Once and a while, I start to dwell on things and ask questions of myself as they apply to life. One of these questions is the title of today’s post: Is free will an illusion? I think that most people would agree that for the most part, people in the western world live as free people with all the choices and entitlements associated with our lifestyles.
But how much of it is real? And how much of it is simply a comforting dream that we allow ourselves to have in order to cope with the prison of our own reality? Not to sound totally morose, but sometimes one needs to question things. This appears to be the mood I’m in today.
As usual, I’ll start by defining what it is I’m referring to. Free will is defined as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” This is according to the Oxford Dictionary, which also provide the action of doing something voluntarily.
So, how much of our free will is real and how much is the illusion. I like thinking that I walk through life doing whatever the hell I want, but I may be incorrect in some respects. Allow me to explain…
For the most part, we get to decide and choose what we will do with our lives. As long as we work hard and study (or so we’re told) we can choose an avenue of post-secondary study and embark on a career that will make us happy and fulfilled. If one is lucky enough to become successful in that endeavour, then we usually slip into the expected and often wanted aspects of societal norm; a home, a spouse, children and vacations…
But what if you happen to lack the financial means to make that post-secondary study happen? You can be as good at schooling as you want to be but if you can’t afford college or university, some of your chosen professions will be off limits to you. Or the other side of the equation would be if you don’t have the best grades in school, some post-secondary opportunities will be off limits, regardless of your financial means.
But is this truly free will? I use schooling as an example, but there are many others. For example, if you decided you wanted to drop everything and spend your life travelling the world as a nomad, could you? Or would there be societal, governmental and familial obligations that would prevent you and potentially ruin you if you tried?
Let’s say that you get everything you wanted: complete your chosen studies, obtain the job of your dreams and everything falls into place. Is everything one in your life now dictated by your free will or is some of it still imposed by outside factors? Things such as work schedules and paying taxes are required of people and are usually outside the purview of our free will.
The importance behind free will isn’t so much in getting to do what you want, so much as it relates to the ability to make a choice. Choice is the true aspect of free will that every person has. In truth, even doing nothing is still making a choice. And even in the face of constraints or restrictions, making a choice will always be the true free will. Food for thought… ☯