Home Discussion Forum Do you believe in free will? How can free will possibly exist?

Do you believe in free will? How can free will possibly exist?

I am 100% certain that free will does not exist. For me, it is not a matter of belief, but rather of direct experience. Allow me to explain.
I first began to notice this while practicing zen meditation. I soon realized that I am not in control of my own mind — rather, thoughts are simply arising spontaneously. There is absolutely no control over thoughts. And therefore free will cannot possibly exist. Because all choices and decisions are thoughts. And since thoughts arise spontaneously, there is no control over what decisions are made.
If you disagree, and believe that you have free will, then I challenge you to exert your free will by making the choice to stop thinking. Can you choose to stop thinking? And if you cannot turn your thinking off, then clearly you are not turning your thinking ON either. And if you are neither turning it on nor off, then how can you say that you have any control over your thoughts? And because all choices are thoughts, how could you possibly be in control of making choices?
If you believe that you are choosing your thoughts, then tell me, HOW are you choosing your thoughts? If you are choosing your thoughts then surely you must be able to explain HOW you are choosing them.
By what mechanism do you make choices? If you watch your thoughts very carefully you will see that all thoughts arise spontaneously. There is no control center in the mind. All you will ever find is more thoughts–how can a thought control other thoughts?
The only way to stop thinking would be to kill yourself. But even the decision to kill yourself would be a spontaneously arising thought. And therefore the act of killing yourself would be a spontaneously arising action.
someone wrote: “While you can’t control your thoughts you can definitely control your actions, you may think about punching someone but it would be a conscious choice to physically throw a punch. ”
My response: That “conscious choice” would be a thought. What is prior to thought (and therefore choice, since all choices are thoughts) that chooses the choice? Where is the little person that’s pushing buttons and pulling levers?
All of the answers to my question so far have COMPLETELY missed the point.
A conscious choice is a thought. What is prior to thought (and therefore choice, since all choices are thoughts) that chooses the choice? Where is the little person that’s pushing buttons and pulling levers? If you look for the controlling entity you only find more thoughts. How can a thought make choices?

11 COMMENTS

  1. your thoughts might seem to arise spontaneously, but you still have to choose your actions, and THAT is where free will steps in
    you might ‘think’ about suicide, but you still have free will to decide against it
    EDIT: maybe we think your question is about free will, and no matter what is inside of you, YOU still have the last say so in your choices
    (maybe look up the words ‘id’ and ‘ego’, you might be surprised to find out that there is an answer to the question of what is provoking your thoughts in the first place)

  2. In a way you can argue everything is just a result of chemical reactions which although look random are actually a result of how the universe was formed, so arguably your whole destiny was devised at one point in time. However it depends on your view of consciousness as to be weather you are just aware of whats going on but essentially just going along for the ride, or if you are actaully somewhat in control,
    Regardless I personally beleive there is free will, we do decide what we do, I beleive this from experience, I chose which clothes to wear, what I said to people etc.

  3. Try a different meditation technique. Zen doesn’t suit everyone. I have been much more successful with the anapanasati. Making my thoughts qualitatively different has led me to have a stronger understanding of the freedom of my will. It’s a bit like stretching the body, or yoga. We cannot get into a difficult pose straight away, but with practice we can approximate to it.
    I sometimes choose my thoughts. I will think of an elephant. There it is!! The rest of the time, I have the ability to follow or to leave alone thoughts that spontaneously arise. For example, the thoughts associated with Buddhist precepts are effective in controlling other thoughts; the Buddha spent a lot of time explaining this to people, and how they could do it.

  4. Good–now let me contradict you 🙂
    First off, you can not NOT control your mind if you just told it to let it roam free. It’s like saying how music can take you places, when in reality it rather inspires you of such places. And it’s also how “flavorless” is a flavor. Are you following me so far?
    Secondly, there are times when you feel so aroused that you are living in the moment not thinking at all. Take for instance, say, an adrenaline rush when you run. Sometimes, you just blank out and not necessarily have thoughts that you think about and maybe you can’t even feel yourself at this particular moment. And that’s another form of control over your mind and body.
    And the whole choosing your thoughts part–just watch the end of the movie “Psycho.” You may think that Norman Bates has no control of his mind, but if you look at it under some other light, you can conclude that he has the ability to control his mind if he were able to reenact the life of his mother and play out his as well. You can even say it was too controlled.
    Also, many people can control what they think, usually because they are in denial.
    And if you really just want to stop thinking, stare at a wall and gaze at it and empty your mind. Apparently you haven’t tried this. Killing yourself over that is just plain stupid because there’s so much to live for.
    QED

  5. What do you mean by free will? Is it choosing your thoughts or choosing what path that you take, free will is commonly defined as; the power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will. Is your argument that someone controls our thoughts, or that no one can control their thoughts, isn’t that what meditation teaches to stop thinking. Please clarify, i’m intrigued.

  6. Your brain does not work itself to make you think. You are primarily spirit that God gave you in the womb. You use that spirit to form thoughts in your brain or mind. That spirit is your free will, you can use it to think thoughts and will to do whatever, but it is entirely under your spiritual control, you don?t have to do or not do anything, it is your own decision.

  7. While we certainly do have a sense of free will, the concept of free will is absurd at its core. That said, the concept of determinism is also fatally flawed as human behavior is supervened on the component functionality of being a human being and cannot be predicted from knowing everything there is to know of those functions.
    Basically determinism could only be correct if we could predict behavior and it is clear that we cannot. Humans are not billiard balls, which can be statistically predicted in most cases but not all cases.
    Free will is not a valid concept because it is not clear just exactly what is free, and free from what. The concept was invented to lay some moral responsibility of the human soul for religious reasons. But the soul is a fiction and the concept of free will is meaningless without it. The self has been verified to not be in control of decisions and is only aware of a decision after it is made. Never the less the self claims responsibility even though it is an illusion and lie.

  8. Alan Watts, who was considered the best translator of Zen into a western language, brought up the subject ot free will and determinism in a chapter in his book called “This Is It”. He said that you cannot have one without the other. If you have free will it is because it has been determined to be so. If you’re life is lived according to determinism it is because you submit to it with your free will. When we remove the influence of our conscious will, as in Zen meditation, there is a freedom realised by a deeper and more genuine self than the more shallow self which attains its identity largely through the manipulator behind conscious will. That shallow self is ignorant of all of the other things the deeper, genuine self is doing/experiencing, because its awareness is limited in scope like a spotlight rather than an all encompassing floodlight.
    I used to think it was impossible to stop thinking for awhile. Yet I eventually was able to. It seemed that the inability to stop was based on the fear of a loss of control. The point is not to stop permanently. Just try to allow your carnal senses be aware of their environment while meditating without using your mind to comment silently about it. Don’t label things in your mind with words. You’ll be able to stop and then thought will arise spontaneously.

  9. First off if you have to pay for an solution to this question there is also another question to answer; what was the equal action required by that payment and doesn’t work mean values? But, if you came upon the answer to the question by yourself what were the values you inherited from the person or group who left you to answer it? My life was serene as a child but filled with chemical imbalances, yet I grew to be strong even willful and concrete in all personal communication. Only after I learned to express some thoughts on solo emotional journeys did my human path begin to erode like some man made object. When solo emotional journeys lead to a degradation of past and future how can this not also effect the logic (here and now) and harmony (current states) of philosophical projection? To thine own self be true.

  10. While you can’t control your thoughts you can definitely control your actions, you may think about punching someone but it would be a conscious choice to physically throw a punch. The fact that you can choose whether or not to act on your thoughts proves that you unquestionably have free will.

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