You Don't Have Free Will, but Don't Worry?

I don’t doubt Sabine Hossenfelder is right from a purely materialistic point of view. But I’m definitely curious to see how others would respond to this.

As a Christian, I don’t have a response fully formed. I’m especially curious how @dga471 and @structureoftruth of truth would respond if you feel like taking the time to do so.

Interesting that she compares our lives to stories that haven’t been told yet. Who wrote the stories?

I haven’t watched the video. But I did read Sabine’s post on it this morning. One of the things that I like about her, is that she provides both a written version and a video version. I usually go by the written version, except when she does one of her singing videos which I watch.

On this occasion, I’m inclined to disagree with Sabine. Many scientists seem to conclude that we do not have free will, but I dissent from that viewpoint.

She defines “free will” in terms of making choices. And we do seem to make choices. Science depends on the choices that scientists make. If making choices is an illusion, then we ought to conclude that science is an illusion. I make the assumption that we do make choices, because I can make better sense of the world with that assumption.

There another of those “purely **istic” expressions. I don’t consider myself a materialist, because “material” is too vague a term for us to really know what we mean when we use it.

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I think the problem here is that “free will” isn’t well defined, particularly the distinction between libertarian and compatibilist free will. I’d say that compatibilist free will isn’t what the term usually means, while libertarian free will is incoherent. So where does that leave us?


I agree with that. I often wonder whether people are really arguing about the meaning of “free will”.

I’d have to become familiar with the difference between these. She defines free will as “in this present moment, there are several futures which are possible, and your free will plays a role in selecting which one of those possible futures becomes a reality.”

I don’t think she’s saying it’s an illusion, rather that outcome is predetermined.

Yes, I thought that was a pretty good definition of “free will”.

The libertarian version of free will insists on that. It insists that “we could have chosen differently”.

The compatibilist version of free will is silent on whether our choice affects the future. It is compatible with determinism, and determinism would rule out affecting the future. But compatibilism doesn’t require determinism, and we could be in a world where choices do affect the future. So I suppose that becomes a question for cosmologists, though not a question that they could actually settle.

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This thread from a little while ago might interest you:

I linked to the post where @John_Harshman and I begin to go back and forth there on whether free will is incoherent - I won’t rehash that here - but the main topic of that thread is pertinent to this one as well.

As far as this topic goes, I think @nwrickert is correct that the activity of science presupposes the (in some sense free) choices of scientists - the argument of Bell’s theorem famously depends on this assumption, for example - so science cannot disprove free will without undermining itself. Even if our best models of physics are deterministic, the correct conclusion is not that free will is an illusion, but instead that physics isn’t the whole story.


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If this is true, then the definition is circular, because it uses the term “free will” in the definition of “free will”.

I agree. I’d have to watch it again to see if she gives a definition that isn’t circular. But that’s definitely the popular sense of it.

You will note, then, that the popular sense is incoherent. It’s saying “Free will is, like, you know, free will.”

Spoken like someone who has heard a lot of college students offer explanations for complex phenomena! :joy:

16 posts were split to a new topic: Tim and Matt on Free Will

You’ll note I said that.

Lol. If you make comments like this, I’ll assume you’re just trolling me :wink:


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I’m currently watching another interesting discussion of free will:

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I both loved and hated those books :rofl: But her point was that there’s only one story. No choose your own adventure. Sorry Dan.

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Free will is generally defined with reference to making a choice, which is reasonable. The usual idea of selection of what possible future becomes a reality, however, is just an endpoint. A significant decision is the result of an inner deliberation where a number of “choices” are made internally as we argue with our self. Throughout this whole process, we select possible futures with regards to the material world, as thinking in language lights up the brain in different ways when using specific words. That is as much an alteration of the physical universe as pressing the trolley switch. So whatever is true of free will in terms of choices, is just as true as concerning our internal state of sentient consciousness long before the so called moment of decision. Do we have free consciousness?

I once heard that the job of the conscious mind is to rationalize the deterministic decisions that have already been made by the subconscious mind. If you start with a specific mind in a specific neuronal state and expose this system to a specific stimuli will you always get the same decision? I suspect we would.

However, the illusion of free will is good enough for me. Even though a roller coaster follows a deterministic path it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment I get out of it.


Hi @dga471,

From Dr. Hossenfelder’s speech:

We do not guess, we know that brains are made of particles. And we do not guess, we know, that we can derive from the laws for the constituents what the whole object does. If you make a claim to the contrary, you are contradicting well-established science.

Any idea what experimental results she’s alluding to here? Because if she’s right on this particular point, then her conclusion follows. Many thanks.