The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Free Will?

The 3rd "Intro To Philosophy" evening class went ahead last night and, amazingly, everyone's still turning up to it, apart from the woman from the first week who arrived late, felt faint and had to leave.

So for a bit of brain twisting fun I thought I'd pose the same question to anyone reading this that I gave them:

Our thoughts, attitudes and desires are constantly influenced by the media, our peer groups, the law, advertising, politics, hormonal cycles, chemical levels in the brain, instincts and our genetic inheritance.

So how free are the decisions we really make?

If the determinists are right, then whether you decide to comment - or not - is already predetermined and any choice you think you have in the matter is purely illusional.


Jupiter's Girl said...

I take full responsibility for my actions, even if they are/were programmed, coerced, shaped by my upbringing and biological make-up, media and peers. I also can swing the other way and give credit to some astrological influences which enable me to understand that people can't help the way they are. There are no absolutes. Yes, there is free will. No, there isn't. Is there a correct answer?

fatmammycat said...

Meh, I am easily influenced. I buy Apple products, certain brands of jeans and certain type of makeup purely because I've been dazzled by good advertising.
Free will? Sure, but do we exercise it? Not so sure 'bout that one.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I'm still trying to figure out if the chicken came before the egg. Comprehending this conundrum is not within my ability.

Have you ever heard of Pareto Analysis - the 80:20 rule? It's applied to tons of stuff, but it can also be applied to influence. The theory is that 20% of the population (the most influential people) control the other 80%, whether they realise it or not.

I have no reference for this, but studies have been done which show that, roughly split, 20% of the population are highly dominant and influential, 20% are complete doormats who are influenced by anybody, and the remaining 60% are average joes who hold opinions but who are influenced by the dominant 20%.

The dominant 20% tend to hold positions of power in politics, industry, etc.

At any point in time, approx 5% of the population are nutters. If a nutter happens to be one of the dominant 20%, and he happens to get into a powerful political position....I heard this is how Hitler's rise to power in Germany started in the 30's.

It sounds impossible, that an entire nation could be influenced by such a complete mentalist, but it turns out that you only need to influence a very small cross-section (less than 20%) of the population to end up with a very scary situation.

The relevance of this to your, I have no idea. I've lost myself along the way.

Kim Ayres said...

Jupiter's Lass - Yes!

...and no!

FMC - I've heard it said that free will is more like a muscle than a concept - the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets, and the less we use it the weaker it becomes.

Kav - Another reader of this blog (and one of the guys in my Philosophy class) was writing about the 80/20 rule on his blog the other day here

Mind you I don't know why you think it sounds impossible, that an entire nation could be influenced by such a complete mentalist - it happens all the time. Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, George Bush (I and II), Tony Blair. In fact it's almost a prerequisite of becoming a politician.

Oh, and the answer is the egg came first: - the first chicken would have come from an egg, but that egg would have been laid by whatever creature was the one step earlier in the evolutionary chain of the chicken and so not, strictly speaking, called "a chicken". But as you've got a degree in biology I thought you'd have worked that one out ;)

Andraste said...

RIght, Kim. It was the egg. And I have been very vocal on that answer, and your explanation, ad nauseum, for some years now. I've been quite tedious on the subject. But it's SO OBVIOUS!

I wasn't going to comment. But then I decided to. Don't know what that says about free will. But it's Friday!

Kim, if you still can't look at my brother's site, take a look at my blog today, I put up a sample paining.

Dr Maroon said...


See Kim you're right!

I wasn't going to comment, oh who am I kidding, then I saw your last sentence and was even more determined not to, to prove the point, but here I am anyway.

The reason philosophers have so much fun with this question is as your commenters point out, so many valid answers.
I would say that Fatmammycat speaks for me, but then I would say that wouldn't I?

I would imagine that since we are bound by definition, to a human frame of reference, both answers and the one in between could be proved. But like I say, I may or may not, press the button to post this.........Oh what the hell.

Dr Maroon said...

Oh yeah, what i was going to ask, why the colours?

Kim Ayres said...

Andraste - I don't know how much free will the first chicken had in all this, but this debate is taking an interesting turn...

Dr Maroon - you should have signed up for the class - you know you'd have enjoyed it.

As for the colours - I've not done them before, so I was trying to trick myself into doing something unpredictable...

Anonymous said...

tee hee hee.. one could take that as an opportunity to cop out. but then.. wouldn't that just fit the bill?

Anonymous said...

That post gave me Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder!
Cheers mate

mollymcmo said...

ah gawd does life have to be that complicated??!! LOL!

i have to admit i'm easily influenced though by media and advertising. i'm such a sucker.


Anonymous said...

The way I live my life is this......I know that there are consequences to my actions ALWAYS...the consequences I do not always have any control over but I have free will to decide what actions I choose to take. Are they the best actions? who is to say.I think there is a lesson to be learned no matter what choices/actions we do everysingle day. I believe there is a reason for absolutely everything I just do not know what they are.
I believe that choices we make one moment may have "bad" consequences at the time but somehow it matters and perhaps in the future having that happen helps you or someone else.
I believe that life IS learning 9( right/wrong/good/bad)) it just IS.

Binty McShae said...

You ever watch spy movies where some guy gets 'brainwashed'? Well, that's us, every day of our lives. Hooked up to a box where images are flashed before our eyes? Check. Authoratitive voices droning in our ears what we should do? Check. Food laced with substances designed to affect our moods? Check.

We all cling to this idea that we have free will, and to some extent we do (if we hate being controlled so much we can always get out by ending our own lives...), but it is a free will tempered by a social responsibility - and that social responsibility is shaped by the powers that be and the upbringing our families gave us.

This is why, in our supposedly more enlightened world, extreme racism still exists... big racists teach their kids to be little racists. ANd the same with many other aspects of life, negative and positive (although my perceptions of negative and positive have also been 'brainwashed' into me.

What makes the difference these days is the abundance of information sources. We are shaped not only by our family, our national law and our one news channel... we now have access to info from all over, all of which again influences us, but perhaps less predictably.

Free will in the modern world is still not actually freedom to make our own choices... it is simply a freedom to choose who we are going to let dictate and influence our decisions.

Kim Ayres said...

Sarah - it's true - if we remove free will then we remove responsibility :)

Eva - anytime!

Molly McMommy - with a penchant for fancy shoes by the look of it...

Quinn - If you believe there is a reason for everything, then that implies that there is a higher power of some kind, with an agenda.

This creates a conflict as, on the one hand you say you are responsible for your free will, actions and consequences, but at the same time there is a higher power creating outcomes over which you have no control.

This puts you in the worst of all situations - permanently feeling responsible and guilty about things that are not your fault...

Binty - but then you would say that wouldn't you ;)

Free will in the modern world is still not actually freedom to make our own choices... it is simply a freedom to choose who we are going to let dictate and influence our decisions

This reminds me of something I read somewhere about the factthat we do not live in a democracy, but in an elected dictatorship. We get one choice every 4 or 5 years over who makes all the decisions on ever aspect of our lives. It's not exactly true democracy now is it?

Anonymous said...

Yes, my husband comments on how I am always in constant guilt over things..but things I do and say deffinately have impact on those around me and I care about how I affect those around me, so I am always trying to make good choices. Not always does it work out.
I know alot of it is all from how I was raised etc. Guilt has always been on me.

Stella said...

hmmmm, well I guess I have been influenced into commenting!

I suppose you can say, within the restraints of society and biological/environmental influences, we do, kinda sorta have free will? Am I sitting on the fence on this one? Dunno, but it's by my own free will. Isn't it? Ah now you've gone and got me all confused!

Binty McShae said...

Absolutely Kim. True democracy would give us all the vote on legislation, not just the legislators. I saw a film to that effect once, where it was made compulsory for everyone to vote on every parliamentary decision. Of course, such a practice is not only unwieldly but we would hate it. It's one thing being able to vote on the things we're passionate about, but think of all the day to day crap we'd be expected to deal with too...

Elected dictatorship may be a little strong though (in the UK / US I mean... where I am that description is actually pretty spot on!) as we do at least have some control over those in power. You can't vote out a dictator and tell him to bugger off after a few years!

Kim Ayres said...

Quinn - If someone was holding a gun to our head (or the head of someone we loved) and forced us to commit an act we otherwise wouldn't have undertaken, we don't say that we had a free choice in the matter - our free will has been compromised.

Guilt is often used in a similar way, usually to great effect.

Stella - excellent!

Binty - it's true - apathy is the biggest destroyer of democracy.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I agree with that completely. As you know I was adopted and did not have a good home. Guilt was used alot in my daily life. I was required to do certain things or act a certain way because I should be grateful for where I was and the things they had etc. etc.
I guess in a way I am only learning about the concept of free will. I often ask permission even now as a woman in my 40's before I do things or go places even though it is not required it is completely a habit.

Pat said...

You would have to live in a vacuum not to be influenced by anything. I was influenced by your photograph, to comment, as I thought you looked nice and I now know you aren't a girl - but then I'm a little shallow. Also you looked as ir you could have climbed the mountain behind you.

Binty McShae said...

Pi! Are you flirting with him!!??


SafeTinspector said...

I'm a metaphysical determinist, I think. I'm not a very organized thinker, so bear with me, and here goes!

Every decision we make is our own responsibility, thought it may be a response to all the influences you've mentioned (in addition to our personally accumulated experiences and training, which I suppose you implied, but didn't state).

Once I get to this point free will becomes a matter of definition. I define my 'will' as being the evident desires espoused by the creature I am--the end product of my genetic inheritance, my accumulated experiences and the influence of the information I am acting upon (regardless of that information's veracity). I have free will because the creature that I am then exercises that will. Any decision at that point is an act of free will because I've properly defined 'will' to match the result. A tautology? Perhaps.

But really, can you impose an idealized idea of what "will" or "soul" is without taking into account what is practically possible and self-evident about the creatures we are? That is, I can state that we can't be true free actors because the universe dictates and shackles my soul. But then I've defined soul and will as an unattainable ideal that simply doesn't match the available evidence. Might as well be talking about god or animism. 'Soul' is merely a religious construct if it seeks to define one by excluding the definable.
So, within the confines of what it is possible to say about will and freedom, we have it. For what that's worth!

But here's where my whacko metaphysical part comes in:
Everything will have already happened, and therefore would always have been happening.
The 'movement' of time, hurtling from the past towards the future on the razor thin edge of present, is not an illusion per se, but is a forced perspective informed by entropy. All instants and happenstances that have happened still exist there in the past. Its a direction we can't travel (as of yet), but it is a coordinate of orientation as sure as x, y, and z. The future is no different, and while it seems as if we haven't done that shit yet, it will have always been done. In that, our actions aren't so much as determined as they are merely determinable. Metaphysical determinist, I.

....told you I'm not an organized thinker. Sorry!

SafeTinspector said...

Is it any wonder that Hume (a Scott, I think) is my favorite philosopher?

Kim Ayres said...

Quinn - you need to go on an assertiveness training course. But do you have the choice? ;)

Pi - welcome to my ramblings! You're not the first to be confused about my name - in fact you can read more about it in my post A Boy Named Kim if you're interested

Binty - I think it was more a curiosity about the wildman of the woods raised by rabid squirrels look, or perhaps she mistook me for Gorilla Bananas.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - for a moment I'd forgotten that this post started out as a philosophical question.

Given most people's sense of what free will is, compared to your description of the nature of the universe, then it has to be said that clearly it's an illusion. There is no space for free will left in any meaning that we would normally attribute to it.

So does that depress you, or give you a sense of freedom from repsonisibility?

SafeTinspector said...

On the contrary, I find free will to be alive and well from a practical standpoint. There's no relief from that responsibility to be had by pointing at a mataphysical determinability of reality. Just because the decisions will always have been made doesn't mean that we weren't always in the process of having decided.

Some would say this is like saying, "play along with the game." It is more subtle than that, I think.

By the definition of will that I use, and with what I believe about the nature of existence, then we have freedom. It isn't that we are determined, it is that we are determinable. Our choices are revealed as they seem to pass from the future toward the past.

It may seem paradoxical, that I am stating we have both free will and that the free will is an illusion. But it doesn't seem that way to me, as I can conceive of a scenario where both are true at the same time.

Anonymous said...

LOL kim you are correct I so totally need to become more assertive, I have imroved alot just in the last couple of years but I still have a long way to go. It is hard for me.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - so if I'm reading you right, what your saying is that it's a bit like a reading a book about an event, where you don't know the outcome of a decision until you read about it. However, the decision was still freely made before you read it. And even if you sent that book back in time, it would still have been a free decision, even though you would know the outcome before it happened. Is that what you mean?

Quinn - practice makes perfect :)

SafeTinspector said...

Kim:Yes. Although I must admit I use a videotape analogy in my head, not a book.
The decision is further on in the the decisions been made. Rewind and....there it is again. The decision is there, even when we aren't watching the tape at all.

Reality is like that videotape, in which everything that ever will happen has and always will have been happening.

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