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STOIC POETRY | Arguing with myself over free will

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

How best might I prove myself wrong? I have this suspicion, not quite yet a belief perhaps, that free will is an illusion. How can I demonstrate to myself that this idea is incorrect? As free will appears so evidently real...each day being a series of choices: what time to get up, what to have for breakfast, decisions at work, and what entertainment to enjoy in the evening. And yet, I am nearly convinced that our choices are not truly our own, or anybody's, and are instead simply an inevitable consequence of events influencing one another, like dominoes falling in a chain, from each moment to the next, right back to the beginning of the universe.

The question of the reality of free will is one which I have reluctantly decided, and yet remain ready to change my mind about - though I cannot possibly imagine how I might be conclusively convinced either way, or even if this is my own decision to make.

My decision to set my alarm this morning for 5:00 AM was hardly my own, though I'll grant that if I did not exist then my decision would not have been made. The reasons for 5:00 AM were hinted at, suggested - demanded? - not merely by my want, but by other factors such as the time I must start work, the minutes it takes to prepare breakfast, walk the dog, and write this blog. And though I'm tacitly in control of the alarm setting, the reason for the time I decide is certainly a consequence of many factors mostly out of my control. I set the alarm for 5:00 AM in response to, and in keeping with, the necessities dictated by the world around me. So little of this simple decision seems my own willful choice - though there is some will perhaps in there. Isn't there? And yet, I know that what seems to be true should not always be trusted.

So, how then can I prove myself wrong? How can I show myself truly, and conclusively, that free will is not an illusion, that my body and mind are not merely reacting to a seemingly infinite number of mindless variables presented to me by the universe at large, and that it is only the vast scale of these influences which renders to us the appearance of freedom? I do not think that I can overcome this challenge, as I have no other universe to use as a control, and I can never go back in time to demonstrate my own ability to make a decision other than the one which I actually did. And so, I'm stuck perhaps with this unfounded belief...this suspicion that free will is not real. And I will hold to it tentatively, and with caution, as the operational standard for my worldview at large.

I will believe that I have no free will, as I appear incapable of doing otherwise.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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