Free Will vs. Determinism: The Power of Belief in Shaping Reality

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In this installment from my ‘Ask Me Anything’ series, which you can find on my social media channels, I delve into the topic of free will vs determinism.

“Free Will or Determinism?”

Free will all the way.

Determinism is too fatalistic for me, and it doesn’t align with my knowledge of psychology, especially regarding addiction (behavioral or substance), where the belief in free will is central to transcending the problem without indefinite cycles of use and abstinence.

The belief in hard determinism has cost many people their lives. I cannot stand in my integrity and support fatalistic worldviews.

Do I believe there are hard determinants? Sure. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter because beliefs always drive action in the free-living world. Research shows that if we believe we can impact an outcome, it changes the effort we put forth. This phenomenon, known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” and highlights how our expectations can influence our behaviors and ultimately shape our reality.

There are countless examples of this phenomenon. It’s the basis for having a growth versus a fixed mindset. It’s the basis for the placebo effect. Belief drives physical changes. Those who believe they can impact their future, be it a student trying to become smarter or an athlete trying to become more competitive, are more likely to put forth the effort needed to elicit such changes.

In the realm of addiction, where a fatalistic disease mindset permeates conventional beliefs, research consistently shows that those who believe they have the power to overcome their addiction are more likely to succeed in recovery. Their belief in their ability to change plays a crucial role in their effort and persistence, leading to more successful outcomes.

Of course cause and effect exists in our world. Of course certain factors influence the likelihood of future outcomes. But to believe that everything is predetermined and inevitable only serves to limit and harm us.

Plus, just for fun, consider quantum mechanics, which demonstrates fundamental unpredictability at the subatomic level, suggesting that not all events in the universe are causally determined. Who’s to say that these unpredictable events don’t influence our behavior? Or that our conscious and unconscious beliefs and actions don’t influence the subatomic patterns that trickle back up into our lives?

“But have you read Sapolsky?”

Yes. I wasn’t impressed. He suggests that moral responsibility is baseless in a deterministic framework, yet he still makes moral arguments about compassion and justice. I see contradictions easy and it’s hard to take anyone seriously when they make this error. Anyway, he’s one of many voices in this philosophical discussion. He places too much emphasis on deterministic biological and environmental factors—downplaying the role of individual agency and the complexities of human behavior.

And those who know me professionally know that I analyze genomic sequences to optimize lifestyle. But that doesn’t change anything I’ve said here. We can be aware of our tendencies and predispositions while holding the belief that our best life is one where we are active participants.

I’ve debated this topic ad infinitum over the years. While it’s fascinating to explore the extent of our leverage on a philosophical level, on a practical scale, you’re better off believing in free will. Your life will be better for it.

Here is the podcast I did a couple years ago in regards to how free will and determinism plays into behavioral and substance addiction.

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