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My conversation groups this week were hashing over the question of free will. We kicked around the heavy philosophical topics of Determinism, Libertarianism and Compatibilism, but that didn’t seem to satisfy our human needs. We also discussed the issues from a personal point of view and tried to determine the operative factors in our daily decisions, without much in the way of helpful resolution. I expressed the opinion about free will that I have been exploring, off and on, for years, and discussed in this blog recently. It needs a name, so I will call it “manifestation of character.”

Free will is a manifestation of character where the present moment of conscious time has potential for different actions. In the instant of the moment we feel like we can choose to do this or that action, that we are free to choose, but there are the obvious constraints of what is physically available at the moment. Given these constraints we feel we are free to act as we choose, but behind that thought there is a personal body that is capable of only a small number of physical actions potentially possible.

The real idea that is at the core of free will is to choose in a meaningful way our lifetime of habits. These habits spring automatically to bear on every situation that presents itself to us, and I contend that these habits are rigid, but also that they can be modified. In a moment of decision we may choose to modify a bit of behavior, but even as we make that choice there is an abundance of other associated habits that we are unaware of that affect what we are doing and thinking. We have an instant of consciousness that is almost totally guided by our vast collection of habits, but each of those habits were at one moment in time, in our previous moments of consciousness, a moment of free will. We chose, in our past actions, to respond to something in a particular way, and that choice left a trace in our habit structure, and when we did it a few more times it became a consistent habit. We may be creating or exercising these preexisting habits several times per second, or if we choose to think of how our brain works on a vast array of micro-level operations, then we may be exercising millions of micro-habits per second. None of these micro-habits do we have the possibility of becoming aware of, even though we voluntarily created them by how we responded to some earlier observed events. I called this mass of habits the manifestation of character, and it can have a serious negative blow-back from our public.

Intelligence is the ability to see patterns that really exist and to make predictions about how those patterns will affect the future. That ability coupled with free will means that other people, who do not have the ability to see the patterns, can not predict our behavior. They can not understand why a person with intelligence and free will behaves as they do, and because the actions of this person are not understood they are distrusted.

People want security and a person exercising free will is unpredictable.

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