Freewill Vs Determinism; irrational decision making… a warm drink can manipulate your thoughts and other priming influences.

In the previous post, a link was created to provide some information on the cognitive bias- how are thoughts tend to be irrational and not based upon cost/benefit analysis as some cognitive models hypothesise. How rational are humans? To what extent do we choose our destiny or more importantly to what extent can our behaviour be influenced  by unconscious ‘nudges’, that makes it seem like we chose something when in fact we didn’t – how do you even measure such an effect? Showmen like Derren Brown use this grey area to provide simple but high impact effects such as priming.

The following BBC documentary shows how the science of decision-making shows us free will is something more scarce than most of us think.


One thought on “Freewill Vs Determinism; irrational decision making… a warm drink can manipulate your thoughts and other priming influences.

  1. In Dr. Eddy Nahmias’s article on “Willusionism“, he describes how the belief that free will is only an illusion leads to bad moral results. (see )

    He quotes scientists who fuel this belief with statements like these:

    “Free will, as we ordinarily understand it, is an illusion” (Greene and Cohen)
    “…this strong feeling [of free will] is an illusion, just as much as we experience the sun moving through the sky, when in fact it is we who are doing the moving” (John Bargh)
    “It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do…. It is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion” (Daniel Wegner)
    “Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons” and “although we appear to have free will, in fact, our choices have already been predetermined for us and we cannot change that” (Francis Crick)
    And he cites several studies showing that people who hear these claims are likely to “cheat more, help less, and behave more aggressively”. To explain this effect, he suggests that they come to view themselves as having less control of their lives. They feel that “their efforts to deliberate about what would be best to do were inconsequential and that their efforts to do what they think best were insignificant”.

    “Put simply”, he says, “if people are told they have no free will, they might interpret this to mean they lack willpower, and believing that might lead them to exert less willpower to do the more difficult (but more appropriate) thing to do.”

    He thinks the problem might be that the scientist’s statements are “ambiguous” because they fail to specify which “free will”, libertarian or compatibilist, is an illusion.

    I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is that scientists who naively say free will is an illusion are simply wrong. They make two critical mistakes.

    First, they assume that deterministic inevitability makes free will impossible. Logically it cannot. If everything, just as it is, was inevitable, then free will, just as it is, must also be inevitable.

    Everyone recognizes the principle of cause and effect. We ask “Why did this happen?” or “Why is that the way it is?” By study and experiment we may discover the causes of most things and events. And if we dig further, we may uncover what caused those causes.

    Determinism carries this a little further. In theory, the causes of a cause could each be traced back through their own causes to the beginning of time. And, in theory, everything that exists today and all of the events and changes happening now will inevitably cause what happens next, from day to day, to the end of time. In summary, everything that happens is “inevitable”, it had to happen as it did due to what happened before.

    Cause and effect apply to mental as well as physical events. All mental functions are, of course, rooted in physical processes within the nervous system. But the responses of an intelligent being are more complex than those of a physical object. For example, you hit a cue ball at a precise angle, so that it hits another ball just right and that one knocks a third ball into the pocket. But what happens when you throw a billiard ball at a person?

    Each individual has their own genetic predispositions and a lifetime of environmental influences in play. And a person’s mood will vary from moment to moment. And if they stop to consider their response before reacting, then that mental process may determine their response, either rationally or irrationally.

    The response, whether rational or irrational, is theoretically inevitable. But only a being with Godlike omniscience of all causes in play and Godlike omnipotence to calculate the outcome, or the guy’s wife, could reliably predict what he will do next.

    While the principle of cause and effect is used everyday to understand the world and each other, the idea of deterministic inevitability is seldom useful or helpful. Usually when we say something was inevitable, we mean there was nothing we could do about it. But deterministic inevitability includes the functioning of intelligent actors making choices for their own reasons and sometimes dramatically altering the course of history. So, our free will is fully functional and active in a deterministic universe.

    From the decider’s subjective viewpoint, deterministic inevitability is useless. A decision begins with an uncertainty (if you knew the outcome you’d skip the process). You have to deliberate, and deliberately choose, before you will know your choice.

    And you can’t simply sit back and wait for “the inevitable” to happen, because it is sitting back waiting on you. And your choice to sit back becomes your choice — not something you’d want to try in a literal “sink or swim” situation.

    The second mistake that naive scientists make is falsely presuming that a scientific explanation of the underlying mechanism makes the thing itself less important than it’s parts, as if explaining something could explain it away.

    Because all mental processes are totally rooted in the underlying neurological system, we can say confidently that the phenomenon is a real aspect of our physical reality. And it plays an essential role in changing ourselves and the real environment we live in.

    As neuroscience studies the brain and how it’s physical functions produce our mental experience, we will continue to learn more about how the brain produces our mind. But let’s hope we don’t naively lose our minds in the process.


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