Sure, it will be easy for you to believe that everybody has what we call "free will," but how much power do you really have over your life? Contrary to the widely-held belief, you are falling victim to the ‘grand illusion.’
insert_linkWhat is Free Will?Let us begin our quest by defining what exactly "free will" is: the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. However, do we really act at our own discretion?
Note that there is a difference between freedom and free will. Freedom is the extent to which one can exercise their free will. Free will, however, relates to how much control one has over what they do. This will be clearer later.
You might be lead into thinking, for example, that everybody is free to do what they want, and make decisions of their own accord, thus we all have free will. Perhaps, you consider our present society rich with freedom, albeit this is excluding dictatorships, prisons, and human-rights offenders.
Of course, we may perceive a helpless soul constrained to a fascist concentration camp lacking free will. Although, some people could argue that, in this situation, you would retain some free will—the will to make minor decisions such as moving your body and attempting to rebel against the circumstance, as well as the mere ability to think.
Sound like free will, right? Indeed, but is this true free will?
insert_linkComponents of Free WillLet’s see the separate components that contribute to true free will:
1. The ability to have one’s own thoughts.
2. The ability to act and behave freely.
3. Voluntary decisions and behaviour not being influenced—in any way—by external circumstances, whether that be people or objects.Before we have a look at where people are falling short of possessing free will, let us grasp the concept of freedom in today’s world.
As mentioned earlier, freedom is a different concept to free will. In spite of this, we find people mistaking our freedom for free will. While it is true that, in this modern age, we have plenty of freedom, we lack the free will, so, ironically, we never actually utilise all of the freedom we have access to.
That is to say, the gap between free will and freedom, in most cases, is huge. In fact, the only times where we are likely to see this gap reduced is when freedom is scarce—although, even in that situation, free will is near-absent.
As you can see from my illustration, everyone under-employs freedom.
Additionally, you may have noticed the ‘potential freedom’ of one. This is simply to illustrate how we can have much more freedom than we currently have; our freedom expands when we expand our free will.
Okay, so why is it that typical people do not exercise their free will to a noticeable extent?
insert_linkInfluencers: Destroyers of Free WillWhether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, we are all being controlled. And a reminder: this post is not in the “serious business” section of the blog (I am being truthfully serious, seriously).
Everything around us has an effect on how we act, simply because we react to our situation rather than fabricating our own. We absorb and develop a script from those around us, as well as our experiences, defining how we react.
Where is the free will in that?
It is impossible to deny that everybody is influenced by their surroundings. Also, guess what? This is in direct violation of the third component of free will, outlined earlier in this article.
Furthermore, this susceptibility to influencers eliminates our ability to act as we ‘wish’ and to think as we ‘wish,’ thus we never truly meet all 3 components of free will. Consequently, everything around us is in indirect control of us, even when our surroundings don’t intend this to happen.
I call people’s delusional perceptions of the world ‘the grand illusion.’ Accordingly, the shared perception that everybody has a sheer abundance of free will is a part of the grand illusion. Moreover, due to the power of comprehending this concept, you will find I will allude to this concept in later posts.
For the purpose of helping you gain a wider perspective of how precisely your life is a puppet to everything else, I shall now bring you on a short tour, exploring your various bosses for life.
insert_linkThe WeatherThis is an influencer you might not have thought of as being particularly obvious. For this reason, allow me to elaborate my point.
What do you do when it is sunny?
- Are you inclined to go outside, visit the beach perhaps?
- Or rather, you dislike the sunnier days (like me) and so are more reluctant to go far from shelter unnecessarily?
- Oh no! The chickens have dried out! Do you subsequently go to water them?
- Do you avoid visiting the outside world where possible?
- Would you be inclined to take leisurely visits to sheltered locations, such as that one snooker place, instead of open places, such as the golf course?
- The chickens are deliciously dank, thus there is no need to water them.
- Is it too dangerous to leave the house?
insert_linkHow to Break FreeUndeniably, we are all victims of the weather’s control. Once you become aware of this, however, you can begin the process of regaining control over your life. Do not let the weather control you, because if you do, your ability in life will be hindered; you limit your choice of options with no purpose.
To start with, you must find the power to overcome the downsides of weather variations. In some cases, you arguably need to act in direct accordance with the weather, though this is not always the case.
For example, if you decide to commit to a daily run, do not skip one day due to adverse weather conditions; this compromises your fitness and self-discipline, things we all need to prioritise.
Unsurprisingly, weather is not the only factor to consider.
insert_linkPeople Around You
It goes without saying, everybody around you influences the way in which you act. As a consequence, people of whom you respect can alter your opinions and beliefs; they modify the script, referenced earlier, that determines how you act in a given situation.
This is a very powerful thing we are letting people do to us, begging the question, should we allow them to have that influence? Why would you provide someone with the power to change the fate of your life?
While some people around you can have immense positive effects on your life, others can pull you down. For example, say you have an aspiration to be a paid electricity pylon enthusiast in the future. The effortless comment, “that’s too unrealistic” could defeat all potential of you ever achieving your goal, in face of your ability to accomplish it.
Therefore, it is vital to your success that you associate yourself with the correct people. To clarify, these people must share the same goals as you and desired attitude towards life. You will then, hopefully, have exposure to a high degree of positive influence whereas associating with unsuitable people will destroy your life.
On a final note, please ensure that you realise when people are potentially influencing your life, so you can act to prevent it.
Are the news, social media, or other public media sources taking too much of the wheel to your life? This may be the case for many people, regrettably.
Often, there are times when we are malevolently enticed with fascinating information emerging everywhere we look and hear. Said information is generally of little use to us and it hijacks our time and attention.
To exemplify, some people will feel the need to be up-to-date with the latest-and-greatest news stories regarding politics. From this, they have conversations about the most recent folly of Donald Trump, or how Michael Gove caused the Holocaust.
Observing from a bird’s eye perspective, it is clear to use that people waste their time learning and exchanging virtually useless information, in addition to following potentially false, half-true or misleading information which can affect their behaviour.
In conclusion, avoid the influence of the media.
insert_linkAnd MoreNo, the list does not end there. As a matter of fact, it I ongoing. Be that as it may, there are still ways of safeguarding yourself against influencers, eventually reclaiming your free will.
As you are reading this, firstly, reflect on everything you have done today. With every action, try to identify what triggered it, including everything that influenced your decisions. By continuously asking yourself for influencers, attempt to identify root causes of your behaviour.
Additionally, assess your thoughts, interests, goals, opinions, and ideas. What made you who you are today?
Once you’ve done this, I hope that you can understand how much your environment controls you. Subsequently, you can exercise your newfound power by defying the convention.
Defying the convention is a brilliant way to use your free will; forget culture and tradition. For instance, wear socks and sandals, eat absurd food combinations (I like bagel and yoghurt), or go sunbathing in the rain. Although this seems great, don’t do anything too illegal.
insert_linkThe Truth About Free WillA slight problem, however. Is free will even possible to achieve—really? Thus far, we have seen how little control we really have over our lives, but we have not explored this biologically.
Indeed, we make decisions, but is it us who makes decisions?
It turns out that free will is not a thing, following scientific studies into the human brain.
In short, our brains work much like the script I referred to earlier; much like a computer, our brain takes inputs (predominantly our five senses, as well as feedback from other organs), processes that input considering a multitude of factors, and finally produces an output. This output could take the form of a thought, change in emotional state, physical action, bodily process (like pumping blood), et cetera.
Furthermore, our subconscious makes decisions for us while our conscious is only really required when encountering unexpected events. This results in us sometimes having difficulty in remembering recent events (such as whether or not you remembered to lock the car door), since your brain is in ‘autopilot’ mode.
insert_linkWhat Can I Do If Free Will Doesn’t Exist?As a result of telling you that, I predict some people might be left questioning how to control their lives or even be lazy, thinking that there is no reason to try if free will isn’t an option. However, I would be doing a disservice by not clearing things up.
Just because ‘free will’ isn’t technically a thing, it doesn’t mean you can’t take charge of your life. You still need to understand that there is only one single way history will turn out to be, though—randomness isn’t a thing.
It can be dangerous to think that you don’t have free will, despite everything I just said. As you are reading this, you will be taking on information that will allow you to make better decisions in the future—all being well.
If I only said that you can’t truly control your life, provided you follow that, you may not end up being the same person in the future than if I said you can. Understand yet?
Briefly, what you want to do is change the ‘script’ for the better; refine who you are. Always treat life like you have control over it, and that you are not a victim of the situation. By embracing this mindset change, I guarantee you will find extraordinary ways to plough through life.
Contrary to what you may have thought, a surplus of willpower is not the primary key to success, it is investing it wisely: creating habits, forming rituals, and becoming a new person.
Although I would like to continue blabbering on about the importance of habits and managing willpower, that can be saved for a post under the ‘revolutionise your life’ section of this blog.
insert_linkWhere to Go NextHere are some books I would recommend if you seek effective advice on how to use knowledge to your advantage:
Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
These two other books are more of a read solely for the interesting facts uncovered within them:
Richard WisemanFor more eye-opening ideas and fascinating facts, subscribe to get notified of the latest blogs here.