Free Will, Weight Gain and Cruelty

Since launching my April 2010 Manhattan Meetup group in order to move the exploration of free will from academia where it languished in obscurity to the public spotlight, and to create a buzz among people about free will being nothing more than an illusion, my associates and I have worked hard to craft strategies to best deliver our message. As we’ve discovered over these last five years, although most of us clearly understand and appreciate the logic behind why free will is impossible, many are not yet able to overcome the motivated reasoning that, as science writer Chris Mooney explains in his book The Republican Brain, compels them to dismiss even the most unequivocal evidence refuting free will in favor of their personal, emotion-based belief. In other words, many people remain emotionally incapable of accepting this admittedly challenging truth that we human beings do not have a free will until they are given a powerful reason to reject their personal biases, and the logic and evidence surrounding the matter.

It seems the compelling motive to help people overcome their resistance to accepting the true nature of human will is finally at hand; and this development was not accomplished by accident or pure luck. Several months ago, my colleagues and I created a podcast called Free Will, Science and Religion. Although we publish our episodes at a rate of at least three each week through YouTube and iTunes, they haven’t yet received the kind of attention we had initially expected. But soon after we started the project, it dawned on us that these podcasts represented far more than another vehicle through which to popularize the refutation of free will. We realized that our discussions were becoming very effective means for brainstorming perplexing questions such as

a) Why are some doctoral level academics, even those who have written books on the topic, incapable of appreciating the inescapable conclusion that both causality and acausality (sometimes referred to as randomness and probabilistic behavior) equally make free will impossible, and that, in fact, no action mechanism has ever been proposed to explain how a human will operating free of factors outside of its control is even conceptually possible?

b) What does the public need to hear that will enable them to overcome their emotional need to believe they have a free will?

It was during our podcast recorded on Saturday evening, July 25, that a very powerful answer to this second question came to us. The podcast was hosted by Chandler Klebs, who is the executive producer of our series, and cohosted by David Joseph and me. At Chandler’s suggestion, we began to explore the unfairness and cruelty behind so many overweight and obese people being blamed by others, and even blaming themselves, for their weight gain, and for their failure to lose that weight. We understood that although genetic factors, like glandular conditions, are at times the cause of this sustained weight gain, environmental factors were clearly far more to blame for this weight gain. After all, here in the United States, during the 1940s and 50s, many more people were slender than are now.

To Chandler’s credit, (well, not fundamentally, of course, since he does lack a free will) what motivated him to propose this topic was his compassion and concern for the welfare and happiness of others. This empathy is not uncharacteristic of Chandler; he has devoted most of his adult life to championing the rights those of us who are vulnerable to abuse by others, and often also by society at large.

So, as we were exploring how unfair and irrational it is that overweight and obese people are almost ubiquitously blamed for what the consensus in medicine now considers a medical condition, an epiphany came to us. We realized that overweightness is not just an excellent way of demonstrating why we humans do not have a free will, which was a major part of our original intent for the episode. During the course of the half-hour discussion, we came to realize that overweightness and obesity were, in fact, the message we had been searching for during the last few years that would finally enable society to understand that no, we do not have a free will, and that our getting this answer right is not inconsequential; getting this right matters profoundly to many of us. We now had our message. And, at the very end of the podcast, David, with his characteristic keen wit, provided us the title of this game-changing episode; The No Free Will Diet!

We desperately needed to find a compelling personal reason for people to care about the question of whether we humans have a free will, and, more importantly, to side with those of us, including Darwin, Freud, and Einstein, who understand free will to be nothing more than an unscientific, irrational, delusion. Chandler was quick to point out that two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and we soon thereafter realized that these majority of Americans are perfect allies in our goal to have the public understand the true nature of human will.

Overweight and obese Americans suffer terribly from the stigma and cruelty associated with these conditions. They are tired of being blamed for a condition over which they clearly do not have control. Many of them believe they have a free will, and deeply blame themselves for being too weak-willed, or too gluttonous, or simply too irresponsible, to maintain a healthy weight. I think you’re beginning to see how our world’s overweight and obese population has far more reason than do most of us for overcoming this pervasive myth of free will, and for demanding that others also do so.

And so, now that, thanks to Chandler, we finally have a very powerful message by which to motivate people to overcome the self-serving reasons that prevent them from seeing the clear logic behind free will being an illusion, and gives them a strong self-serving reason to finally see and appreciate that logic, expect us to stay focused on this message like a laser.

We will be revisiting overweightness and obesity as the compelling personal reason by which humanity can finally squarely face free will, and admit that the notion is nothing but an illusion, again and again during upcoming episodes of this podcast. And expect cohost ‘Trick Slattery to soon amplify this powerful message on his blog, Breaking the Free Will Illusion, and cohost Nick Vale, whose every-Wednesday-at-11pm Manhattan live call-in TV show Free Will? reaches a potential audience of half a million viewers, to feature the message on his show. I will also be devoting entire episodes to this theme on my weekly White Plains, New York TV show Exploring the Illusion of Free Will, as well as posting a series of follow-up articles on this blog.

American philosopher John Searle, who happens to be ranked 13th among post-1900 philosophers cited most frequently in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is quoted in Susan Blackmore’s 2005 book Conversations on Consciousness as having said that for free will to be finally acknowledged by our world as an illusion would represent “a bigger revolution in our thinking than Einstein, or Copernicus, or Galileo, or Newton, or Darwin – it would alter our whole conception of our relation to the universe.” Yes, that’s how big this is!

There is a time for ideas to come, and sometimes a time for them to go. Our human belief in free will is nearing the end of its reign. As I pointed out in my recent book Free Will: Its Refutation, Societal Cost and Role in Climate Change Denial, our belief in free will causes much more harm than good across domains that span far beyond cruelty and unfairness to the overweight and obese among us. Expect more and more free will believers to abandon that sinking ship during these coming years, as yet another catalyst to humans abusing other humans falls to the truth, and a compelling message, thanks in large part to the compassion and sharp intellect of Chandler Klebs.

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2 Responses

  1. There is great irony in this pragmatic credit you attribute to me. As long as everyone knows I attribute it to the infinitely fat universe of causal regression, then they won’t misunderstand. In any case, I totally think we are on the right track in combining these two issues!

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