Why do people believe in free will

Illusion of free will : Beyond Good and Evil

Free will belongs to the spiritual inventory of humanity. According to a study from 2010 (and nothing suggests that this has changed profoundly since then), between 65 and 85 percent of people believe in him, depending on the culture. The fact that we make our decisions completely freely. In that sense, the world is full of libertarians.

However, there are serious doubts about the existence of free will. First of all: freedom is not provided for in nature. Physical, chemical and biological processes run on the principle of cause and effect. Even man cannot free himself from this.

Willing action is based on brain activity and is its product. The brain, in turn, is a result of evolution. Supporters of free will argue that it developed in the course of development. There is some truth in that. Of course it is true that humans are more free in their decisions than other living beings, than a protozoan, a petunia or a shrew. But this freedom is relative, not absolute. The will remains tied to brain processes and the activity of nerve cells.

Decisions are made in the brain before we know it

In a series of experiments, neuroscientists have shown that decisions are made before the conscious mind becomes aware of them. Freedom is fooled into him. To put it bluntly: We don't think ourselves. We are thought. The considerations of the American neuroscientist and author Sam Harris go in the same direction. He suggests that one should explore within oneself where a certain thought, a certain decision originated. He is convinced that the origin of an action or an idea that emerges in us is mysterious. What pushes itself into consciousness comes from the darkness. “We don't experience free will that we think we will experience,” says Harris.

If free will is an illusion, at least in an absolute sense, why are the vast majority of people so convinced of it? The answer to this can again be given by evolution. The idea of ​​being the "author" of his actions, to make them after careful consideration, probably meant a survival advantage over pure instinct. And it may pave the way for the formation of social communities and the ethical evaluation of actions related to that group.

From the community

It's fascinating: evolution has enabled us as the only living thing to think about our own thinking organ and to be able to research it, so that one finally comes to the conclusion that all thinking is preprogrammed.

... writes user ava58

Free will was at the cradle of morality

Those who are responsible for their own actions can be praised or condemned for them. Free will was at the cradle of morality, at the beginning of good and bad.

So it is not surprising that free will is also defended because it upholds public order. If we do not act out of responsibility, but are remotely controlled from the depths of the brain, then everything seems to work. Then it doesn't matter. Kindness, selflessness and ambition give way to selfishness, deceit and laziness. The psychologists Kathleen Vohs of the University of Utah and Roy Baumeister of the Florida State University point to their studies, according to which there is a risk of moral decline if belief in free will wanes. The philosopher Saul Smilansky from the University of Haifa even suggests hiding the terrible truth of an unfree will from the people. It is dangerous to spread the idea of ​​world events predetermined by natural laws. So is fatalism - the belief in the insignificance of one's own actions - at the end of the knowledge, because everything is predetermined? No, not at all. There is no immutable fate on the level of human action. In theory we are not free, but in practice we are not. Even if absolute freedom and total independence are illusory, our actions are significant. They have consequences, in the best case positive ones - also on the actions of others.

The more science understands how the mind works, the more compassion and understanding for others can be the result, says Cambridge University philosopher Stephen Cave. It seems paradoxical: Beyond good and evil, a new kind of freedom is growing. And with it the opportunity to do good.

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