It is practically impossible to "make" more than one decision at a point in time. Even if you "change" your mind later, it is at a later point.

How do we know that those are decisions that sentient beings actually make, rather than something scripted that we are bound to follow and cannot deviate from?

Regardless of the amount of possible choices, there doesn't seem to be a way to prove that any other choice at a given point in time could be made other than the one that was made. We cannot go back to that point in time and state of the universe to see if we can make a different choice.

What's more, the whole mental process that rises the notion of reasoning driven choice may be predetermined as well.

So how can we tell if reality is an arbitrary, self-determined by action-reaction-interaction thing, or just an immensely thorough film reel that is playing and will play out the same way in each and every replay?

  • 1
    And what do you count as a proof? Actually, the question of free will is metaphysical one, therefore I don't think there are any practical differences between hard determinism and free will.
    – rus9384
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 22:57
  • @rus9384 if there was no choice the two would be the same, as the illusion of choice would be a product of the predetermined. But if there is, then the two are exact opposites. Proof is actually a bit strong, I am more interested in logical reasoning that weights in favor of choice and free will.
    – dtech
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 23:09
  • I mean, these two views differ in causal part but are effectively same.
    – rus9384
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 23:21
  • 1
    Before even trying to prove the existence of free will, you first would need to start by defining the concept. I just posted a question precisely about that on here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/52088/…
    – xwb
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 23:52
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Have there been any proposed empirical tests for free will?
    – Conifold
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 2:56

5 Answers 5


Mark Balaguer in his Free Will 2014 MIT (FW) claims whether we have free will or not is still “an open scientific question”. (FW, 124) Furthermore, he writes:

It is very likely that those of us who are alive right now will all be dead and buried before human beings can answer the question of free will with any kind of authority. (FW, 125)

He describes three things that need to be done from a neuroscience perspective to obtain compelling evidence for free will. This would be one way to get close to answering the OP's title question: Is there a way to prove the existence of choice and free will? (FW, 122-4):

First, we will need to identify which neural events are our “torn decisions”. Torn decisions are the only ones he recognizes as could be neither random nor predetermined, that is, could represent acts of free will.

Second, we will need to read off from these neural events representing our torn decisions what those decisions were. As a materialist, he considers these neural events to be our decisions.

Third, we will need to identify that nothing causes at least some of these neural events.

His approach assumes materialism is true and that our beliefs are neural events. He claims that those who don’t accept his materialism could still use his results to support their positions in favor of free will.

  • Given the current state, it can be said that there is no free will as there is evidence of interference which causes said choices to be made (checmicals in the brain, a specific incident or occurance, and so on). In fact, we could merely apply newtons first law of motion which governs the complex chain reaction of events that we can observe at least in our very small fragment of the entire shard. Commented May 14, 2018 at 11:14

In Eastern philosophies, there is no free will. The sensual universe is not a singular creation but rather a cycle of creation and destruction that goes on and on through eternity. There was no first cycle and there is no final cycle. The events go on repeating themselves eternally. In the Gita, 18.60-61, Krishna says (Swami Nikhilananda translator):

Bound by your own karma, O son of Kunti, which is born of your very nature, what through delusion you seek not to do, you shall do even against your will.

The Lord dwells in the heart of all beings, O Arjuna, and by His maya causes them to revolve as though mounted on a machine.


It's difficult to imagine how the idea of free-will could be "demonstrated" to exist because of poorly it is often defined or perhaps how incoherent the idea is.

There are two definitions commonly used for free will.

The first is used by proponents of libertarian free-will (it would seem) that free-will is something kind of 'supernatural' in that it isn't so much subject to causality in the same way that all other parts of the natural world are. You could definitely find proponents of libertarianism that don't use this definition though, I have to speak in general terms.

The second is a kind of political-social free will. The idea that we're free to act as we desire.

The problem with free will is that what we do is ruled by our desires. The principle stands that you always act in the way you desire to act. More or less by definition. And findings in neuroscience and psychology suggest that our desires are moulded by a combination of genetics and our environment.

That's not a problem for the second 'concept' of free will as it involves being able to act in accordance with our desires and makes no demands about where our desires must come from.

This IS a problem for the first kind since, as Schopenhauer said, you cannot will what you will. That is, you cannot choose what you desire even on a logical level. If you choose what you desire, do you choose to desire what you desire? And then to desire what you desire what you desire? etc...

Similarly, there's it's not even that obvious that our subjective experience is even trying to fool us that we have free will. Thoughts about what we want or how we should act in the present moment arise as if from nowhere. When you react to a stimulus and feel as though you have a set of behaviours to choose from, in no way to you choose which behaviours your sub-conscious will bring up first. Nor do you really, when you focus enough, choose the final outcome. This is an argument often made by Sam Harris (although he's a bit of a poppy philosopher and perhaps isn't well respected in ultra-academic circles, I did find this argument extremely interesting when I first heard it and it can be found in this presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM3raA1EwrI)

I think your best bet is to watch that presentation. I found it hard to deny what he was saying about the nature of your subjective experience as it relates to whether or not it even FEELS like we have freewill. The comparison he sometimes makes is, when you're writing and you make a spelling mistake, in no way did your freewill have a part in doing that. But similarly, when you're writing and thinking up your next word, the emergence of the words you decide to keep in the writing is similarly mysterious and out of the blue. I can't deny that.


According to the definition of free will that attaches it to responsibility, praise, and error... a simple proof that free will exists would be to observe the existence of any of the following:





One aspect of this question that has not been addressed is this: is the concept of "proof" valid if there is no volition? Is it possible to obtain "knowledge" if there is no volition? If there is no volition then all decisions and conclusions are determined (or random?), which means that acceptance or rejection of a conclusion is already determined. Under such conditions, what ---if any--- procedure could properly be said to constitute "proof" of a claim, and what could be regarded as "knowledge"?

The reason to bring this up is that it creates the potential for a stolen-concept fallacy in purported denial of volition. Denial of volition means denial that one had any choice but to deny volition, and this means that the conclusion (to deny volition) was pre-destined and not determined by the merits of the evidence relating to volition. Binswanger (1991) argues that determinism is self-refuting on this basis, insofar as it undermines the possibility of "knowledge" and "proof".

In view of this issue, it is worth taking a step-back from your question to think about what "proof" would actually mean if determinism is true. As a preliminary matter, it is worth considering the logical consequences of the determinism for the status of "knowledge" and "proof". If those epistemological concepts are no longer valid under determinism, then asking for "proof" of free-will pre-supposes that you have it.

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