Feeling free is not feeling your free will!

"No one can ever know whether freedom is real or just an illusion" - page 224, Philosophy for Dummies, Martin Cohen, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, West Sussex, 2010

An illusion can be a misperception or an intellectual mistake.  In the latter, something has given you wrong information so you are thinking something right when it is not.  Feeling free and thinking that shows you are free or how free you are is an intellectual mistake.  The feeling itself may be a misperception. The two illusions could be at work together.  The intellectual mistake is one we all make - so the idea of feeling free telling us we are free is definitely out.  Even if we are free we have no reason to confident.

A quote from the internet: Our will, whether it is free or otherwise, is only realized as our will when it is translated into the process that brings about the purpose that is willed.

The result is what you aimed for even if it was just to try it.  In a sense you want it. So getting a result or trying creates a feeling that you made this situation.  It is the result that makes us think we are free.  It is the result that makes me see me in the action.  Feeling free is a reward for the result rather than the action.


There are three ways to answer the question.


Free will means you can be unpredictable and do something that is totally out of character. Some say that people doing unpredictable things proves we have free will.  The best way to understand this is say the clock really could turn back a second or a minute or a year there is no way to know if you will do the same thing again.

If we could go back then if we see that we do the same thing again it would take away the feeling of free will. The feeling is only to be expected for we cannot test.  We feel there is no wolf lurking in the garden ready to bite us just because we have not went out to make sure.  It is the same thing.

Free will means you are free from outside restraint.

Some who do not believe in free will in the sense we have seen say that if you are not forced by something outside of you and the forces are all inside you you should be treated as free.  This is a practical suggestion not a philosophical one.  Inner forces take away free will as much as outside ones.  But it feels better to be okay with the first and against the second.

Free will is psychological - you are attracted to doing something and you must decide why you should do it or should not.  This does not say if it is real or not but talks about the process that leads you to act.
Those are the different understandings of free will. Believers in free will say it is all three.
So free will means you freely cause your decisions. They are not caused by your past or your programming. If they are then we are not free. If they are not caused then we are still not free. Then we are not causing our decisions so they are not ours.

We have learned that all who use the term free will do not necessarily believe in it in any real sense and are just treating it as a pragmatic thing.


The feeling of being in your own head is an illusion.  You feel like you are not your body but living in it.  So you have this big illusion that is central to your experience.  It is more central than free will.  If you did not feel you lived in your body you would not feel free either.  You cannot then trust the feeling of being able to wield free will and be an agent.  If you believe in free will, feelings are not a reason to believe.  There is something egotistical about making them that important for egoism is essentially putting indulging your feelings first.

With out of body experiences, it seems that if the brain is blocked from experiencing day to day life, it cannot bear this vacuum and then starts playing tricks and images to fill the void. One evidence of that is when you close your eyes to sleep or take drink or drugs you are soon struck by images and perceptions that are not there.  For example, if you are on a lorry all day you will feel at bedtime when you close your eyes that you are back on it again. We are conditioned not to consider them out of body experiences though in fact they are.

If we realise that we cannot control other people and cannot make them want to be controlled by us and that we cannot control reality then because the brain hates a vacuum and will make us feel free.  This can be imagining that if reality lets us control anything in reality it is letting us so it is in control that we in fact really do control.  Or we may feel that at least we control our thoughts and what is inside if not out.

You have no right to be so sure of your free will when you are not sure of something so much more basic - your consciousness and how accurate and true it is.


Turing shows that it only seems like we have free will, because we are "computationally intractable" and so we cannot know what we are going to do next.  We think we know what we will choose next but the fact remains we are only guessing.  That means free will is not an illusion - the illusion is thinking we have an illusion.  Free will is an error and we have an illusion that the error is not there.

Feeling you are free and feeling you are sure you are making choices and decisions would seem to be an illusion if we are in fact programmed by forces beyond our control such as our genes etc.

Whether it is an illusion depends on what you mean by free.  If you feel that what you do comes from what forces beyond you have made you, you will feel free.  If you mean that you are free in the sense that you are independent of any programming then that is definitely an illusion for you have no reason to think that. The other kind of "freedom" accounts for the feeling.

A steak made of non-meat products will seem like a steak to you when you don't know how it was made.  So it is with "free" will.  It feels a certain way because you cannot detect or see or explain your programming.

How we got the values and inclinations and desires we have does not matter to us.  What matters to us is that they are there.  It does not matter if they are programmed into us or not as long as the programming is not something obvious such as being taken to a brainwasher.

The feeling of being free is important.  That is why the state should only limit what we do when it is really necessary.  Nobody should be sent to jail for five years for stealing a can of beans.  Nobody should be in a religion with all its extra rules.  Nobody should fear a God who will punish sins after death.  If God did not punish but merely just gave no rewards to sinner that is a subtle pressure.  We need to feel the feeling as much as possible for that is the key to happiness.  You may be tied up in rules and still think you are happy but good happiness and better happiness are not the same thing.

The feeling matters.  Being really free does not matter one bit.  And being really free is no good without the feeling anyway.  Religion then is evil for caring about free will as in being able to step outside your programming. Not only that but it is all it cares about for it seeks to blame us for suffering and evil and not God.


Most people do not want to think that blind forces have given us or left us with (if you like) the illusion that we have free will and the duty to do good with it. But even if we do have real free will it could be that the way our brains work, our feelings and our ideas are really just an illusion caused by our genes.   Ideas come to us and we cannot really summon them. Ideas are easily planted in you and pass themselves off as your own when they are not. Our feelings fool us a lot.  Feelings do lie a lot and try to pull you in a direction that has too little regard for truth and reality. Feelings are definitely down to chemistry.  They can be detected by machines. In fact free will means very little if anything if feelings are just or largely chemical reactions.

The phenomenon of alien hand syndrome shows that a part of your body can act like you are controlling it when you in fact are not.


Feeling free is an argument against being really free.  Why can't we have no other way of knowing we are free?  A feeling is too unreliable and is not about truth.  Feeling free implies nature is hiding something from us.  It shows that free will and rationality do not have the great relationship many tell us they have.  We can call the feeling of being free an illusion.  We can say this is illusion as in lying to yourself, nature or God lying to you, or self-deception.  Or we can say it is illusion in the way a habit is an illusion.  It's like an illusion but is really a mental construct to help make our lives feel easier and be easier.  We all have habits, behaviour which we repeat without even thinking.  We don't feel programmed to have habits and don't feel programmed by them but we are.  It is an illusion in the way an open placebo is, you tell yourself something to feel good and free about it.  And you do feel good.


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