The simplest proof that free will is an illusion that you’ll ever see

Do you have reasons for making the choices that you make?

If you do, then you don’t have “free will”. There is a causal link between the thing you want to do and the reason you want to do it. It doesn’t matter if the reason is good or bad, sensible or irrational. Your decision could be based on a long drawn-out thought process, or a gut feeling. Regardless, that thought process (or feeling) caused your final decision to be what it was.  Therefore your action was determined. Of course your will was involved: you say, “I did it because I wanted to!” But all that means is that your behavior was caused by your will… and there are reasons that your “will” is what it is. There are reasons you want what you want. There is nothing “free” about it. Therefore, it does not represent free will.

“Sometimes I just pick randomly!” you might say. Now, some people might reply with a long drawn-out argument about behavior being driven by unconscious processes, and so on. But there’s no need to make things that complicated. Even if you do pick randomly, that it still not free will: randomness is not “will”. If a radioactive particle has a 50% chance of emitting a beta particle in the next minute, that doesn’t mean it is choosing whether to emit the particle or not. Pure randomness is not willful, and therefore cannot represent free will.

“But I could have chosen differently!” you might say. But if you had chosen differently, you would have had a reason to choose differently, right? For example, perhaps you decided to go to the doctor, but you imagine you could have been lazy and skipped it. Well, then your laziness would have caused you to not go; and the fact that did go means that laziness was not the predominant force in determining your decision. The fact that you can imagine a universe being different isn’t evidence of any kind of “freedom” in this universe. It only means that you have an imagination.



This argument against free will skips all of the usual crap in these metaphysical arguments, about physics or neuroscience or quantum mechanics or computability or whatever. All of that, in the end, is besides the point. This is an argument from the perspective of psychology: introspect, and examine your choices.

If you can ascribe reasons to the things that you do, then you are drawing that line of determination from variable A to variable B: one thing causes another. This is how scientists analyze things, but you don’t have to be a scientist to do it. You just ask: “How did I feel, what did I think, and what were the factors that went into deciding what I decided?”

Scientists can do this in a great deal of detail. Rigorous theories of behavior usually ascribe our feelings and actions to a complex web of interacting causes, at any number of different levels: social causes, psychological causes and neurophysiological causes all can interact with one another. I’ve written about the fact that our feelings and motivations can be understood as having causes on all of these different levels at once.

But whether the reason is simple, or a complex dynamic interacting web of factors, in the end there is a reason you wanted the thing you wanted, and a reason you made the choice that you made. And once you identify the reason, you have eliminated “free will” from the equation: you have figured out, instead, that there is a cause, or a thing (or set of things) that determined your choice.

Your only other option is to say, “There was no reason!” which means that you behaved randomly. Randomness is also not “free will”.



It’s a dramatically simple proof that “free will” is impossible, huh? It shows that the only reason we even have an illusion of free will is that we aren’t conscious of the causes behind the decisions we make. It’s a compelling illusion, to be sure. But an illusion, just the same.

Do you think I’m wrong? Tell me what I missed.

Either you have a reason for the things you do (be it a simple explanation or a complex nuanced theory)…. or you do things randomly.

What is the third option?

A web of causes