Why your free will is an illusion

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Flying Cookie
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Good evening,

It's Friday eve, and of course what one respectable TSRian must do on a Friday eve is ponder a deep philosophical matter. Is free will an illusion?

More importantly, if it is just an illusion, does that mean we can give up responsibility for our behaviour?

I made a video (#OOTM4) in an attempt to dissect this issue. Summary:

1. Free will should not be viewed as the ability to do something, but the reality of whether that something is actually done. For example, me picking up a mug to prove that I have free will is not proof of free will, because outside of the context of me trying to prove something, I would never randomly pick up the mug.

2. In a model of absolute free will, all possibilities for what someone might do would statistically have to be equal e.g. as many people sleep at night as those who don't, and as many people eat every day as those who don't, yet that is far from the case for most things.

3. If free will is an illusion, people must still take responsibility for their behaviour because if they inevitably accept the benefits of behaving as if one has free will, the they should also take the responsibility that comes with it, given that everyone else around them is also operating on the assumption of free will.

Here is the video. What do you think?

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noobynoo
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If you had two choices to make A and B.

If A is better than B then free will says that you can choose B. But that would be stupid.
If A is the same as B then free will says you can choose either. But that would be pointless as they're both the same.

So either free will is stupid or pointless.

QED.
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suudsioee
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At first when I read what you wrote i was confused :s
video cleared it up though, So are you saying that we don't have free will for the most part?
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suudsioee
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(Original post by noobynoo)
If you had two choices to make A and B.

If A is better than B then free will says that you can choose B. But that would be stupid.
If A is the same as B then free will says you can choose either. But that would be pointless as they're both the same.

So either free will is stupid or pointless.

QED.
why does free will say i choose B in the first scenario? it menas i can choose either?
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noobynoo
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(Original post by suudsioee)
why does free will say i choose B in the first scenario? it menas i can choose either?
No it says you can. But if you did that would be stupid.
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william walker
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(Original post by noobynoo)
If you had two choices to make A and B.

If A is better than B then free will says that you can choose B. But that would be stupid.
If A is the same as B then free will says you can choose either. But that would be pointless as they're both the same.

So either free will is stupid or pointless.

QED.
Well from a religious Protestant point of view we all have moral, thought and actions free will. However we what can do is constrained by conscience.
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Flying Cookie
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(Original post by suudsioee)
At first when I read what you wrote i was confused :s
video cleared it up though, So are you saying that we don't have free will for the most part?
Well to be honest I think everything is constructed based on whatever preceded it and whatever follows it, but it would be too complex or subtle to try to explain it in a way that we can understand it. So for most things that are part of our everyday life it's easier to see how we're doing it out of necessity rather than free will.

I do think that even the superficial decisions such as peach or strawberry tea do have an explanation that is not free will, but as above, it would be complicated talking about those.
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Nogoodsorgods
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(Original post by noobynoo)
If you had two choices to make A and B.

If A is better than B then free will says that you can choose B. But that would be stupid.
If A is the same as B then free will says you can choose either. But that would be pointless as they're both the same.

So either free will is stupid or pointless.

QED.
Please come up with some particular situations and I'll try to show that you are using a bias (or understandable common sense by still from which you cannot foresee all possible future outcomes of that choice as opposed to doing something else) as to which is 'better' and, even then, that not choosing what is better is not necessarily always stupid.

There are countless situations (eat a cookie versus fall off a cliff) but you might admit that not all situations are so.

It might be silly to luxuriate in free will over 'no brainer' situations but not silly to wonder about other ones, depending on the individual circumstances. Some people may indeed go far in life by not making decisions much at all. But they're less likely to end up where they might call their 'heart's desire' (although the reality of their hearts desire may not live up to it or be fully formed in their head anyway).

Also, if A was actually the exact same as B, then we might as well just call both A so you're not giving an example of a choice there. Even with 2 very similar looking bananas, one is still a different banana to the other and one might, for example, contain bacteria that could harm you whereas the other might not.
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pjm600
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Your style comes across quite rambley and at times hard to follow, especially towards the end.
Content wise I wasn't convinced by your arguments. Throughout the video, particularly towards the end when you're trying to prove people bear responsibility.

One of your arguments against free will is that there isn't an even distribution of peoples preference for colours etc., why would this be the case?

You say that peoples' experience is defined by their environment so everybody does the same things, giving the examples that everyone sleeps at night (not true), and that people eat the same amount the same number of times a day (not true).

You attribute trends the above to a more 'basic urge', which is fine, EP could lead to fairly basic answers.

However, perhaps the main criticism is that you don't answer the question. Sure there are patterns to human behavior, but this doesn't disprove free will. Couldn't people chose to follow these patterns? Don't people have free will within these patterns?

Also, some references at the end would be good.

Out of interest, what's your target audience?
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VannR
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The first point I would like to discuss is the idea of motivated action. In brief, our experience of the world forms ideas in our minds, and our actions are largely responsive to these ideas, as well as other factors such as reason, emotions etc. This is how we can understand how people's actions and behaviour change over time with their increased experience. It follows that since different people have different experiences that they will have different motives as a result of that.

Second, the contemporary understanding of free will. Both sides of the debate have understood free will (at least on an incompatibilist view) that free will is 'the power to act according to our motives', or a more contemporary and by no means equivalent phrase 'the power to choose one's motives and act according to them'. The first definition results in the following counterfactual: 'if you had chosen differently, you would have acted differently. The second definition leads to the counterfactual 'if you had chosen differently you would have acted differently, and you could have chosen differently'.

The first definition allows for the idea that our motives cause our actions, and is often used to defend the position that there is a necessary connection between motives and actions leading to a sense of compatibilism. However, this position does not defend your idea that free will is allows for 'unmotivated action', and furthermore, it is not a complete definition of the idea. The first definition allows us to say that our actions are caused by our motives, but some many libertarians argue that we must also say that you can choose your motives. On this first understanding, we could say that a person who was addicted to heroin, but is trying their best to come off it, is acting on their own free will by taking the drug.

The second definition resolves this. The second definition allows us to say that in order to act in a sense that is free, you must be be acting on your own motives, and you must be able to choose between you actions. Consider: I am motivated in some way to get a glass of water right now because I am thirsty; I am also motivated to continue typing here to explain my argument further. The second sense of free will would allow me to choose between these different actions without any sense of necessity. We can also say that a heroin addiction inhibits your ability to act on your free will - you cannot not want to take heroin. Accepting this sense of free will has been the most popular incompatibilist position in contemporary philosophy.

The problem here is that you have misunderstood the concept of free will. No one has ever seriously argued that actions are unmotivated - it is a basic empirical fact of human nature that they are motivated by our ideas. Consequently, your proposed argument which fails to proves the existence of free will - 'see, I can pick up a cup or click my fingers etc' - is only a symptom of your lack of understanding of the concept of free will. These actions are obviously motivated, in this case, by being asked to demonstrate your free will.

If you wish to engage further in this debate, I suggest that you first have a look at some of the classical incompatibilist and compatibilist positions that have been created . To be frank, your current discussion does not come across as either true, false, reasonable, unreasonable, original or trite - it just looks uninformed.
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Flying Cookie
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(Original post by pjm600)
Your style comes across quite rambley and at times hard to follow, especially towards the end.
Content wise I wasn't convinced by your arguments. Throughout the video, particularly towards the end when you're trying to prove people bear responsibility.

One of your arguments against free will is that there isn't an even distribution of peoples preference for colours etc., why would this be the case?

You say that peoples' experience is defined by their environment so everybody does the same things, giving the examples that everyone sleeps at night (not true), and that people eat the same amount the same number of times a day (not true).

You attribute trends the above to a more 'basic urge', which is fine, EP could lead to fairly basic answers.

However, perhaps the main criticism is that you don't answer the question. Sure there are patterns to human behavior, but this doesn't disprove free will. Couldn't people chose to follow these patterns? Don't people have free will within these patterns?

Also, some references at the end would be good.

Out of interest, what's your target audience?
My apologies for being hard to follow; also, OOTM videos are supposed to be rambley :lol:

The bit about why people should be responsible is a "no double standards" argument where if people expect to be taken seriously when it comes to their decisions that are positive for them e.g. "I did that because I chose to, not because I couldn't help it", then they should also expect to be taken seriously when those decisions are negative for them e.g. "I couldn't help but do that bad thing" -- if you can make a decision about the good stuff then you should take responsibility for your decision which leads to bad stuff. Don't pick and choose.

The even distribution of choices would be the case if people were as variable for the sake of being variable. Obviously this is in the context of equally good or bad options. Any colour is as good or bad as another for the sake of liking a colour; while jumping off a cliff versus eating a biscuit is not the same.

We are products of evolution, and free will makes absolutely no sense. Free will would have no benefit for organisms that have been shaped to survive in specific, ever-changing environments, and therefore develop non-negotiable behaviours such as sleeping and eating.

For all purposes, people do in fact sleep at night and eat multiple times a day. Free will just doesn't belong in that context. Funnily enough, the perception or illusion of free will that we have, has actually been selected for over evolutionary time, clearly with its own benefits.

Now this is not an academic exercise, and I didn't intend it to be... That's why there are no references. Also, I'm not sure what references would make any sense on a topic that is so inherently controversial/volatile. It's someone's concept against someone else's, I can hardly imagine any robust definition or theory that would readily persuade most people.

My target audience is science students, more specifically biology students. More and more videos are coming on topics that could be viewed by anyone though.
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Flying Cookie
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(Original post by VannR)
The first point I would like to discuss is the idea of motivated action. In brief, our experience of the world forms ideas in our minds, and our actions are largely responsive to these ideas, as well as other factors such as reason, emotions etc. This is how we can understand how people's actions and behaviour change over time with their increased experience. It follows that since different people have different experiences that they will have different motives as a result of that.

Second, the contemporary understanding of free will. Both sides of the debate have understood free will (at least on an incompatibilist view) that free will is 'the power to act according to our motives', or a more contemporary and by no means equivalent phrase 'the power to choose one's motives and act according to them'. The first definition results in the following counterfactual: 'if you had chosen differently, you would have acted differently. The second definition leads to the counterfactual 'if you had chosen differently you would have acted differently, and you could have chosen differently'.

The first definition allows for the idea that our motives cause our actions, and is often used to defend the position that there is a necessary connection between motives and actions leading to a sense of compatibilism. However, this position does not defend your idea that free will is allows for 'unmotivated action', and furthermore, it is not a complete definition of the idea. The first definition allows us to say that our actions are caused by our motives, but some many libertarians argue that we must also say that you can choose your motives. On this first understanding, we could say that a person who was addicted to heroin, but is trying their best to come off it, is acting on their own free will by taking the drug.

The second definition resolves this. The second definition allows us to say that in order to act in a sense that is free, you must be be acting on your own motives, and you must be able to choose between you actions. Consider: I am motivated in some way to get a glass of water right now because I am thirsty; I am also motivated to continue typing here to explain my argument further. The second sense of free will would allow me to choose between these different actions without any sense of necessity. We can also say that a heroin addiction inhibits your ability to act on your free will - you cannot not want to take heroin. Accepting this sense of free will has been the most popular incompatibilist position in contemporary philosophy.

The problem here is that you have misunderstood the concept of free will. No one has ever seriously argued that actions are unmotivated - it is a basic empirical fact of human nature that they are motivated by our ideas. Consequently, your proposed argument which fails to proves the existence of free will - 'see, I can pick up a cup or click my fingers etc' - is only a symptom of your lack of understanding of the concept of free will. These actions are obviously motivated, in this case, by being asked to demonstrate your free will.

If you wish to engage further in this debate, I suggest that you first have a look at some of the classical incompatibilist and compatibilist positions that have been created . To be frank, your current discussion does not come across as either true, false, reasonable, unreasonable, original or trite - it just looks uninformed.
The example of picking up the mug is just exemplifying what most people would do if asked if they have free will, that is do something that is out of the normal sequence of their life events, something they wouldn't otherwise do, although you rightly point out that the context of being asked that question makes them do that thing to attempt to prove their point.

My point about the above is that observing a human go about their life e.g. drink when they are thirsty, not to prove a point to someone, makes it obvious that these unusual behaviours caused by an active thought ("I will do something purposefully") is different to usual behaviours cause by no thought at all - no one takes time to think about drinking when thirsty, it's just the obvious thing to do with no reasonable alternative.

So my discussion comes across as nothing at all? :lol: Oh dear, I have truly failed myself :indiff:

I guess the level of philosophical arguing in this forum is book level, and unfortunately my video is on a totally different wavelength, trying to make a few points in a simpler way - which it has also failed to do :indiff:
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VannR
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(Original post by Flying Cookie)
The example of picking up the mug is just exemplifying what most people would do if asked if they have free will, that is do something that is out of the normal sequence of their life events, something they wouldn't otherwise do, although you rightly point out that the context of being asked that question makes them do that thing to attempt to prove their point.

My point about the above is that observing a human go about their life e.g. drink when they are thirsty, not to prove a point to someone, makes it obvious that these unusual behaviours caused by an active thought ("I will do something purposefully") is different to usual behaviours cause by no thought at all - no one takes time to think about drinking when thirsty, it's just the obvious thing to do with no reasonable alternative.

So my discussion comes across as nothing at all? :lol: Oh dear, I have truly failed myself :indiff:

I guess the level of philosophical arguing in this forum is book level, and unfortunately my video is on a totally different wavelength, trying to make a few points in a simpler way - which it has also failed to do :indiff:

It appears that the distinction that you are making is between conscious and unconscious motives, and the discussion about the degree to which our motives are conscious or unconscious is an interesting topic. However, the distinction between free will and determinism is, in terms of psychology, the argument about whether or not motives are 'caused' themselves by other things, or if they are 'original' and created by free will (assuming the second definition of free will that I discussed earlier).

I would also like to say that I am not trying to rain on your parade here. It's just that I read this post about five minutes after writing an analysis of a particular philosopher's ideas about this exact topic - I was feeling pretty enthused. It is always of benefit to think about these issues regardless of your schooling in the matter. That's what philosophy teaches you: what you think matters!

Again, apologies if I came across as being rude.
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KeepYourChinUp
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Our universe appears to be pretty damn deterministic. If causality is a coincidence of many superimposing random events, than that would be pretty miraculous in itself, especially with how often something like, say, gravity passes the existence test (100% in all my experiments... I have a record of scars outlining the detailed impact of each free-body fall).

When it comes to organisms and free-will, you're talking about very complicated, difficult to predict, determinism (but determinism none the less): Non-linear systems, chaos, extreme sensitivity to initial conditions and particular kinds of perturbations.

Of course, for organisms to persist in a stable manner through time (through reproduction) they have to all conform to certain laws, somehow. They have to be able to predict dangers and avoid death until they reproduce. Of course, this isn't the whole story. If a biological system is stressed to the point where it cannot function properly, it may just give up and die.

This is why it's difficult (impossible, from a deterministic perspective) for your average, non-stressed organism, to wilfully step in front of a bus that has a good chance of killing or maiming him (or her). It's very unlikely that anybody here will be able to step in front of it because of determinism's influence on freewill.

The electrons in your brain obey these deterministic laws (QM) with some uncertainty but ultimately for all intents and purposes, free will is an illusion. You choosing to do something is a direct manifestation of the QM determinism taking place in your brain.
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TorpidPhil
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(Original post by VannR)
The first point I would like to discuss is the idea of motivated action. In brief, our experience of the world forms ideas in our minds, and our actions are largely responsive to these ideas, as well as other factors such as reason, emotions etc. This is how we can understand how people's actions and behaviour change over time with their increased experience. It follows that since different people have different experiences that they will have different motives as a result of that.

Second, the contemporary understanding of free will. Both sides of the debate have understood free will (at least on an incompatibilist view) that free will is 'the power to act according to our motives', or a more contemporary and by no means equivalent phrase 'the power to choose one's motives and act according to them'. The first definition results in the following counterfactual: 'if you had chosen differently, you would have acted differently. The second definition leads to the counterfactual 'if you had chosen differently you would have acted differently, and you could have chosen differently'.

The first definition allows for the idea that our motives cause our actions, and is often used to defend the position that there is a necessary connection between motives and actions leading to a sense of compatibilism. However, this position does not defend your idea that free will is allows for 'unmotivated action', and furthermore, it is not a complete definition of the idea. The first definition allows us to say that our actions are caused by our motives, but some many libertarians argue that we must also say that you can choose your motives. On this first understanding, we could say that a person who was addicted to heroin, but is trying their best to come off it, is acting on their own free will by taking the drug.

The second definition resolves this. The second definition allows us to say that in order to act in a sense that is free, you must be be acting on your own motives, and you must be able to choose between you actions. Consider: I am motivated in some way to get a glass of water right now because I am thirsty; I am also motivated to continue typing here to explain my argument further. The second sense of free will would allow me to choose between these different actions without any sense of necessity. We can also say that a heroin addiction inhibits your ability to act on your free will - you cannot not want to take heroin. Accepting this sense of free will has been the most popular incompatibilist position in contemporary philosophy.

The problem here is that you have misunderstood the concept of free will. No one has ever seriously argued that actions are unmotivated - it is a basic empirical fact of human nature that they are motivated by our ideas. Consequently, your proposed argument which fails to proves the existence of free will - 'see, I can pick up a cup or click my fingers etc' - is only a symptom of your lack of understanding of the concept of free will. These actions are obviously motivated, in this case, by being asked to demonstrate your free will.

If you wish to engage further in this debate, I suggest that you first have a look at some of the classical incompatibilist and compatibilist positions that have been created . To be frank, your current discussion does not come across as either true, false, reasonable, unreasonable, original or trite - it just looks uninformed.
I'm not sure why what you propose as the first two definitions of free will are themselves being given time in academic discussion because it seems very superficial to me.

Free will in the past when it was debated was always done so with concern about morality. If someone lacks free will can they really, as a person, be immoral and if they cannot then is it justified to punish them under judiciary systems for what they do, even if what they do is "bad"?

If we say free will is whether or not actions can be influenced by motivation internal to humans then I want to push the discussion back a bit because I don't see any point discussing it there when there is a more pertinent question of "are human motivations subject to external factors"? If human motivations are subject to external factors then I don't see why the discussion about whether human motivation affecting actions is even worth having.
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Dalek1099
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(Original post by Flying Cookie)
Good evening,

It's Friday eve, and of course what one respectable TSRian must do on a Friday eve is ponder a deep philosophical matter. Is free will an illusion?

More importantly, if it is just an illusion, does that mean we can give up responsibility for our behaviour?

I made a video (#OOTM4) in an attempt to dissect this issue. Summary:

1. Free will should not be viewed as the ability to do something, but the reality of whether that something is actually done. For example, me picking up a mug to prove that I have free will is not proof of free will, because outside of the context of me trying to prove something, I would never randomly pick up the mug.

2. In a model of absolute free will, all possibilities for what someone might do would statistically have to be equal e.g. as many people sleep at night as those who don't, and as many people eat every day as those who don't, yet that is far from the case for most things.

3. If free will is an illusion, people must still take responsibility for their behaviour because if they inevitably accept the benefits of behaving as if one has free will, the they should also take the responsibility that comes with it, given that everyone else around them is also operating on the assumption of free will.

Here is the video. What do you think?

Having free will doesn't mean that every decision has to have as many people choose to do that as not?What about stupid decisions like stabbing yourself every day might it not be obvious why most people choose not to do this?There are also things like whether you are one party or another that could be close to 50:50(use to be this case with conservative/labour) but free will is probably unlikely in such a voting syste as people will be affected by what their parents vote/their friends vote.In a free will society there would be a lot of variation with what people choose to do ie there would probably be more people not sleeping at night than those who do(absolute free will would probably require no actual need to sleep) as there would be a wide variety of things they could be doing, this would probably be the case with most things so the probability that people will do something would generally be quite low.
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VannR
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(Original post by TorpidPhil)
I'm not sure why what you propose as the first two definitions of free will are themselves being given time in academic discussion because it seems very superficial to me.

Free will in the past when it was debated was always done so with concern about morality. If someone lacks free will can they really, as a person, be immoral and if they cannot then is it justified to punish them under judiciary systems for what they do, even if what they do is "bad"?

If we say free will is whether or not actions can be influenced by motivation internal to humans then I want to push the discussion back a bit because I don't see any point discussing it there when there is a more pertinent question of "are human motivations subject to external factors"? If human motivations are subject to external factors then I don't see why the discussion about whether human motivation affecting actions is even worth having.
The different understandings of free will are both of great philosophical importance and both have significant ramifications for morality and epistemology, and also have strong connections to the philosophy of mind. Knowing the different senses of free will is both interesting (at least to me) and important in order to have a well-rounded discussion.

Addressing your second point, no, free will has not been discussed in the context of moral responsibility alone. Moral responsibility is a key issue that is connected to it, but other issues such as whether the mind is responsive to reason in obtaining knowledge, and the implications of such a claim for the mind itself are also very philosophically important.

The third point: The discussion of conscious and unconscious motives for human action is what I am in fact criticising as being irrelevant to the discussion of free will. Taking the 'second' definition of free will, what we want to know is this:

Can you choose how you act in a sense that is influenced, but not causally determined by your motives with your free will being the agent of choice, or, are you causally determined to act on the motives that you act upon meaning that you have 'chosen' (in experiential terms) to act on particular motives, but in reality you had no effective choice in the matter?

I could not have said that unless I first explained my definitions of free will.
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Will Griffiths
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Of course we have free will.
Your example of the elephant drinking water and saying it's instinct when it does it, but some consider it a choice when we do it. That would be fair enough, if all we drank was water, and water was the only thing available. But it isn't. In your video you drank from a cup, it probably wasn't filled with some naturally sourced water that you collected and was the only liquid available. You chose to drink tea or whatever instead, because you like it.

Having taste, preferences, hobbies, interests and even ideas, thoughts or opinions other than that of pure basic survival (i.e. buying a bottle of Oasis over drinking water from a water hole in the ground so you don't literally die) proves free will.
Yes we HAVE to do things like eat and drink to survive, but that doesn't mean we haven't got the free will to decide what those things are.

And your point that there would be an equal distribution of all choices, that's just nonsense. If you think that the fact that more people choose to eat ice cream compared to choose to peal off the skin from their face on a daily basis proves that there's no such thing as free will, then there's going to be no point in arguing. Extreme example, but you said all choices would be equal. When obviously, they wouldn't, aren't and will never be. Hence, free will.
Jus sayin.
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LiamSoissons
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No matter how many times you reverse timel the exact same series of events will happen. That's because the universe was aranged in exactly the same way. Everything that has happened would have happened no matter what, as that's the way the universe was arranged. Every electrical impulse in your mind happens because of the way the universe and the forces applied to it and the atoms surrounding it were arranged. No matter what you do, even whilst it may be considered free will at the time, would have happened anyway.

This is scary because it means criminals were not responsible for their actions.
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Will Griffiths
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(Original post by LiamSoissons)
No matter how many times you reverse timel the exact same series of events will happen. That's because the universe was aranged in exactly the same way. Everything that has happened would have happened no matter what, as that's the way the universe was arranged. Every electrical impulse in your mind happens because of the way the universe and the forces applied to it and the atoms surrounding it were arranged. No matter what you do, even whilst it may be considered free will at the time, would have happened anyway.

This is scary because it means criminals were not responsible for their actions.

Would you mind posting a reference that backs up that claim Liam? Because it sounds awfully theory based and entirely made up to me.
You say 'no matter how many times you reverse time'...as if, that happens.
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