Brian Greene on free will

Ignostic Atheist called my attention to this video of Brian Greene contemplating free will.  Greene’s take: useful to buy into but illusory.  I know many readers will disagree about the ‘useful’ bit, while I prefer ’emergent’ instead of ‘illusory’, but basically agree with his sentiment.

8 thoughts on “Brian Greene on free will

    1. I’m not sure it’s as useful as it seems. For example, I feel uneasy in drawing a sharp distinction between undesirable behaviour which is attributable to a brain tumour and that which is attributable to the functioning of a healthy brain. The free will concept kind of implies that such a distinction is possible.


      1. But surely you don’t go through life contemplating at every moment your inability to impose your will upon the world? Like when driving a car, you’re determining where to go and whether or not to slam on your brakes because the asshole behind you won’t back off. When it comes to laying blame and imposing guilt and shame, you can flip the free will switch off and consider deeper than what’s apparent. That’s the point of labeling it useful but illusory as opposed to good but illusory. Just because it’s useful doesn’t mean it is always good, but awareness of the illusory nature of it opens up your ability to deal with the bad.

        The trick is spreading that awareness.


        1. I don’t go through life contemplating the usefulness of “free will” either. I don’t need “free will” as a concept in order to function. I don’t think a dog has a concept of “free will” but it has no problem running around and chasing its tail and whatnot.


          1. But what is free will if not a sense of agency? Do you feel like you are doing things in your life, or do you feel like things are happening and you are a passenger on a meat bicycle? (I feel the latter all the time, but that’s more a product of being a peon in today’s economy than a lack of a sense of agency.)

            Another way of looking at it: you don’t need the concept of love in order to function, but it certainly must be an illusion as well. Isn’t love convenient and enjoyable? Or do you not need that either?


          2. I consider the illusion or experience of free will and the concept of free will to be two different things. When thinking about whether the concept of free will is useful, I’m thinking about its applicability in metaphysical reasoning and analysis, not in deciding whether to put jam or marmalade on my toast.


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