Free will or fate? Fate it is.

Do we have free will? Or are all our actions pre-determined?  In other words are we inextricably bound by fate, kismet or vidhi?  I am sure most people would probably say that a human being has the ability to choose their actions in any situation.

When I was young I was told by my parents that our lives were pre-determined. That it was one’s vidhi or fate to suffer or enjoy in life. This could be because of one’s karma they said. As I grew older I realized that man has the ability to make a choice. As a conscious being we have the ability to choose one of several possible alternatives.

While this argument may sound plausible at a surface, when one probe deeper we find that we really do not have free will.  Our current state in life is dependent on our past actions. The actions that we choose to take, at any point in life, are dependent in a large part on our past experiences. The choice we may take is dependent on our past reasons, our past conditioning, our current biases and current opinions. The actions that we take in the present are definitely determined by our conditioning in life.

Given the fact that our actions can only be based on our past experiences, does it make sense to think that our actions are independent of any past conditioning? The answer is an emphatic, No!

Clearly this indicates that our actions are determined by our past conditioning. Then where is the question of free will?

Free will pre-supposes that our actions in the present cannot be determined in any way and is in many ways, truly random. But this is clearly not true. In any given situation, our choice will depend on our past experience and we will act in the most optimum way. Our choice will depend on whether there is personal gain.  For e.g. when we are insulted, we do feel hurt. That is true for most of us. May be a few enlightened souls, may choose to be detached from the insult. But a majority of human beings will behave in extremely predictable ways in any given situation. The only difference in behavior will only arise based on the slightly different experiences that different people have.

Otherwise our actions are truly predictable and will be based on past conditioning. We will chose to maximize our gains in any given situation and make the most rational choice.

Given this does it make sense to think that man has free will? Clearly not!  The world and our lives are deterministic and we are all bound in fate.

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5 thoughts on “Free will or fate? Fate it is.

  1. Ace September 29, 2011 at 8:36 pm Reply

    Does our past conditioning, choices, etc…limit our ability to choose, or eliminate it altogether? People are conditioned with biases and modes of action, sure, but why does that necessarily entail that they no longer have a choice? And does that mean that we had a choice at one point? Because we had to get to this conditioned state from somewhere, right? So do we, through choosing and acting, eliminate our own volition to choose and act?

    • TInniam V Ganesh September 30, 2011 at 2:01 am Reply

      Ace, thanks for your reply. What I am implying is that our past conditioning restrict the possible choices that we make to a few. So, in such a case while we imagine that we are making a conscious choice our response is pre-determined by our past conditioning.

  2. Ace September 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm Reply

    Yes, I understand that, but that mean there is an absolute determinism? Because you say that our choices are limited, but not that they are narrowed down to only one. The real question then is what distinguishes our psychological conditioning from anything else? For example, my inability to teleport eliminates that transportation choice for me. But does that limitation indicate a decrease in my free will to choose a mode of transportation? I am wondering if the factors you speak of limit our ability to choose, or just the number of choices we have.

    • TInniam V Ganesh September 30, 2011 at 1:34 pm Reply

      Ace, you raise a very pertinent point. What I was implying that since our choices are limited based on our past experiences we only have a limited set of choices among which to respond. But the connotation of free-will typically implies that our response is not determined in any way and it is purely random. Given that I am always going to feel hurt when somebody insults me does it not imply a certain determinism and an inherent determinism. You may find the Newcomb paradox interesting, if you are not already aware of it. Thanks for replying!

  3. Ace September 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm Reply

    Interesting indeed. Thanks for the post! 🙂

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