our mental state.

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    Alex K

    he uses words like "programmable", "operating system" , "interface"
    to describe the actions of human nature. which is absurd. We are not computers, like many math nerds, rationality can turn into a world perspective. It's naive to think we are as simplistic (in a philosophical way) as a machine.

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    A problem that can arise is when people in society are programmed to believe things that harms not only themselves, but the people around them too – which leads me to think that cultivating empathy is not only important, but necessary. Further, it's extremely important to be able to question dogma, authority, religion, and theologies since these things effect our mind. My poin is that we should be able to improve the "OS" of society – that is we shouldn't be running Windows XP for the rest of our lives. The major religions can use an update. Cognitive distortions should also not be passed down from one generation to another – cognitive distortions affects our ability to see reality as It is..

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    those who believe that free will exists, can't even make a single convincing argument. and please stop talk about responsibility every time you mention free will. we've all been programmed by evolution (not society).

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    David Katuin

    If I do not have the ability to simply shut off my emotions ,then it leaves me with the conclusion that I have them but don't control them. well that's not choice.

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    ReThinking Beliefs

    We have Free Will only to the extent that our beliefs allow us Free Will. It would be more accurate to say that we are programmed by our beliefs because that is what ‘Society’ is, a set of beliefs. We will never be able to understand human behavior if we only think about evolution working on our genes. Evolution also works on our memes (beliefs) making them a powerful co-evolutionary force. Until we understand that beliefs are more like parasites that infect us and not something we choose, we will never understand why we behave the way we do.

    What you believe to be true is what is responsible for your actions. If what you believe to be true isn’t, then you will be defending something for its benefit not yours. This is the root of irrationality. Knowing this you now have some control over your beliefs. You won’t be tempted to belief just because it makes you feel good. You will know that in order to be a rational citizen you will require evidence for your beliefs.

    I have a couple of videos on my channel you can watch if you’re interested in the subject.

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    Andy Brice

    From a pragmatic viewpoint, I think it's best to assume that we do have free will. Because if we do have free will, but we start believing that we don't, then morality collapses.

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    Dusty Old Duster

    The image shown at the start looks like Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.

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    Leonidas GGG

    Free Will comes not from the options but from the ability to choose between them. Don't overthink it.

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    Jonas Venture Jr.

    Sorry but this video dont make very much sense, he is ignorent and he needs to find Jesus Christ in his heart, because only Christians can goto heaven, all nonChristians will burn in hell for eternity and that is a solid fact, amen.

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    His argument is contradictory. How can we be programmable and have free will? We don't choose Are inputs, so how can we be the conscious authors of our outputs?

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    He said "humans are programmable species" so my imagination tells me every time period in human history could be different according which beliefs and knowledge they had

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    Skeptics we love you anyway

    Myths of creator gods are misunderstood by 99.9999999999% of people, wether they be religious and non-religious people.
    They talk about the creation of the universe and of life, but to take them litterally is to have 0 understanding of what a MYTH means and really is all about.

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    Tao Ky

    From a game i used to play allot as a kid called "Soul Reaver" (very good storyline) Kain says "but does one truly have free will, one can only match move, by move. The machinations of fate and thus defy the tirany stars." So, I took that as you create your path/destiny

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    Greg Letter

    The type of dna that we have and the things that we learn throughout our life is what programs us to be the way we are. If you would of been born someone else then you would of had different dna and you would of learned different types of things that would of programmed you to be a different way.

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    The Duchess

    Free will is an illusion. Our thoughts have already been downloaded within this hardware machine we call our bodies. These E.T.s downloaded programs with the "creation" of these hardware bodies.. All of our thoughts are SOFTWARE or transmitted to us through radio transmission. The demiurge is an A.I . And so are the archons and their human creation.

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    Then what is the initial influence behind how you’re decisions are being made? You can’t have it both ways pal. Every decision you make is based on external influences for which you have no control. Yes, you can argue that you made a decision, but had certain other things not happen you would have never been in a position to make that decision. It’s paradoxical man. At some point you hit a wall chasing the idea of free will. It’s undefinable by its very nature. We are merely observers of the experiences that are our respective Conscientiousnesses….. whatever the hell that is

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    Aru Serios

    Discussions like this remind me to the legendary "fu fu" bird which flew in ever diminishing circle until it flew up its own ass and disappeared. Precisely define "free will" and what it means to have it, then discuss it. When you are done discussing it, you will have accomplished nothing, nor changed the world the slightest bit.

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    illusion reality

    Hugely programmed AND given the illusion of free will. Those who somehow break off the programmed it takes a certain trigger to suddenly just go , hold up a minute something isn't right. We are stuffed into cities crowded yet so much space giving the programmed the illusion over population but in reality the whole world can fit in California most time's you point out to others truth They defend the programme with anger name calling. Violence . Once you wake up to truth what's really going on. Their is no going back .

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    Dan Cagle

    What is consciousness maybe has something to do with star dust shape shifting.  Is there a program underneath it all?  My human question is what is the role of living organisms in all of this.  Or maybe, why would existence bother with organic evolution?

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