How does nature restrict our free-will?

Free-will is the idea of being able to act without the constraint of necessity or fate. In other words, it’s the ability to act at one’s own discretion. This hypothesized autonomy is conceptualized with differing degrees of freedom. Here I will analyze free-will under three points of view:

  • Through a secular viewpoint, which implies a semi-independent free-will, but with some strong and notable restrictions.
  • Through a religious viewpoint, that implies a full and independent free-will with no serious restrictions of any kind.
  • Through a biological and sociological viewpoint, which together imply a free-will with an extremely limited degree of freedom.

 (1) The Secular View

When our society evolved from small bands and families into tribes, cities, and (eventually) countries, it was necessary to create judicial systems to maintain firm social organization and cohesion based on reward and punishment. Thus, it became fundamental to decide whether or not humans are ultimately responsible for their actions. In other words, the question of free will had to be confronted: do we have free-will? Or are things determined to happen no matter how we choose to act?

This conundrum produces an interesting paradox:

(a) If we have free-will then we must pay for our wrong-doing since we are the cause.

(b) If we do not have free-will then we are not responsible for our actions since we are not the cause.

Our secular judicial world solved this contradiction in a straight forward manner: A person is fully accountable for their deeds, which will be punished, or rewarded, in accordance with the scale of values established by the society to which that person belongs. However in some justifiable cases, this premise can be amended such as an individual with mental deterioration. 

(2) The Religious View

Every religion has a deity or deities with anthropomorphic attributes and with the capability to communicate and interact with our world.

Our familiar Greek-Roman-Judea-Christian religions, which carved our occidental way of thinking, recognized the existence of free-will with no interference from the supernatural. This assumption also generated a paradox, which has been discussed among philosophers and theologians from the beginning of the enlightenment period.

Let us have a look:

The western god is defined as omniscient, meaning that he has an infallible knowledge of everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen to us; therefore, he knows when, where, and why we will disobey him. God is also omnipotent, thus he is the all-powerful ‘Supreme Being’ who is capable of halting any bad action when, where, and how he desires — well before any dreadful outcome is forthcoming.

Now, a logical incompatibility is born:

(a) If god knows in advance the option I will choose, then my future has been pre-decided and I do not have free-will. I am just an obedient biological machine of god serving his hidden purposes. Then, He is uniquely responsible for my happiness, unhappiness, illness and every good or evil action that I do.

(b) On the other hand, if god does not know the option I will choose, then my future is in my hands. Consequently…I do have free-will. And if this is the case, his attribute of omniscience must be considered in doubt.

If you take this dilemma one step further to evaluate the fact that god – thanks to his omniscience – knows the destiny of everything in the universe, then we are left to conclude that god must also know His own destiny. Now, we are indeed in an area with some huge potential for conflicts of interest! If god knows his own destiny, He will be inexorably a prisoner of his own fate without the possibility of escape. And, if god cannot change the course of his own history… this signifies that he is not all-powerful.

The solution to this discordancy found by our Greek-Roman-Judea-Christian religions was: We certainly have full and independent free-will, but we are unable to appropriately rationalize this assertion.  Humans can never, and will never, understand god’s mind and purpose.

Accordingly, trying to rationalize god’s attributes of Omniscience and Omnipotence with human free-will seems very difficult to reconcile. At the end of the day, it would appear to be a matter of faith and not logic!

(3) The Biological and Social View

Biology and sociology have an important effect on free-will. To explain this subject more clearly, let us analyze the typical pursuits employed by a typical person during his or her daily schedule:

Biological functions.

  • The person must sleep nearly eight hours to recharge their “batteries.”
  • Preparation and taking of meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) over the course of the day (approximately two to three hours).
  • Obligated to “hunt” (or in our modern case, work) for least eight hours.
  • Commuting time to work, estimated to take around one hour and a half (metro, buses, car parking, etc.)
  • Biological functions total: 19-20 hours.

Sociological mandatory obligations.

  • Morning preparation, no less than one hour (bathing, shaving, dressing, etc).
  • Family/social obligations, no less than one hour and a half (parents, wife, children, relatives, friends, chitchatting).
  • Miscellaneous time, no less than a half hour (attention to pets, buying groceries, etc.)
  • Sociological functions total: +/- 3 hours

Period of leisure, nearly 1 hour  (if you’re lucky!)

Total (a) + (b) = 24 hours.

The above timetable has an approximate allotted free-will of 4.2 percent per day. If we consider vacations and weekends we can round this percentage out to a little over five percent, which means we have merely one month of nonrestrictive free-will per year.

Now, if you want to increase your free-will time, I might suggest that you:

(a) Stop sleeping. There you will save around three thousand five-hundred hours that are otherwise spent in an unconscious state in bed and/or in preparation for sleep.

(b) Stop eating. You will save another three thousand five-hundred hours of hunting and eating time per year!

If you can pull this off with your “powerful” free-will then you will gain about ten extra months per year to watch TV or whatever it is you like to do in your spare time. Of course, the only complex system capable of accomplishing such an extraordinary thing will likely be artificial intelligence, which needs neither sleep nor food to function.

In conclusion, any discussion of nonrestrictive free-will is pure nonsense. Indeed, we have a very restrictive free-will useful only to decide which course of action is the best when we are facing an obstacle. In other words, we are like a solitary sailor navigating the sea in his sturdy, twenty-foot sailboat: We have the free-will to manipulate the sails to our will, and to turn the wheel toward any point on the horizon, but we do not have any possibility of controlling the currents, waves, winds, or weather that exert themselves to push us ever onward within our respective boats.

Karl de Azagra