Agency - Do We Have Free Will?


One of the things most misunderstood is the concept of free will. Most people have the misconception that we all have free will and (more or less) can "do whatever we want." In reality, this is actually false. While we have the ability to make certain choices, those choices are all constrained to certain norms on average, based upon the reward of dopamine. As Dave Pollard writes about a year ago, "Everything we do is dopamine-driven, based on experiences that have, through positive reinforcement or coercion, been dictated by our entirely ‘unconscious’ behavior since we were born. There is no ‘us’ somehow apart from these evolutionarily conditioned animal bodies, to intervene to do things differently." Now, Dave explains why assigning blame is pretty much useless and nothing more than theater here. Nate Hagens adds this to the mix. This article goes into great depth and explains almost every argument out there regarding this topic.

4-8-22: An interesting article I found recently is being added to this article a year after I wrote it because of the relationship to the subject material in this article as well as the explanation of the evolutionary roots of how we are "programmed" to love sugar.  

A little more than a year ago, I wrote an article about blame because of the amount of blame I was seeing constantly in the groups I am a part of. It's true that there is more than enough blame to go around; but at the time, I was seeing the assigning of blame as a complete waste of time and wanted to encourage those engaging in it to discontinue the drama. It's always easy to point one's finger away from oneself; but in reality, one often may as well be standing in front of a mirror. As the facts in that article (and many others I have written) bring to the forefront, we simply do not have the agency we often think we do. It is this assumed thought process that we have agency (which in reality we don't) over these things which lead to hubris, arrogance, and denial of reality which inevitably lead to optimism bias.

The truth of the matter is, we do NOT have agency over things that most people actually believe we DO have agency over, because those choices are dictated by our dopamine addiction. More on this topic can be found under the topic of neural or synaptic gating. I have been arguing now for many years that we really don't have agency over climate change, energy and resource decline, and the other predicaments society faces; most of these predicaments were born upon our use of technology, which itself was born upon (once again) our dopamine addiction. Even if individual humans can willingly forego certain comforts provided by the technology of modern civilization, society as a whole will be unwilling to give up the creature comforts we have been enjoying over the last 3 centuries or so. Those people and/or groups with less scruples will simply be more than happy to use the resources that others conserved (update 7-13-21: here is a prime example). Take any consumption which can be conserved - meat-eating, flying instead of driving or any form of transportation (bicycling, walking, etc.) which requires less energy use, using less electrical energy, etc., and the amount of energy and resources conserved by that action will gladly be used by someone else. So, in conclusion, while an individual has the ability to make certain choices to forego a dopamine hit by denying himself or herself a certain consumptive pleasure, society as a whole does not have this ability. A footnote regarding the update above; settling other planets and wasting energy and resources which are needed ON THIS planet now are two ridiculously short-sighted and moronic ideas given the facts.

For those who are still not sufficiently impressed that free will does not actually exist in the philosophical sense, please read this article about the Grand Illusion. As I describe or point to free will or agency in this article here, I am describing or pointing to "the freedom of human beings to make choices that are not determined by prior causes." The article contains a poignant quote:

"Spinoza, in his essay on ethics, put it beautifully short and exactly to the point:

“There is no such thing as free will. The mind is induced to wish this or that by some cause and that cause is determined by another cause, and so back to infinity”."

"My only intention is to show that freedom of choice does not automatically infer free will. That is, the choices one makes are caused by past experiences. Past experiences and genetic makeup are the molding forces that created the will, which determined the action. Choices and action are determined - determined by the person you are, which was determined by your heredity and environment."

More can be found here in The Grand Illusion, the third article in a three-part series about what we should do. 

Another article points to conscious will being an illusion.

This particular post explains a great deal about what our collective future looks like and points to several factors; namely, civilization being inherently unsustainable, climate change and other symptoms of ecological overshoot, and an inability for modern agriculture and society to maintain a constant food and water supply and also for it to be transported to where it will be needed the most.

Another update: This article goes into just a bit more about how our past also affects today and our future with regard to how our psychological makeup contributes to our behaviors. This book goes into more detail to make Umair's article easier to understand for anyone interested in a more comprehensive look. My only complaint about Umair's article is that what are essentially predicaments are labeled "problems" which lead the reader to think there might be a solution when no such thing is possible.

Here is engineer John Doyle's explanation

This is precisely WHY very little more than lip service will be given to most all the converging predicaments we face. This isn't being pessimistic, this is being TOTALLY and ENTIRELY realistic based upon the best science available today. Science has known about the greenhouse effect for more than 150 years. Most aspects of climate change happening today were known about 50 years ago AT LEAST, and many productions including the Bell Telephone Science Hour (from 1958!) have featured stories about it. If there were to be a serious effort to curtail industrial civilization, it would have been undertaken many decades ago. Even the so-called "green new deal" efforts being lauded as "game changers" are nothing of the sort. Switching out one type of car for another or one type of electricity for one produced by a different device changes nothing. Industrial civilization doesn't stop just because a different kind of car is being manufactured or a different kind of electricity is being used. It is civilization ITSELF which is unsustainable, because it depends utterly on all the technology which has been developed in order for it to continue. Much more about civilization can be found in this post. As long as society continues to attempt to continue unsustainable practices such as civilization, electricity usage, and practically everything else that we do today, ecological overshoot and all the symptom predicaments underneath it (such as climate change) will only worsen. 

Much of our culture today is based entirely on unsustainable practices, making most all ideas surrounding "solutions" or ideas to reduce our collective harm upon this planet laughable at best and ecocidal at worst. Ecological overshoot creates many other predicaments which are symptoms - predicaments such as pollution loading, increasing disease, climate change, and species and biodiversity collapse. An indepth look at climate change from Harvard Professor James G. Anderson demonstrates just how pervasive one symptom of ecological overshoot can be. This naturally leads into my next article regarding hydrogen sulfide and the strengthening of the current mass extinction we are already in. Once these topics are understood, a simple thought experiment based upon all of this knowledge will produce the scenario pointed out in my next article, Can We Save Species From Extinction?

These cultural and societal issues point out precisely why all ideas labeled "solutions" are in reality nothing of the sort and do not actually solve anything. They are nothing more than Fantasies, Myths, and Fairy Tales, yet another article delving into our collective delusions. 

The best prediction is that society will only relinquish these comforts once they are no longer available (in other words, we will collectively be FORCED into compliance). This message is not popular, and I cannot imagine ANYONE actually liking it. But it IS based upon the truth and the best science available today and explains WHY things are the way they are. I understand the desire to change society, and in most all cases, the noble goals established make perfect sense and I can support the efforts to improve conditions. However, in many cases, especially when it comes to ecological overshoot, understanding basic human biology and the genetic programming inside of us which responds to the dopamine-powered "unconscious" decisions and choices we all make, it becomes clear that all efforts to reduce emissions will only be accomplished through depletion of the master resources (fossil fuels) and that now that nature's own emissions now supersede our own emissions, the effects of self-reinforcing positive feedbacks will continue increasing those natural emissions REGARDLESS of what we do to reduce our own emissions at this point. Live and Love Now.


  1. I only partially agree here.
    There is no such thing as absolute free will; but it's not solely dopamine addiction that is poised to do us in.
    Civilization are inherently moving down a slippery slope ... but having leaders pressuring us to keep moving at an increasingly frenetic pace, assuring us not to look down because there are no banana peels on the ground ... and ultimately going as far as blindfolding us; that was a choice.

    You can say we are predisposed to it; yeah, no doubt; but if different quantum realities exist, I do believe there are variants of Universes where we [at least] did not lie about the predicament to THIS extent.

    There was a window of time when things could have turned out differently so as to enable the truth, unpleasant as it is , to emerge in a reasonably raw form; and that is the two decades right after WWII.
    It actually did for a moment, but it was drowned in a concrete bloc and tossed in a lake of bullshit.

    I'll eventually have a blog of my own ... here's a free floating page on Google Drive that illustrate somewhat my premise here :

    Please read it (it's only one page long), and dare tell me it didn't give you a bittersweet smile ...

    1. Hi there Unhinged. If you research the topic of dopamine addiction, you'll come to realize that there's always the choice to forego the dopamine hit. But this is an individualistic trait, not one that is collective. MOST people will NOT forego the dopamine hit, and because civilization is based upon COLLECTIVE behaviors, one would need EVERYONE or most everyone to cooperate in this matter. Since that is not possible, it quickly becomes apparent that such privations simply won't occur until they are forced as I make clear in my last paragraph of the article.

      You are certainly entitled to your own beliefs, but the laws of nature don't particularly care whether you believe in them or not. As such, the idea that things could have turned out differently after WWII is one rendered false by the fact that civilization is unsustainable. It always has been, it is now, and it always will be. Needless to say, it doesn't matter how one powers civilization or any other subdivision of continuing civilization, eventually it must come to an end.

      As for the story about phosphorus, it is one of our precious resources which is running dangerously low (just one more example of ecological overshoot); and there are several articles about it in this entry:

    2. As I said, by differently, I merely state it as :
      [ ...when things could have turned out differently so as to enable the truth, unpleasant as it is , to emerge in a reasonably raw form... ] ; not that we would have engineered a sustainable utopia instead.
      By definition, civilization is unsustainable. I just happen to think it doesn't mean that any form of it was never worth having.

      What makes our current position so pathetic and terrifying is that crass ignorance and "learned ignorance" combined in a toxic cocktail.

      When you know your going to be hit with a punch you can't parry, you might initiate a move that will cushion the blow somewhat; if you opt for considering yourself as invincible and the adversary as a weak ghost, and present him your cheek while standing still; you'll likely end up paraplegic ...or worse.

      My point about the link I provided is not about phosphorous.
      It's about the the WHOLE idea being uttered in FICTION in 1 9 2 8 .
      Yet, the civilization [allegedly] of Law & Order & Reason --- capable of mass manufacturing 7 nanometer CPU transistors, with abundant libraries, media, universities and colleges ... numerous outlets capable of providing a decent skeleton foundation of Truths ... even unpleasant ones, like those found in history books, such as colonialism and slavery --- did not manage to disperse that crucial one (!)

      I concede history unfolded fast ... real fast; but something else happened.
      Something that made the narrative become way to much at odds with reality; and I think that is what will make things worse than they needed to be ...

    3. Aaahhh, sorry, I misunderstood the meaning behind your comment. Sometimes, stories which are fiction at the time of their writing become truth in reality at a later date. I am reminded of E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" written over a century ago which more or less foretold a story strikingly similar to today's Facebook and the pandemic. (For those unfamiliar with the story:

      I do suppose that society could have been positioned much better had universities been mandating certain courses as part of obtaining an education past high school. The absence of curricula which would give a basic course instruction regarding today's predicaments rather than focusing on bringing more money into each institution would have been the responsible way of moving forward. Denial of reality and optimism bias stole the show instead.

      Yes, the dumbing down of society, at least here in the U.S. has definitely had quite negative repercussions and if one looks closely, he or she can clearly see all the telltale signs of collapse unfolding.

      I do see small signs here and there that people are beginning to "wake up" to the reality rumbling down the rails (James Kunstler calls it "wokesterism" if I recall correctly), but mostly now there isn't much to be done that will reverse the inertia of the system.

  2. I no longer "feel good" when contemplating driving my ICE car to the shops, to the beach. I have read much of this knowledge on climate change and followed the smell of oil into every single corner of my life. when I contemplate driving to work for the rest of my life it makes me feel sick/anxious. To "feel good" i ride my bike or perhaps the bus.

    However there are still days where the feel good sensation is overridden by the deadline such as an appointment and I have not committed enough time to ride my bike to. So I am stuck inbetween this behaviour of on the one hand feeling miserable if I have to drive, but also not committing more awareness to the additional time required to ride my bike everywhere.

    let alone the shopping and the baby and the girlfried... the bus is also available of course. From reading your blog post I believe I am transitioning off the dopamine hit from driving a car. from the fossil fuel system of instant gratification.

    I would like to meet others like myself to share experiences.

    1. SH, you might check out the "About Me" post; last paragraph.

  3. Every article you publish re-enforces or adds to my understanding of the complexity of our "civilization" 's predicament. Appreciate your deep thinking and work on this blog.


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