Letter to a Nation That Believes in Free Will

Revising Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation to propagate free will skepticism…

You believe in free will.  You believe that you have the freedom to choose.  Every time you make a choice, you believe you consciously decide the course that your life is going to take.  You believe you are the conscious author of your thoughts and intentions.  As a believer in free will, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think they are true.  Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong.  You have the freedom to choose or your don’t.  You are constantly consciously deciding the course that your life is going to take or you are not.  We agree that to be a true believer in free will that all free will skeptics are mistaken, and profoundly so.  If believers in free will are correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer derision for the rest of my days.  Worse still, I have persuaded others, some close to me, to reject the very idea of free will.  They too will languish in contempt.  If the basic doctrine of the belief in free will is correct, I am misusing my time in a wasteful way.  I admit this without a single caveat.  The fact that my continuous and public rejection of free will since the end of 2015 does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a believer  in  free  will  are.  

To be continued…

Sharing the genius of Einstein with the inspiring mental health advocate Rudy Caseres

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 9.26.00 AMRudy Caseres is an inspiring mental health advocate that I am grateful to know through social media.  He champions ideas in his work aimed at reducing the suffering of others.  He posted something on his Facebook page yesterday about being compelled to delete a previous post because of abusive, bullying comments made by someone.

I was compelled to write the following to Rudy as a result.

“I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.”  

Albert Einstein   

A huge lightbulb went off for me in October of 2015 thanks to a talk that Sam Harris (author and neuroscientist) gave at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas back in 2012 about free will.  I don’t believe that you, me, anyone that is writing abusive things on your FB page, or any other human being has conscious control over the next thought that pops into their head.  Like Einstein (thanks primarily to Sam Harris) I don’t believe that anyone has control of their will.  

I champion your right to be the cause of the effect(s) that you wish to see in the world (like blocking abusive people from your FB page) while also believing that no one is the conscious author of their thoughts.  As a result, I think it’s unreasonable to see people as deeply/completely/morally responsible for what they say and do. I believe this while simultaneously thinking that, for practical purposes, every human being must be held legally responsible for their actions 100% of the time.  

People don’t create themselves as they are.  Rather, people are the product of their biology and every experience that they have ever had.  No one has a scintilla of control over who their parents are, over the genes they inherited.  You and I have as much control over the microstructure of our brains as we do our height.  

Hopefully banning people trolling you will be the cause of a new effect for that person, i.e., your action could cause different thoughts to pop into that person’s head, leading them to take different actions.  My point, thanks to the genius of Einstein, Sam Harris, Bruce Hood, the Buddha, etc. is that I think it’s unreasonable to blame someone for being how they are being.  

Reading Sam’s book Free Will and watching the talk I already mentioned back in 2015 transformed my beliefs about the human condition.  I am unequivocally more compassionate as a result.  When you genuinely don’t believe in free will, forgiveness becomes almost a nonsensical idea.  With no reason to “blame” anyone for anything they do, there is no reason to forgive them.  As you noted at the end of your post, there is always room to be loving and helpful to everyone while trying to cause the world to be the way you are compelled to want it to be.  

I think Albert Einstein, one of the most insightful humans to ever live, gave humanity a key to unlock inner peace (and world peace too!) with his vision of the human condition.  I share these thoughts with you in the hope that you will have more peace when someone does something that compels you to become upset.

I haven’t been following you for long Rudy, but you are an inspiration.  I appreciate you, and I’m grateful that I came to know that you exist.  You too have helped to cause me to be how I am.

I encourage you to check out Sam’s talk when you have a chance.

Best,

Francesco