Jan 15, 2008

Beyond Freedom and Responsibility


Is there such thing as freedom or are we mere puppets on strings? In a purely deterministic, uncaring universe, where the laws of physics are applicable to all, freedom as we define it is impossible. In a universe where a supreme, all-knowing, all-powerful God exists, freedom is also equally impossible. Well, the more accurate term to use here is freewill. Freewill can be defined as the ability to choose without intimidation or compelling force. Freewill presupposes deliberation. Hence, a person with freewill can be fully held responsible for his or her actions. It is on the idea of freewill on which the judicial system, particularly criminal law hinges. How can you punish someone if he or she does not have the ability to contemplate the consequence of his or her actions? Hence, insanity is a mitigating circumstance when it comes to criminal jurisprudence. However, even insane persons still have some degree of contemplation.

The universe, as we know it, is governed by the laws of physics. The laws of physics are applicable to everything that exists – from the smallest particles to the grandest galaxies. The laws of physics are deterministic. This means that for every effect, there is a traceable series of causes. For instance, if you are familiar with playing billiards, you will notice that the path of a ball can be guided depending on the force, angle and direction of the pole hitting that particular ball. The level, surface contour and stability of the billiard table are also determining factors. The same deterministic principles also apply in the way our brain works. Our consciousness, thought patterns and sense of identity are all determined by the biochemical and electrical reactions that are occurring in our brains. If you change, any of these parameters, the brain processes also change. This can readily be observed in people who take mind-altering drugs or people that suffer from brain injuries.

On the other hand, the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful God is also incompatible with freewill. For a God to be all-knowing, everything must be predestined. Otherwise, God will not know in advance. Ironically, the concept of God and a purely deterministic universe are logically agreeable with each other. In order for God to know everything from beginning to end, it would require everything to be pre-programmed and scripted as if God would simply watch a film that he directed and written.

If you ask me if I personally believe in freewill, my answer is yes. This is because I do not believe in a deterministic universe that is purely governed by the laws of physics or by a supreme God. I believe in a probabilistic universe – a universe where probability or chance exists. The theory that supports this idea is the Chaos Theory, which I think deserves a separate blog post.


  1. Hey Homar, good to see you active again.

    One could argue that our universe is nothing but a SIM City game being played by a race of advanced beings. The universe, and everything in it, including us, is nothing but an elaborate software program. Of course, if that were true, then free will would not exist at all, because no matter what we did, it would be as a result of our programming.

    Then again, one could say that same thing about free will in the absence of such a scenario. By that, I mean that our choices and actions are limited by environmental, cultural and probably genetic factors. If we look back on our lives, we might find that over the course of our lifetime when finding ourselves in certain situations we acted virtually the same way each time, even if the outcome was always negative. Certain patterns of behavior become ingrained. Or, it is possible that our mental universe ever grasped the possibility of doing things differently.

    An example from history would be the different ways that China and Japan reacted to western encroachment in the 19th century. The Chinese believed that their ways were superior and that there was nothing to be learned from Western barbarians. The Japanese, on the otherhand, recognized their survival as an independent nation required learning from the West and embracing change.

    Sure, the rulers of China could have opted to take the same route as the Japanese did, but they did not because it was inconceivable for them to do so.

    So, I think that free will is an illusion to a large degree.

  2. hi there tommy, my brother in disbelief, thanks for your visit and for your comment. your comment is almost as long as my blog post. i am grateful for your insights. we might not totally agree when it comes to the issue of freewill but i respect your opinion. well, maybe freewill is just an illusion or even meaningless in scientific terms but it is one of the most treasured beliefs that i still want to cling unto, not unless absolutely proven to be wrong. by the fact that we, humans, are conscious and can deliberate on our actions even if our decisions are contrary to instincts, somewhat points out that there might be some credence to the concept of freewill.

  3. Tommy said "One could argue that our universe is nothing but a SIM City game being played by a race of advanced beings."

    If that was the case, then whose software program are the advanced beings in? I feel a turtles all the way down scenario creeping in.

    I'm not sure about freewill - seems to me that most decisions made are influenced by external input.
    Example: Bird flies - I see the bird. Depending on how that input stimulates my brain, sensors and influences the production of various chemicals/hormones - I respond. I'm not sure if I have any true control over this.

  4. I read somewhere an interesting thought: You cannot prove freewill because you cannot ever demonstrate being able to choose otherwise. cheers!

  5. Freewill, ironic as it may seem, is predestined. Call it an oxymoron of many sorts. When the Supreme Being supposedly created the world, He already knows that Man will figure out the concept of freewill. He allowed Man to have freewill in order for them to have a semblance of control over their own lives, when in fact they don't. It is very similar to the question, "If God is good, why is there evil?" Simply put, it wouldn't be just as fun.. Yes! We live a predetermined life. But, hell, who cares?! We can enjoy it because of the choices the Supreme Being made for us. I respect your ideas, but i'm just seeing two sides of the coin here. He is having his fun. We are having our fun as well. Win-win situation for everyone. No need to yap about useless things. When you are alrady being eaten by worms it won't matter. What matters is what you've made of yourself while you're alive.

  6. metaphysicalgenius,

    hello. thanks for visiting. anyway, i have to disagree. even the bible speaks about people's ability to have control over their lives(“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” -- Deutronomy 30:19.).

    predeterminism negates the concept of justice as asserted by the christian religion. it would make this concept ridiculous.

    predeterminism does not make life fun. it makes life meaningless.

  7. who said life needs to have a meaning? And for someone who doubts the existence of a Supreme Being, i don't think it's appropriate that you strengthen your argument/s with lines from the Bible. all concepts of Christian religion aside, i still think we live in a predeterministic world. The law of polarity is an accepted fact. Even our choices are predetermined. That's why most of the time we are only given two choices (according to the law of polarity). It is either we are right or wrong, good or bad, et cetera. Freewill is borne by the ideas of people who deem themselves too insignificant that they want to give meaning to their lives. When in fact, there is no need for meaning. All we have to do is live, and that's all there is to it.

    ps. i find your posts engaging, so pardon me if i make too much of a fuss about it. just trying to play devil's advocate here.

  8. hi metaphysicalgenius, i am truly flattered that people are interested in what i have written. again, thank you for your visit and comments. although i am not sure what particular domination you belong, i am assuming that based on your stand, you are leaning towards calvinism or lutheranism. anyway, as you have asserted that according to the "law of polarity" we were given only two set of choices. by that, you are admitting that we have the right to choose. on the contrary, i do not doubt the existence of god. i am totally convince that he does not exist. in some way i get your point that all choices are predetermined because they are limited. however, i have to disagree with you on this point: "Freewill is borne by the ideas of people who deem themselves too insignificant that they want to give meaning to their lives." the same can also be said for those who believe in predeterminism. predeterminists are fond with the idea that a higher power or being is in control and planning everything, thus, giving sense to everything that happens. denying freewill is denying consciousness and the ability to think. to some extent, you are admitting that you are just a puppet that is incapable of autonomy. again, thank you for your engaging and insightful comments.

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  10. Well, if you refuse to assume responsibility for your actions, predeterminism is just right for you!

  11. for christians and mohamedans without intimidation means ..

    "believe or you will go to hell"

    "what if are wrong and what if there is a god"

    "the end is near, repent!"

  12. on the subject of freewill. there are some who subscribe to that we are just machinations. how we decide is a product of experiences.

    if this were true though, i would be interested to know what happened to us atheists who come from religious backgrounds growing up that didnt happen to the regular kids. i am thinking its a host of experiences.


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