Do We Really Have Free Will? | Homo Deus Part 3

in steem •  5 months ago

Having free will is something that is inherent to the way we live our lives as humans. Free will stems into every ebb and flow of our society. Whether you’re an ad man trying to sell some cereal, a surgeon working on a patient or just the average joe going out for a meal, free will is something we know we have.

But do we really have free will or are our actions governed by our inherent desires? Many people would answer that by saying that their ability to have inherent desires is in fact what gives them free will.

If I desire a chocolate chip cookie and then eat the cookie, you could say that I had the free will to choose to desire that cookie and then I made another free decision to put that cookie in my mouth and eat it.

Our desires are not exactly free though, as I’ve learned from reading Homo Deus. The way that Yuval puts this is fantastic:

“Humans act according to their desires. If by ‘free will’ you mean the ability to act according to your desires – then yes, humans have free will, and so do chimpanzees, dogs and parrots. When Polly wants a cracker, Polly eats a cracker. But the million-dollar question is not whether parrots and humans can act out their inner desires – the question is whether they can choose their desires in the first place.”

Can We Choose Our Desires in the First Place?

Going back to our cookie analogy, what makes me desire the cookie in the first place?

Many would say that they simply wanted a cookie so they conjured up the desire to eat a cookie. That’s simply not the case though. Our desires are far more complex than a simple decision to desire.

What if we could predict our desires seconds before we consciously are aware that we even have that desire? Would that change the way we view our desires? Would our desires no longer be free? Instead, would we view our desires as being the results of our DNA, past experiences and ability to reason?

“These are not just hypotheses or philosophical speculations. Today we can use brain scanners to predict people’s desires and decisions well before they are aware of them. In one kind of experiment, people are placed within a huge brain scanner, holding a switch in each hand. They are asked to press one of the two switches whenever they feel like it. Scientists observing neural activity in the brain can predict which switch the person will press well before the person actually does so, and even before the person is aware of their own intention. Neural events in the brain indicating the person’s decision begin from a few hundred milliseconds to a few seconds before the person is aware of this choice.”
“When a biochemical chain reaction makes me desire to press the right switch, I feel that I really want to press the right switch. And this is true. I really want to press it. Yet people erroneously jump to the conclusion that if I want to press it, I choose to want to. This is of course false. I don’t choose my desires. I only feel them, and act accordingly.”

How to Test This Idea on Yourself

Yuval offers us a little thought experiment to see if you can figure out the root cause or thought that leads to a desire. Give it a shot and see what happens:

“Next time a thought pops up in your mind, stop and ask yourself: ‘Why did I think this particular thought? Did I decide a minute ago to think this thought, and only then did I think it? Or did it just arise in my mind, without my permission or instruction? If I am indeed the master of my thoughts and decisions, can I decide not to think about anything at all for the next sixty seconds?”

Real-World Implications

The real-world implications of whether or not we can freely choose our desires are immense. This idea of controlling our desires can be applied to so many different fields, sciences, practices, arts…

Yuval provides us with the example of a “robo-rat laboratory”:

“A robo-rat is a run-of-the-mill rat with a twist: scientists have implanted electrodes into the sensory and reward areas in the rat’s brain”

Think that’s crazy? Just wait for this next part:

“This enables the scientists to manoeuvre the rat by remote control. After short training sessions, researchers have managed not only to make the rats turn left or right, but also to climb ladders, sniff around garbage piles, and do things that rats normally dislike, such as jumping from great heights.”

This is mind-control in the making. In fact, they can actually “control” the rats by changing their desires and making them desire to do things that a rat would normally never desire.

If our so-called “free-will” is controlled by our desires and our decision to act based on our desires, then how far off is it to believe that controlling someone’s desires would give you the ability to control the way they live their entire life?

Let’s say that in some sci-fi future scenario we all end up with some sort of computer chip apparatus in our brain that stimulates certain desires. Would we even know that someone is controlling our desires? Or would we simply feel the desires arise out of seemingly nowhere as we already naturally do?

“To the best of our understanding, the rat doesn’t feel that somebody else controls her, and she doesn’t feel that she is being coerced to do something against her will. When Professor Talwar presses the remote control, the rat wants to move to the left, which is why she moves to the left. When the professor presses another switch, the rat wants to climb a ladder, which is why she climbs the ladder. After all, the rat’s desires are nothing but a pattern of firing neurons. What does it matter whether the neurons are firing because they are stimulated by other neurons, or because they are stimulated by transplanted electrodes connected to Professor Talwar’s remote control? If you asked the rat about it, she might well have told you, ‘Sure I have free will! Look, I want to turn left – and I turn left. I want to climb a ladder – and I climb a ladder. Doesn’t that prove that I have free will?”

Bringing it back to the sci-fi scenario: if someone controlled our desire to say, work 10 hours a day, how would we know whether or not we actually want to work 10 hours a day?

If our brains are being stimulated in the same way that the rat in our experiment was stimulated, then wouldn’t we actually feel like we want to work? Because we don’t really know where our desires come from, it’s not far off to believe that if someone manipulated these desires without our knowledge, they could get us to do things that we may not normally do but we would think that we actually want to do them.

Can This Be Replicated to Humans?

We’ve seen in several experiments that humans too can be manipulated by electrode stimulation.

“t is possible to create or annihilate even complex feelings such as love, anger, fear and depression by stimulating the right spots in the human brain. The US military has recently initiated experiments on implanting computer chips in people’s brains, hoping to use this method to treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Yuval also offered another example of this type of experimentation on humans that is being done in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. They are implanting electrodes into their patients’ brains which are attached to a computer that’s implanted in their chest. When the computer sends a command to the electrodes, weak currents are sent to the area of the brain that’s responsible for depression. This type of treatment isn’t always successful, but many of the patients have reported that their dark feelings disappeared as if by magic.

This one story really caught my eye:

“One patient complained that several months after the operation, he had a relapse, and was overcome by severe depression. Upon inspection, the doctors found the source of the problem: the computer’s battery had run out of power. Once they changed the battery, the depression quickly melted away.”

I feel as though these types of devices will become a part of us at some point in the relatively near-future. My best guess would say that a significant portion of the population will have some sort of “chip” in the next 30-40 years. There can definitely be some downsides - manipulation and otherwise - but I can also see all of the potential benefits:

  1. Help people with PTSD
  2. Help people with depression, anxiety and many other mental illnesses
  3. Help people build positive habits - stimulate the desire to read books, learn, practice instruments, etc.

I’ll leave you with these questions, let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below!

What would happen if we could rewrite the inner monologues that go through our head as we go through life? What if you could change the things that you desire so that they are more focused on the things you want to desire rather than the random desires that seem to pop up in your head randomly?

Would you want to change your desires so that you spent more time on the things that you want to spend more time on - be it reading, dancing, playing an instrument, sports, etc.?

Authors get paid when people like you upvote their post.
If you enjoyed what you read here, create your account today and start earning FREE STEEM!
Sort Order:  

Great conversation.

Two things come to mind:

  1. whether I can restrain my stream of consciousness or not seems irrelevant to whether I am free to act/think, because it simply addresses a similar but distinct issue: how does our subconscious impact the "self" and self will.
  2. whether brain scans can predict behaviour reliably or not, seems unproven still. The examples you cite need to be closely explored before I could conceed that point. Why? It seems the metrics of observation are necessarily, intrinsically, inadequate.
    You suggest that because we can see indications of choice before actions unfold, even before the actor realizes they have chosen, means the choice is not our own but what if the thing that chooses is metaphysical? What if beyond the physiology that is measured we have a soul that decides?

Of course I cant prove this but it is not disproveable either.

Seems to me the question that comes first is this: not are we free but what are "we", not whether we have free will but what is the "self" at its core. Mind or matter? Physical or metaphysical?

Love to hear your thoughts on my response.

P.s. your post is like some Black Mirror or Altered Carbon $hit. Great stuff!


Also very important!!! Loved your response. I agree that to answer all questions we've got to go back to the very start, beyond the physical.

Discipline and distraction are definitely a thing when it comes on focusing upon what needs to be done. I often have to shake my head and stay focused because distractions are either everywhere around me, or I am wired to chase squirrels.

The inner monologue thing is a POWERFUL concept when you take control of it. The older you get, the better you get at not wasting time and spending it on the stuff that helps produce results or enjoyment.

Hopefully that is ;)


Very well said as always @zekepickleman!! Discipline is something that I'm always striving to get better at. I've heard it said this way:

Achieving discipline isn't like climbing a mountain and planting your flag at the top, it's more like wading water in the ocean. You have to fight every single day to keep your head above water.

I agree, the inner monologue really caught me dead in my tracks. How cool of a concept is it to think that your entire self-operating system is governed by past experiences and desires? It's hands down one of the best concepts I've read in this book!


Exactly right!!!!


Very heart touching, keep on with it

Our desires are inextricably linked to many factors, our biology, the state of information in our minds, and external factors.

I can also tell you one thing that our desires are not based on. What is it?

Free Will.


Because it quite simply does not exist. It is merely wishful thinking from men that consider themselves sovereign over their destinies. I can assure you we are not the sovereign one.

Men are but chaff in the wind and we follow the course of determinism as it has been set. There is no deviation and if you think so. Prove it.


Agree 100%. There is no such thing as Free Will. If there was free will, we could choose where we were born, who were our parents, what color we are etc. Hell you can't even choose to stop breathing. As soon as you pass out, your body will start breathing for you.


But what if we do? I believe that our souls chose all of that before entering into the physical experience.

I would say there is a voice we can listen to inside us that gives us advice, and if we follow it we find a release from our doubts; free will is the ability to hear this voice and follow it or not...


But where does that voice come from? How does it decide what advice to give us?

Further, if someone were to control said voice without your knowledge and you followed the advice of that "voice in your head" thinking that it was of your own free will, would you still consider that your actions are of your own free will?

Fantastic and very useful information thank you for sharing it i am gonna share it...

While it seems that we are responsible for our actions; further psychic/ spiritual probings indicates otherwise!! There exist a phenomenon, beyond easy comprehension , accounting for our actions. Nevertheless, to the initiated , this can be easily assayed!

The chemistry inside our brain largely dictates the thoughts and feelings we have. However, humans are such an interesting species because we can challenge our own thoughts and feelings, we can question with "why". Looking beyond our primitive controls is in my mind, free will.

This is great question about free will 🤔Do we choose our desires or do they exist and we act on an instinctual basis? Heres the catch..Imagine doing something naturally, without cause, totally driven by a feeling that arises from nature. Nature is always whispering to us and many times our subconscious chooses what we do next based on perhaps more of what we dont know is happening than we are actually aware of. Still, I am I believe ultimately we do have the will to be freely choosing, whether or not we are capable of acting on that or not still boils down to our desire to control our desires. Yes, we have free will. Think of this..what is more signifigant? The human mind making choices naturally and logically long before we knew how to reverse engineer the process in a research facility OR the fact that after thousands of years, we have learned how to manipulate a natural process that would occur whether we had known about it or not. In my opinion, free will matters because ultimately we decide whether to eat that cookie. Desire CAN take a back seat. We just have to want to put it there 😁😎

Desire animates the world. It is present in the baby crying for milk, the girl struggling to solve a math problem, the woman running to meet her lover and later deciding to have children, and the old woman, hunched over her walker, moving down the hall of the nursing home at a glacial pace to pick up her mail. Vanish desire from the world, and you get a world of frozen beings who have no reason to live and no reason to die.


There is a function on Steemit called blockquotes. These blockquotes are for quotations from something like say, a book. Using quotations and then commentating on those ideas is a great way to distribute information. But I guess you already realized that now 😉 thanks for reading. What are your thoughts on the question posed at the end?

You really made me think and reflect, I think that sometimes the instincts play against us and, sometimes, the desires are stronger than one, in that case, do we really choose ourselves? If this is the case, there should be no repentance, but more than one will know that there are actions that one does not know the reason for being, and that in the moment after doing so, one repents

Felicitaciones excelente publicación, el libre albedrío a opinión personal es innato, son mensajes que nuestro cerebro procesa y manda la señal y luego es ejecutada a veces no sabemos porque se eligió tal o cual comida, pero si podemos dar explicación una vez que nos venga la idea innata. por ejemplo quiero comer dulce de lechosa, ese deseo aparecio de repente como y complazco mi deseo, despues si puedo buscar explicación por que me dio ganas de comer ese dulce?, puede ser una explicación, que me encanta ese dulce y tengo tiempo que no lo como otra explicación es que pude tener una baja de azúcar y aleatoriamente me vino a mi mente ese dulce, No me gustaría cambiar mis deseos, me gusta el libre albedrío, me gusta la libertad.

@khaleelkazi hey I love this post! I write about similar stuff but then I stopped for a few months earlier this year. Damn, so refreshing to see an article on trending that has the kind of substance me and the rest of my pals here used to crave for in seeing on trending. You could check me out too, maybe we could exchange ideas!

With the issue on desire, I love how you took that angle of questioning the nature of desires to inquire about the ever-debated matter of free will or the lack thereof. All I can say is that the complexity of the nature of our desires simply reflect the hard to explain being of us, our consciousness.

Once again, great post!


Your post has been a lot better, beautiful, you have a lot of talent, thank you very much, I was very happy to have a little love for me.

The basic argument of free will might come to the free will to have an implant it not. From a choice foundation myself. I would like to read more. I see you have touched on this before. I will follow you and encourage others to do the same

My initial response was to listen to a song lyric in my head "'s all a dream we dreamed, one afternoon long ago..." "Box of Rain" Grateful Dead

I have not read the first two parts to this so apologies if I am jumping the gun but I have thought and I "desire" to express it.

Meditation is the key to this imho. And much easier said than done. Different times in your life you need different types of stimuli. My zen in the past has been sitting cross legged "anywhere" and watching my internal dialogue flow like a river, striving for a dried up crick! But the thoughts keep coming and the river of thought continues. Other times in my life, I found my Zen with coffee in tow, and an hour ride through the dawn on my way to work, clearing my head. The point being there are different ways to get into a meditative state. And if you can let all those thoughts disappear, without the fear your will forget something important for later, then you can begin to step back.

Ultimately we all need varying degrees of perspective whether on our life or individual project. And what you have hit upon (for me anyway), is how we sometimes move on auto-pilot without thinking certain things through! Like ok you want to be involved in crypto-currency! Great and what exactly does that mean to you? What does it mean to the people you interact with? If we assume we are all on the same page we may find out eventually, we are in different chapters or perhaps different books altogether.

Very thought provoking post thanks!

hello something complex but that's how we are ... good writing


thank you!! Complexity is a great way to exercise your brain!

You have recieved a free upvote from minnowpond, Send 0.1 -> 10 SBD with your post url as the memo to recieve an upvote from up to 100 accounts!

Bro this is thought that you are talking about and it’s difficult to understand and judge what a person is thinking we live in a world where everyone is free to talk and do everything but again it should be abused , bro I am looking for project to work from home kindly let me know for good opportunity

Processing... Processing...

Very very interesting post and thought provoking. I don't think I would want to change my desires as I am really very happy with life as it is now.

What about desiring not to desire?

We don’t require external technology to train the mind. We can initiate our innate, built-in human technology known as Meditation. A great start is Mindfulness (of body, feelings and mind) to cultivate awareness on all levels and “concentration” meditation to cultivate samaddhi (which means a gathered, collected, unified mind). Then to enhance this cultivation, practice the other six facets of the eightfold noble path

This is a very interesting concept. I've been experimenting lately with my own desires. I had to let go of a person, something that is normally very disruptive for me. But I recognize that desire is, as you said, a firing of neurons, which I conceptualize as energy. So I made the conscious decision to close my chakras and disconnect the energy. It's taken some mental discipline, but I've accomplished it. Of course, being in connection with someone is more enjoyable than being disconnected, but it was in honor of the other person's wishes and I found a way to reroute the desires without turning my life upside down. As I said, this has been an experiment, one I'm still learning the results of. I hadn't thought before though about using these abilities to control other people's desires. I do believe that PTSD, as you mentioned, can be healed through energy work. And there are practices for healing it in which therapists use semi-hypnotic techniques to recondition the thought process while the eyes engage in rapid movement. I think all of those uses are fine as long as the client is informed about the treatment and consents to it.

To answer your question - if I could change my desires... I would definitely use the skill to not desire relationships with people who are clearly incapable of being in them with me, be it friendships or any other kind of relationships... to alleviate the hurt that comes with endings... What I would desire instead... maybe to have stronger desires for spending more time (so I don't get busy & forget) with some of the people who want and/or need that from me.

The ability to trace events and their causes supports the idea that things happen due to prior events and actions. This goes against free will because tracing back a selection of actions done by a person should reveal that he\she only thought they were making conscious decisions. But, in the reality they were influenced by prior events and not their complete and uninfluenced will .


Now- tracing back a certain action far enough can get tricky- as the number of influencing factors exponentially increase the more steps are taken back- All of these factors weave together to provide a full description of a person's life, and the surrounding lives that were influences by that person. So in a way, conscious beings all share a similar platform that yet remains undefined.

Wow wow wow. This composition is absolutely stunning

Posted using Partiko Android

yeah free will has the ability to hear this voice whether we follow it or not

와우 뷰디플!....
팔로우하고 갑니다...
맛팔 부탁드립니다....

Free to do anything we want or desire? But, doing out of reason is a useless free will. We often times do the things we desire, we feel, we love to do as most of us think its instinct. The result, is not all the time its reasonable.
We don't need those devices or technologies or some kind of a pill to alter our free will. Its no longer our free will if we use anything outside of our human physicality.

Impressive post feel so energetic...😄

Hi @khaleelkazi I'm a bot, and wanted you to know that I've upvoted and re-steemed your post to help you with your promotion efforts! -exp

You got a 34.87% upvote from @postpromoter courtesy of @khaleelkazi!

Want to promote your posts too? Check out the Steem Bot Tracker website for more info. If you would like to support the development of @postpromoter and the bot tracker please vote for @yabapmatt for witness!

Freewill ?? Working 12-16 hours to earn money. The system is just like you said. no chip needed

Thanks for a nice post


thanks for reading it!!

Wow, very thought provoking!!

I think about this a lot, growing up in a place that controlled your every desire. I think that for one the biggest signs of free will though, is the ability to say no to a desire. As you touched on, desire can be controlled and sometimes are just chemicals reacting in our body, body is craving sugar so it gives you a desire for a cookie. Desire can also be governed by memories, emotional trauma, etc. But the real free will comes in when we can say no, fight back in a sense. This is where choice comes in. Free will gives us a choice to say no to our desires, or yes to them. Depression, ptsd, and many mental illnesses alike, can become a choice if we learn why they happen. Follow me for more on this topic!
Thanks for writing!

a CAPITAL YES! If i could, i would love to focus all my energy to positive things in my life that matters the most. Great post!


Congratulations @khaleelkazi!
Your post was mentioned in the Steemit Hit Parade in the following category:

  • Pending payout - Ranked 5 with $ 264,62

I think we would have a very large disagreement on what free will is. I call what people commonly refer to as "free will" volition. Most acts that I do on the day to day and even most thoughts I have are not of my choosing. Most people are on auto-pilot much of the time. It takes a severe amount of discipline to remain truly aware and volitive for the majority of one's time. This is, indeed, what a lot of meditation is all about. Gaining and remaining in control, to remain mindful and aware of one's self, one's thoughts, one's emotions, and in turn one's actions. For those who suffer something like an impulsive disorder or borderline disorder, meditation is actually the main treatment prescribed for this reason.

I suppose what I am saying is that most of the time most people do not have "free will" if you mean that "free will" is some magical thing that makes people completely non-deterministic. The thing is, that doesn't matter. The illusion of free-will is so good it is largely irrelevant that it doesn't exist. As for whether or not we can overcome our own minds, I believe that we can. As to whether or not external stimuli and mind-control are good ideas: absolutely not. Even if they might help those who suffer, those same tools will be used by tyrants all over the world. Imagine what the CIA or KGB would do with that sort of technology.

nice article! :)

keep going


thank you, I will!

Really well-laid out post @khaleelkazi

I agree that there must be something far more complex and deeper than merely just us following our own personal true-hearts desires

But I feel that rather than develop computer chips that go against what we are - fully biologically grown human beings, we should research what the biochemical triggers are and how we get them into our bodies in the first place.

Things like sugar have a drastic effect on how we feel and I believe this is one of multiples of exapmles of things we consume daily that affects us indefinitely..another form is media-related matter. Things which we see, hear, etc etc. These all have massive effects on our psyche

nice write ups
it is a supersede to know that i do not have control over my thought

That’s all bullshit! Humans were created to become masters of their minds. Technology and loads of other distractions have made humans slaves of their minds. We are moving towards the end!!!
Who created thought? And who created this universe? These are all questions that Yuval can’t answer from his logical mind which basically controls him. Honestly I read Homo Sapiens just for the sake of it and I didn’t find anything appealing in it.

yes we have free will, what we do not have is unlimited power, and that most people consider one and the same , but its not.

Wonderful dear nice follow you

Very beautiful.

i like what you shared

Yes but no. It's right that anybody can choose what they want. You could be a write what you love, draw what you love, sing what you love, dance what you love and imagine what you love.

But there are things that prevents us to have free will. For example, you wanted to graduate in an exclusive high end university but you lack financially. It would likely cannot become true and it means you cannot graduate in such a university.

However, people have grown wise and found other ways on how they can achieve their desires. In this case, there are programs that lets a student have free access to education by means of scholarship grants and admissions.

In some cases, which is pretty realistic, many of students stops in schooling, tries to look for a job and continue their studies after they successfully earned money for study. People are skilled and can become skilled in different ways.