The Free Will Debate Pecking Order

It’s interesting how academics on both sides of the issue take the liberty of borrowing my ideas. Well, as the guy who in a matter of a few short years brought the free will debate from academia, where it languished in obscurity for centuries, to the public spotlight, I can understand their implicit appreciation of the established pecking order, and feel honored.

Example One:

On December 2, 2010, I published my revolutionary public work Exploring the Illusion of Free Will. Here’s a link to the second edition, published June 20, 2013.

Now here’s an academic book Gregg Caruso of Corning College published on July 5th, 2013 titled Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Hmmmm. Wonder where he got the idea for his title?

Example Two:

On April 15, 2014 I published my revolutionary scholarly work Free Will: Its Refutation, Societal Cost and Role in Climate Change DenialNow here’s a photo of the book’s cover:

Book Cover FINAL

Nice, right! Well, what do you know? Flickers of Freedom, although they would hardly admit it, the blog for academic believers in free will — Ouch! —  just came up with a new banner for their website. Notice the resemblance?

Academia; still clearly behind the curve on this very important debate. But thank you guys for at least inexplicitly acknowledging the established pecking order here. I assure you in all modestly, sans free will as I remain, my achievements in this area more technically, and essentially, belong to the universe.

Here’s my official website  Exploring the Illusion of Free Will

Here’s a YouTube link to over 150 episodes of my pioneering TV series.

George Ortega







Psychology student implicates free will belief in climate change denial

Book Cover FINALDoes free will belief pose a major threat to humanity’s future by amplifying climate change denial? George Ortega, a student at Empire State College, and director of an organization called A Happier World, has constructed a counter-intuitive, but scientifically robust, argument that it does. He has just published a potentially game-changing scholarly work that explains how much of the public denial of climate change that has stymied global efforts to effectively address the crisis is directly attributable to our belief in free will.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, only 44 percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening, and that it is primarily caused by human activity. In his new book, Free Will: Its Refutation, Societal Cost and Role in Climate Change Denial, Ortega makes a convincing case linking free will belief to climate change denial.

Free will is the belief that we humans are free to act as we please, and can override influences that lie beyond our control, like causality, our heredity and our environment. The free will belief also denotes that we are fundamentally, and not just pragmatically, morally responsible for our actions.

Ortega’s book begins with a devastating physics-based refutation of the free will construct wherein he essentially invokes our a priori understanding that the universe exists and is in constant motion with the undeniable correlate that the causality manifested by momentum means that the law of cause and effect must also be held as a priori knowledge. This argument, applied to human decisions, renders the prospect of a free will scientifically impossible.

After presenting a litany of negative outcomes associated with believing in free will, like increased aggression, anxiety and depression, Ortega describes the belief’s impact on climate change denial. He cites research on why we deny climate change by social scientists like Tim Kasser of Knox College in Tennessee and Kari Norgaard of the University of Oregon, and explains that the guilt that gives rise to much of this denial invariably and directly results from our belief in free will.

The way this works is intriguing, and somewhat complex. Denial is a defense mechanism that people employ unconsciously to overcome unpleasant feelings of guilt about a wrong-doing. In order to feel guilty about a wrong, a person must feel morally responsible for having done the wrong, but it is difficult to rationally feel fundamentally responsible for a wrong not done of one’s own free will.

Usually, a person must first believe they have a free will before they can experience a sense of fundamental responsibility, feel guilty about a wrong, and unconsciously resort to denial as a way of coping with the unpleasantness of the guilt. Therein lies our problem. “Because facing the harsh indictment that we are causing climate change impacts that threaten the lives of billions of people makes us feel guilty, and is so threatening to our self-image,” Ortega says, “far too many of us resort to denial, and refuse to accept that climate change is happening.”

Founded by Ortega in 2011, A Happier World is an organization dedicated to popularizing the refutation of free will, most generally to facilitate a scientific consensus about the true nature of human will, and to help create a global society that, as a result, suffers far less from blame, guilt, arrogance and envy. One of the organization’s major challenges has been to effectively communicate the relevance of the free will question to people’s lives.

Many academics, for example, understand that free will is an illusion. However, most do not sufficiently appreciate the value of that knowledge to our world because they fail to consider the implications of believing verses disbelieving in free will at the personal, societal and global level.

The importance of Ortega’s having discovered the free will belief – climate change denial relationship to A Happier World’s mission can be illustrated by way of a Jewish mythical story. Long ago, God asked all of the peoples of the world, including the ancient Israelites, to accept his Torah, or teachings and law. They all refused. He then suspended a mountain over the Israelite people, and asked them again. Not surprisingly, this time they said yes.

It appears that the link between free will belief and climate change denial has become A Happier World’s “mountain.” Ortega’s theory is a potentially pivotal breakthrough in our understanding of one of the major causes of climate change denial that will prove difficult for our world to dismiss or ignore.

Indeed, it may be that only when we face the fact that free will is nothing more than an illusion will we be able to squarely face the far more urgent and threatening fact that we humans are causing climate change, and begin to meaningfully mitigate and adapt to the crisis.

David Freedman
for A Happier World

The Free Will Puppet Test; An Answer to Compatibilist Obfuscations.

I just realized that there’s a simple way to address much of the confusion that arises when different people, especially academics, use and defend different versions of the term free will. It’s designed especially to tease out what Compatibilists truly believe about the notion, and I call it “The Puppet Test.”

The idea is to ask Compatibilists the following question;  “According to your definition of free will, do we have any more control over what we do than does a puppet?” That simple and straight-forward question should be able to cut through their usual obfuscation and sophistry, and pin them down to addressing the matter as historically defined, and as refuted by Determinists and Impossiblists, (those of us who believe free will is impossible regardless of whether or not the universe is deterministic, meaning governed by the law of cause and effect).

The question that then arises is what percentage of Compatibilists would thereby be forced to concede that, no, we don’t have any more control than does a puppet.

I think this Puppet Test should be considered THE quintessential element of any and every book and paper written on the subject. Failing to including and address it should then be seen as failing to, in any relevant sense, address the matter.

History of How Refuting Free Will Went From Academia to the Public Spotlight

Everything has a cause, and so it is with the popularization of free will refutations.  For centuries, the determinism vs. free will debate languished within academia, where proponents of free will could not understand the simple but compelling truth that both determinism and randomness make free will impossible, (there is no third option) and those who understood this truth had all but given up on the prospect of showing them the error of their ways.

Below is the history of how my co-host Enel and I, George Ortega, (mainly I) moved the topic from academia into the public spotlight resulting in an explosion of media coverage that included landmark cover stories by New Scientist and Scientific American on the illusion of free will, and New York Times best-selling author Sam Harris publishing his  2012 free will refutation titled Free Will.

George Ortega and Enel’s Efforts to Publicize
the Refutation of Free Will
Compiled along News Stories by
Major Publications on The Illusion of Free Will

 By George Ortega 

In early 1997, I began work on a book refuting free will.  After drafting about forty pages, I began to edit and re-work the pages, and the rest of the book never got written. I plan to include these pages in a book scheduled for publication in 2013.

On September 12, 1997, I wrote a physics paper titled Two Proofs of Determinism in All of Nature; A Case for the Law of Cause and Effect” that was accepted for review first by The International Journal of Theoretical Physics and subsequently by Physical Review D15 (Particles, Fields, Fluids, Gravitation, and Cosmology). Although both peer-review journals ultimately declined to publish, I maintain confidence in the correctness of these proofs, that refute the notion of true randomness, or uncaused events, in nature.

In 2000, I plastered Internet newsgroups with articles refuting free will.  On February 28, 2000 I cross-posted “The Impossibility of Free Will,” and on March 3, 2003, “The Insanity of Free Will.”  On March 4, 2000, I followed up with “Regarding Stupid Psychologists and Free Will.”

In 2003, I produced and hosted the world’s first television program entirely about happiness – The Happiness Show.  On May 20th 2003, for my seventh episode, I recorded, broadcasted, and uploaded to The Internet Archive  “Happiness and the Determinism vs. Free Will Question.” With over 8,000 views, this episode is the fourth most-downloaded of those in The Happiness Show collection at the Archive.

In March of 2004, I published an article in The Westchester, New York Ethical Culture Society’s monthly newsletter, The Page, titled “Determinism, Free Will, Ethics, and Happiness.” 

Salon – “How free is free will?” by  Farhad Manjoo  May 21, 2004

Foreign Policy – “Undermining Free Will” by Paul Davies September 1, 2004

On February 28, 2005, my co-host Lionel Ketchian and I revisited the topic of human will as it relates to happiness on The Happiness Show with an episode titled “A Conversation About Happiness, Free Will and Determinism.” 

On April 17, 2005, at the Sunday Meeting of that same Westchester, New York Ethical Culture Society, I delivered an address to the congregation titled “Why Free Will is Impossible, and Why it Matters.” 

The Cornell Daily Sun – “Prof Denies Human Free Will” by Julie Geng August 30, 2005

During 2007 -2008, under the username Blisser, I visited Atheist chat rooms on paltalk, and repeatedly explained the theological and scientific reasons why free will is impossible.  During that time, I also hosted a patlalk voice-chat room dedicated to refuting the notion of free will.

Science Magazine – “Case Closed for Free Will?” by Elsa Youngsteadt   April 14, 2008

The Economist – “Incognito” April, 16th 2009

In June of 2009, I began emailing a group of  philosophers and psychologists with free will refutations.  Here’s a sampling

“Arguments against Liberty of Indifference and Quantum Indeterminancy”  June 1, 2009

“A Simple Refutation of Frankfurt-Type Examples”  June 3, 2009

“Is a Free Will Moral and Worth Having”  June 11, 2009

Psychology Today – “The Will is Caused, not “Free”  by John A. Bargh, Ph.D  June 23, 2009

At the invitation of philosopher Robert Kane, I visited The Garden of Forking Paths free will blog, and debated the academic philosophers there.  Here are a few of the discussions I entered and, in my opinion, won -

“A Flaw in the Standard Argument Against Free Will?” by Bob Doyle  June 26, 2009

“History of FW Skepticism” by Kevin Timpe  June 29, 2009

Are Humans Glorified Thermostats? by Kip  July 3, 2009

 On Saturday, October 17, 2009, I delivered an address on the topic “Why We Humans Do Not Have a Free Will”at the 2009 Empire State College Student Academic Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The Tipping Point in the Buzz About the Illusion of Free Will

On April 7, 2010, I founded the world’s first philosophical  discussion group entirely dedicated to refuting the notion of free will – “The Predetermined Will Society – Busting the Free Will Myth” (now called “Exploring the Illusion of Free Will”) at  I live in White Plains, New York, but I based the group in mid-town Manhattan because while White Plains has a population of almost 57,000, Manhattan’s population stands at over 1.5 million.  Equally important, I knew from personal experience that members from much of the New York metropolitan area, with a population of over 22 million, regularly attend the meetings in Manhattan.  My plan was to create a buzz about free will being an illusion among the many members who happen upon my group while searching for groups based in New York City.

 As an example of the kind of buzz-creating outreach possible through such a listing, a search for Meetup groups keyworded “philosophy,” located in “New York, New York, ” and sorted by distance (radius of 50 miles) had our Meetup group appear on the first page of the search results.  While I haven’t yet contacted for the exact numbers, I estimate that since our April 7, 2010 launch date, my group’s listing and logos have been viewed hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, times.  In my opinion, this listing was the beginning and major cause of the buzz that lead to the current global explosion of interest in understanding that free will is an illusion.

 Scientific American – “Scientists say free will probably doesn’t exist, but urge: ‘Don’t stop believing!'” by Jesse Bering  April 14, 2010 (Dated incorrectly as April 6 – see comments for correct date)

The Garden of Forking Paths morphed into Flickers of Freedom.  I began debating academic philosophers there as well.  A few examples:

Determinism: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Roy Baumeister  June 28, 2010

“Does Consciousness Matter?” by Neil Levy  July 09, 2010

“G. Strawson @ NYT” by Manuel Vargus  July 22, 2010

Time Magazine – “Think You’re Operating on Free Will? Think Again” by Eben Harrell July 2, 2010

The New York Times – “Your Move: The Maze of Free Will” by Galen Strawson July 22, 2010

On July 29, 2010, my desire to take this important truth to the streets made me design and order a dozen custom t-shirts from an ebay seller.  They declare “Transcend the free will delusion.”  I also designed and ordered a banner inviting discussions about the determinism vs. free will question, and held numerous public debates at the Mall near Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, New York City.

The World’s First Television Series Entirely About the Illusion of Free Will

In September of 2010, I approached Meetup member Nomi with the idea of doing a cable TV show about the illusion of free will.

Psychology Today - “Beyond free will and determinism: Take a chance with the Dice Man”  by Joachim I. Krueger, Ph.D.  September 20, 2010

The Telegraph“Neuroscience, free will and determinism: ‘I’m just a machine'” by Tom Chivers October 12, 2010

The Telegraph – “Neuroscience and free will: when definitions become important” by Tom Chivers  October 12th, 2010

The Telegraph - “Neuroscience, free will and determinism: ‘I’m just a machine'” by Tom Chivers  October 12, 2010

On November 27, 2010, Our new White Plains, New York weekly television series, Exploring the Illusion of Free Will, began recording.

Psychology Today – “A random walk through the free will-derness” by Joachim Krueger, Ph.D.  December 5, 2010

On January 6, 2011, our show premiered in White Plains on Cablevision channel 76. It broadcasts to White Plains, and Verizon FiOS channel 45 expands our reach to sections of neighboring Westchester County communities that include Ardsley, Byram Hills, Greenburgh, Hartsdale, Irvington, Mamaroneck, Mount Pleasant, North Castle, Scarsdale, and Tarrytown. 

Part of how and why the topic of free will exploded into public awareness over the next year and a half is that White Plains, New York happens to be a community of choice for many of Manhattan’s “movers and shakers” who prefer to live and raise a family in a small suburban city rather than in The Big Apple.  For example,  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was born here in White Plains, and raised in nearby Ardsley.  This is the kind of “being in the right place” luck that Malcolm Gladwell refers to in his best-selling book Outliers.

In January of 2011, I also created and published the show’s website to begin disseminating the episodes.

Psychology Today – “How The Adjustment Bureau Threatens Free WIll” by Dr. David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D.  March 8, 2011

New Scientist – COVER STORY – Free Will: The Illusion we can’t live without “The Free Will Delusion” by Dan Jones April 16-22, 2011

The Atlantic – “The Brain on Trial” by David Eagleman July/August 2011

The Huffington Post – “The Conspiracy Against Free Will” by Paul Pardi  August 3, 2011

The Myth of Free Will Hits Live Call-In Manhattan TV on MNN

September 23, 2011 – The goal of busting the myth of free will among the public got a huge boost in 2011 when Meetup group member, Enel, informed me that he had recently started training to produce a cable television series in Manhattan, where he lives.  Enel, a Mensa, quickly got the significance of my plan to bust the myth of free will by creating a public buzz. He fully understood the wide reach our message would have on Manhattan’s public access TV station, MNN, and by being listed on Time-Warner’s on-screen TV channel guide where it would be seen millions of times by viewers in the course of searching for shows to watch through their cable service.  After airing two pre-recorded episodes in the spring of 2011 with Enel’s friend Gene, and two guys Enel met at the MNN training, Big Rob and Frank, Enel’s live call-in TV show, Myth of Free Will began airing in preview on September 23, 2011 with me as the co-host.. 

USA Today – “Why you don’t really have free will by Jerry Coyne January 1, 2012

On December 2, 2011, I published the edited transcripts of the first eighteen episodes of my White Plains show – Exploring the Illusion of Free Will; Eighteen episodes from the world’s first television series about the causal, unconscious nature of human will.  I was also absolutely compelled to dedicate the volume to the public domain and upload a free on-line edition.

On January 18, 2012, The MNN show Myth of Free Will (now titled No Free Will) officially premiered.

Psychology Today – “The True Meaning Of Freedom” by Alex Lickerman, M.D. January 22, 2012

Waikato Times (New Zealand) –  “Free will is a figment of our imaginations” by Joe Bennett  February 5, 2012

Los Angeles Times – “Book reviews: ‘Free Will,’ ‘Religion for Atheists'” by Richard Rayner  April 08, 2012

The Daily Caller – “Do People Have Free Will” by By Matt Cockeri  April 9, 2012

Psychology Today - “Free Will Is an Illusion, So What?” by Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D. May 8, 2012

The New York Times Sunday Review – “The Amygdala Made Me Do It” by James Atlas  May 12, 2012

Psychology Today – “Your Chaotic Mind”  by Joachim I. Krueger, Ph.D  May 25, 2012

SB Nation – “Free Will, Responsibility, and the Penalty Box”  by Megalodon on May 26, 2012

Psychology Today – “Don’t Blame Yourself (or Others)” by John A. Johnson, Ph.D  May 28, 2012

The Guardian –  “The Question: Do footballers know what they’re doing?” by Jonathan Wilson  May 29, 2012

The Guardian – “Guilty but not responsible?” by Rosiland English May 29, 2012

Scientific American Mind – COVER STORY “Who’s in Control? How Physics and Biology Dictate Your ‘Free” Will'” By Christof Koch May/June 2012

The Atlantic – “The Perfected Self” by David H. Freedman  June 2012

The Huffington Post – “Free Will Is an Illusion” by Victor Stenger  June 1, 2012

Psychology Today – “The Curse of Free Will” by Joachim I. Krueger, Ph.D  June 3, 2012

Psychology Today - “Nietzsche on Self-Control” by Joachim I. Krueger, Ph.D. July 1, 2012

The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review – “Have it Your Way; Free Will by Sam Harris” by Daniel Menaker  July 13, 2012

Los Angeles Times – “Jerry Sandusky — a head case puzzle” by Robert M. Sapolsky  July 15, 2012

Los Angeles Times – “Letters: Free will and the brain” by Laurent McReynolds  July 20, 2012

The Washington Post – “The Philosophy of ‘You didn’t build that'” by Dylan Matthews  July 20, 2012″

Free Will vs. Exogenous Agency. A term is born!

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Exogenous Agency.   When fate first had me create this blog a couple of days ago, the intention was to create a “Flickers of Freedom” like site for academic determinists.  Now it has me thinking that I should just use it as a personal blog, and create a separate one for the academics.

What is exogenous agency?  I haven’t gotten around to creating an about page yet, but essentially the term is meant to address a conceptual/linguistic problem with the free will vs. determinism debate.   What’s the problem?   Ask yourself; do we humans have a free will or…?  That’s the problem.  At that point you could say “is everything deterministic?”  But that doesn’t solve the problem because many people (not me) believe that some natural events are random, in the sense of uncaused.  You might want to amend the question to: do we humans have a free will, or is everything deterministic or random?  At that point, the conceptualization and phrasing becomes awkward.

Or, consider this question: are we free agents or…?  We’re faced with the same problem.  Essentially the problem is that, hopefully until now, there has not been a linguistically parallel antonym to the terms free will and free agency.

Introducing EXOGENOUS AGENCY.  What does it mean?  Well, here’s the first definition that came up when I did a Google search for exogenous -

Adjective:  1. Of, relating to, or developing from external factors.  2. Growing or originating from outside an organism.

What does “agency” mean?  Here’s the relevant definition -

Noun:  the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power

So, putting them together, we arrive at the concept of deciding on or initiating an action that has developed, grown, or, most precisely, originated from outside of the organism.  And that’s exactly what we human beings do any time we think, feel or do anything.  In other words, not only do we humans not have a free will, technically, we don’t even have a will

Why not?  Let’s first dispense with the notions of free will and human will as they apply to the prospect of randomness, in the salient sense of acausality.  If what we think, feel or do is random in this sense, then there is absolutely no way we can logically attribute those actions to ourselves.  Now we move on to causality. If events, including human thoughts, feelings and actions, are not random, then they absolutely must be caused.  There is no third option.  It is black and white.  Conceptually and empirically, something can be either caused or uncaused.  If you doubt this, just try to describe what this third option would actually be.

So, if everything that is not random, or uncaused, has a cause, that means that every human thought, feeling and action must have a cause.  Don’t get caught up in what the cause actually is.   Or, if you want the most general and comprehensive cause to anything and everything that happens in our universe, we can designate its cause as the state of the universe immediately preceding the caused event.

Let’s work with a choice, any choice.  Our choice has a cause.  That cause must either have a cause or be random or uncaused.  Since we’ve already explained how randomness, or acausality, makes free will impossible, we’ll just stick to causality for this example.  Our choice has a cause, and the cause of that cause has a cause.

At this point, keep in mind that a cause, by definition, must come before its event.  This is true notwithstanding physical relativistic factors because we are considering completely local phenomena.  In other words, you can’t apply the twins paradox to our causal chain because it is happening within one, and not two, time-frames, and because it is not happening at a speed approaching the speed of light.

To further illuminate all of this, let’s begin by referring to the cause of our choice as the brain state immediately preceding the choice.  So, that state is caused by the one immediately before it, and that state is caused by the one immediately before it.  We are now going back in time, moment by moment, brain state by brain state, in a causal manner.  This is what is referred to as a causal regression.

At some point, we discover that our chain of cause and effect takes us all of the way back in time to when our chooser’s brain suddenly emerged as a structure in the developing embryo.  But causal chains do not just stop because, remember, everything that is not random must have a cause.  Again, I want to emphasis that there is nothing in nature that is random in the sense of uncaused, but because the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and other interpretations of quantum phenomena have so completely confused some of us, I’ve explained that random or uncaused choices cannot, by definition, be attributed to anything, including human wills.

So, we follow our chain of cause and effect to whatever physiological state caused the first brain cell to divide and the chooser’s human brain to begin to take form, leading to the brain states that ultimately led to our chooser’s choice.  At this point we can keep following the states of the developing embryo back in time, cause by cause, to conception.

At this point something interesting and absolutely relevant happens.  The causal regression behind our choice has now moved back in time to before the person making the choice was actually a person.  Pretty amazing, right?

And we could keep following that regression back in time, moment by moment, all of the way back to the Big Bang if we wanted.  But that’s not really necessary to our present purpose.  What we’ve just shown is that the cause of our choice did not originate in the chooser.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that the “chooser” did not really choose anything.  He or she simply played out the choice that was caused by events preceding the chooser’s birth.

That is why we humans do not technically have a will, and why if we don’t have a will we can’t in any sense, compatibilist or otherwise, say that we humans have a free will.  Both randomness and causality, as just explained, make free will completely impossible.

So, if we don’t have a free will, what we have is exogenous agency.  We act out the choices of whatever initiated the causal regression that ultimately results in our choice.   As far as we know, that’s the Big Bang, but that’s only as far as we know.

And if we are not free willers, what are we?  We are exogenous agents.  Which reminds me, if I create another separate blog where academic philosophers and scientists who understand that free will is an illusion can post articles, that’s probably what I would call it.  Not as a result of any free will, or will that I clearly and obviously do not have.  But as a result of AUTONOMOUS AGENCY.

I hope you enjoyed my first post here.  Let’s see if the Big Bang (if you’re religious, you could say God) has me follow up soon with another.

Finally, if you want to better understand why we humans do not have a will or a free will in many other ways, and why our understanding this matters, check out my website Exploring the Illusion of Free Will.



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