“Free Will”: an academic perspective

[an extract from one of Dr. Isaac Helgram’s graduate-level papers]

What is colloqually called “free will” can be divided into two parts.

The first is freedom of choice. It is easy to show that all choices are weighted. Imagine an infinite wine cellar. For most in my family, that’s not hard to imagine. As the owner of the cellar, you can go in any time and drink whatever you want, whenever you want. But first off, each of us has a physical limit on how much we can drink at one time. Then, of course, there are transitory aspects of how the day went which will influence whether we want comfort, familiarity, novelty, or a sense of occasion. That’s not even considering guests, pairings with food, and so on.

The interesting one is freedom of intent. This is the ability to choose something that is separate from the immediate time and place, perhaps something without precedent at all. From freedom of intent, we get creation and invention.

Consider then someone whose behavior you want to influence. One way is the so called “carrot and stick” method. Reward some behaviors, punish others. A more sophisticated variation is to set up defined paths and barriers to direct persons. Propaganda, ultimately, is a laundry list of what is considered good and bad behavior, combining instructions and scolding. These all work to weight choice. And they are generally labor intensive.

A more effective result can arise if you can reach someone at the level of intent. This is what many organized religions seek to achieve. Leave everything else untouched, but install an intent — persistent and intense like a compulsion, but deeper like a religious faith — to achieve certain things, and avoid others. Now suppose you could do this not with a child you control from birth, but with a fully-realized adult, perhaps someone hostile. “Breaking their will” just leaves you a neurotic or an invalid. More sophisticated manipulation can result in having the same person, intact with all their wits and abilties, but now useful.

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