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 meeup.com. 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 Meetup.com 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 Meetup.com 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 Meetup.com 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″
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