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Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Myth of Freedom

Yuval Noah Harari
The Guardian
Originally posted September 14, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Unfortunately, “free will” isn’t a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology. Theologians developed the idea of “free will” to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices. If our choices aren’t made freely, why should God punish or reward us for them? According to the theologians, it is reasonable for God to do so, because our choices reflect the free will of our eternal souls, which are independent of all physical and biological constraints.

This myth has little to do with what science now teaches us about Homo sapiens and other animals. Humans certainly have a will – but it isn’t free. You cannot decide what desires you have. You don’t decide to be introvert or extrovert, easy-going or anxious, gay or straight. Humans make choices – but they are never independent choices. Every choice depends on a lot of biological, social and personal conditions that you cannot determine for yourself. I can choose what to eat, whom to marry and whom to vote for, but these choices are determined in part by my genes, my biochemistry, my gender, my family background, my national culture, etc – and I didn’t choose which genes or family to have.

This is not abstract theory. You can witness this easily. Just observe the next thought that pops up in your mind. Where did it come from? Did you freely choose to think it? Obviously not. If you carefully observe your own mind, you come to realise that you have little control of what’s going on there, and you are not choosing freely what to think, what to feel, and what to want.

Though “free will” was always a myth, in previous centuries it was a helpful one. It emboldened people who had to fight against the Inquisition, the divine right of kings, the KGB and the KKK. The myth also carried few costs. In 1776 or 1945 there was relatively little harm in believing that your feelings and choices were the product of some “free will” rather than the result of biochemistry and neurology.

But now the belief in “free will” suddenly becomes dangerous. If governments and corporations succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will.

The info is here.
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