Can Free Will Be An Illusion?

My son sees a problem inherent to the statement, “Free will is an illusion.” He correctly pointed out that the term illusion is commonly used to refer to a misconception of something that exists. Whereas, nothing exists that can be misconceived as free will. For example, there are logical snares in the statement, “Thor is an illusion,” because Thor doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be illusory or otherwise. Of course, thunder and lightening exist. But that phenomena does not prove the existence of Thor anymore than the phenomena of human-choice-behavior proves free will.

When one human is speaking to another, the assumption is generally made that the words are effectively transferring the precise meaning to the listener. However, words have different meaning to different individuals. The neuroanatomy developed in one individual’s brain as a result of personal sensory experiences and nutritional intake will be different from those of another individual, because no two individuals will have precisely the same sensory and nutritional input. In fact, no two people sitting in a classroom will learn precisely the same lesson because of the difference in distractions and attention spans.

One definition of illusion is, The act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas. Yet, when one looks up the word illusory, the meaning is given as “Based on or having the nature of an illusion,” which is circular reasoning, in a sense. Now another meaning of illusion is “An unreality that many people believe is true.” Thor and free will are both unreal, so in this sense they can be considered illusions.

I realize in order for something to exist that was free from the world of cause and effect, then it would have to exist in sort of a vacuum–isolated from the real world. But if something existed in a state without being caused, then it would be without function. A thing existing in a vacuum would literally be no thing. It could not exist anywhere except as the product of words acting on a vivid imagination. And just because words can be used to construct fantasies does not make the fantasies real.

I probably would never had given the matter much thought if it hadn’t been for my son’s stimulating and logical constructive criticism.


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