First of all, watch this BBC video about the experiment which seems to pretty conclusively show that real decisions are not done in the conscious mind. It's not even 6 minutes long, so no great commitment After watching, what is your reaction?

The experiment shows that decision-making is done in the unconscious mind up to six seconds before we are aware of it, and not as the result of conscious deliberation.

Bear in mind that decision-making as studied in this experiment differs from other behaviors such as reactions and reflexes, though they also are not really done through a conscious deliberative process. They are situations where time doesn't allow deliberation and your body and nervous system "just do it." Avoiding a child running into the street, for example, doesn't result from a decision-making process but is done as a simple reaction that is not handled in the brain proper but is handled by the nervous system, much the way you don't decide to blink when someone flicks a finger at your eyes.

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 The group given the suggestion that there is no free will consistently lowers their standard of behavior by cheating and lying more, and so on.

But don't you see that this experiment, if it proves anything at all, proves that SUGGESTING there's no free will has the result of making them less honest. So, this behavior, in terms of the experiment, can only be construed as the result of the suggestion. It has nothing to do with whether or not each individual actually BELIEVED that free will doesn't exist. Perhaps it was a cynical, "Well, if YOU don't believe in free will, why don't I cheat? I can always say that I did what I did because I have to and you have to accept that explanation."

Now, I'm a hard determinist, and as such I can believe on the one hand that whatever one does is what one is destined to do, but on the other that whatever that is depends upon the input of the particular situation. If someone suggests there's no free will, that becomes input and part of the process.

Is "true karma" the "karma" of Hinduism and Buddhism, which determines the nature of one's next birth? 

All too often, when Westerners use the term, what they really mean is encapsulated in "What goes around, comes around," which is a different thing entirely.

I read something once from an old guru once that has stuck with me and it goes something like this.

"Predestination versus free will: a will is free only so long as it has not acted. Once it acts, then that very act becomes binding on it. The second time it acts, it does not act as a free will, but as a “calculating will” for it carries the experience of the first act with it. And calculating will is not a free will, but a limited will. The very creations or acts of a free will work as limiting factors upon it and guide in its future, activity...." Sawan Singh  (I always that this was a pretty simple but effective argument I could use on 'fundies' to illustrate that free will is an illusion at best)

Now of course there are genetic and environmental factors that further inhibit any kind of initial absolute free will.  Society and Culture, education, language etc.. We work from a limited and confining toolbox at best, and each of us has our even smaller limited toolbox that we fill up from the big box...  

There are so many determining factors going on from all sides that no action that is performed is free of them.   This is one of the things that let me realize the idea of individual karma was bogus.  There's no way to separate one action completely from all the determining factors on it.  You could use the same argument for individual sin.


It appears that the guru was unaware that even that first act isn't exemplary of free will because the feeling that one did it consciously turns out to be an illusion. In fact, since our real mental life takes place preconsciously, our normal everyday perception of being where we are, acting in the world, is a kind of illusion. We are not actors at all, but are passive puppets of a part of our mind we cannot consciously access.

"We are not actors at all, but are passive puppets of a part of our mind we cannot consciously access."

LOL  the irony is that is what the yogi's say as well and why they teach meditation.

His idea of initial action was the first step away from the godhead towards the physical world. etc.etc.etc.. yada, yada, yada.

The old axiom 'You are what you eat' seems to be true.  You are also what you think...(even if its unconscious)

  You can only eat from what's available and you can only think with the tools that have been fashioned from society, culture, education, genetics, environment etc..  Even thinking outside the box, and creating your own tools, must be fashioned using the limited toolbox that's available to us.

Did we exercise free will in becoming atheists?  Was I predestined to become an Atheist?  I didn't consciously WILL myself to become an atheist.   I was searching for the truth and trying to be as honest with myself as possible was pretty much left no other option but to conclude that the god theories just didn't add up. 

Was it fate? Was it predestination? 

Here's more of the quote from the guru..  "...So, the more world (experience) one has, the more his will is guided in its future activity. So, the more experiences one has, the more his will is guided and thus limited. And this is real predestination.

There is thus no antagonism between predestination, fate, karma, and free will. We were free at one time. We acted, and then our acts became binding upon us. They curtailed initial freedom. They now act upon us as unavoidable fate. Since our experience have become complex and varied, these experience now appear in us as joys and fears, hopes and desires, each of which in its turn molds or fashions our reason and intellect."



Just to keep the discussion relevant, let's be clear on terms.

determinism=everything that happens on the gross (molecular and above) level is caused by something prior.

predeterminism=because of determinism, the present totally determines the future.*

predestination=the future has already been decided and laid out by some intelligence, making free will moot.

* The flaw in predeterminism is that we know that the random events of the quantum level can and do shake things up on the gross level of newtonian/einsteinian physics. 

We were free at one time. We acted, and then our acts became binding upon us. They curtailed initial freedom. They now act upon us as unavoidable fate.

But this is not the whole story. Creatures, especially humans are usually acting to affect some kind of change to their environment, or adaptation to it. This is a combination of passive and active behavior, as determined by perceptions and needs. Behaving in ways to get what we need not only requires conformation to conditions of reality, but the ability to predict roadblocks and find ways over or around them.

Hmm, I suspect that you know this and I've missed something important you're saying.

I'd like to suggest consideration of more relevant descriptions of human decision-making. Take for example sports, and (say) tennis, in particular. Playing decisions are made in fractions of seconds. Such high speed decisions may seem "automatic", or reflexive in nature, but only if one completely ignores the hours and hours of exercises and training that went into development of the fast behaviors.

If a brain scan could be performed someday on a tennis player while actually playing, it would have to be able to measure activity of the brain at large, and in fine time increments. Just the one or two second process of getting to the ball and returning it summons forth years worth of the player's personal experience.

There is a lot more to human nature and consciousness than random button pushing.

Any chance you can summarize your argument in, well, argument form? Like a few premises followed by a conclusion? We can save the evidence for later. What is the argument you are making?

I agree that the study shows how consciousness actually works. It shows that decisions aren't made when we think they are. They're made earlier before we know the result of the conscious deliberation.

I think one of the problems of discussing free will is that we assume we know what "will" means, but almost as soon as you start to define it, it evaporates. Do we mean willing as in making something happen through an act of mind as in the movies Carrie or Firestarter, or like "Use the Force, Luke" in Star Wars?

I'm trying to figure out, are you asserting that decisions are made in real foreground conscious time or not? If not, then we are in accord.

I'm not going to google an answer to the riddle, though I seem to remember it goes something like asking one of them "Is this the right path?," waiting for the answer, and then asking the other one "Is he telling me the truth?" 

At any rate, my point is that if we are making decisions in anything other than our foreground consciousness, and if that decision is made before we know it, then there's no free will as it's ordinarily understood. Even if as you say this is how what we call consciousness actually works.

It seems all you may be saying is that the unconscious mind is part of the conscious mind (or as you call it, "consciousness"). But that seems to embody a contradiction. It can't be consciousness if we're not conscious of it.


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