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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

Do I Have Free Will? Wrong Question!

The right question is: What is the range of my free will?

Isaac Singer (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This age-old question—do you have free will?—asks for a yes or a no answer. The question hides within itself an implied answer—either God/fate or random/chance. If the answer is "no," you have no free will, then fate and random are the two answers. Each is beyond individual control. Fate has predetermined your every move. And random says nothing you do is predictable. What if the answer is "yes"?

Paradoxically: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice,” said Isaac B. Singer.

Our lives are governed by circumstances outside of our control. Genetic codes predispose us to certain diseases, and the income bracket we are born into strongly influences our vocational future. Current circumstances limit our possible alternatives. The proper question is not, "do I have free will?" You do. The better question is: "What is the range of my choices in this situation?" The range varies with the state of your mind and the environment in which the choices are to be made.

Throughout history, some people have acted very altruistically, while others have acted extremely cruelly. These behaviors are the two tails in the bell-shaped curve of compassion and cruelty. Most of the time, the person can choose within a range of helpful to hurtful behaviors. The free will question usually addresses actions, but we also have a range of free will in thinking. When experiencing coincidences, the coincider chooses how to use and explain them. People can choose to believe that coincidences are divine creations or random events.

Cultures and societies do imprint programmatic thinking in their members. What thoughts are being forced on the person by external pressures? Under what conditions can one decide to think something else? In the gray zone of ambiguity, positive or negative thinking becomes a choice. Psychotherapy and meditation bolster the ability to change thought streams. Free will can also include the conscious, deliberate establishment of flexible response repertoires that automatically make chosen responses without conscious input. You can program yourself to notice coincidences. You can develop personal algorithms on how to use them and how to explain them.

Humankind can no longer philosophize about free will. We are a parasite consuming its host—the Earth. Individual and collective action is necessary only with the belief that we can do something to alter the apparently suicidal course we have taken.


Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

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