The Idea of ‘free’ will is a puzzle for philosophers, and I surely concur; yet for the non-philosopher, for the common man, it is a self-evident attribute of humans. However, I have found from my long career as a psychotherapist and from restructuring many prisons, mental hospitals, and the like, that to even come close to free will, one must, with extreme discipline, extricate all of the garbage that our schizoid civilizations have imposed on us since the evolution and appearance of speech, and which was certainly compounded by the invention of written language. Scientific methods entered late and began to clear up the bizarre belief systems and explanations of cause and effect relations that had no verifiable referents. If persuasive, humans could convince their fellows to believe anything. That especially applies to the variants of the word god and everything imaginable attributable to each particular variant of that concept, everyday observable experience notwithstanding. How easy it is for Demagogues to use the god words and religion for their nefarious purposes at the expense of and to the detriment of the poor, ignorant, superstitious masses.
I gave up on the concept of free will during an undergraduate class in philosophy when the professor used the example of Balaam’s Ass immobilized between two equally desirable choices, equally within reach to illustrate free will. Well, we humans could just let a flipped coin do the deciding. What a joke!
Well, I spent many decades pondering free will and finally decided to substitute the term “intentionality” and then to delve deeply, through introspection (hardly scientific), and tried to determine what constituted the processes of intentionality. That took decades as well. However, I concluded my cognitive investigation by designing an experiment using a questionnaire about what students in various academic disciplines went through while writing an essay or report on their experiment. Using a wide variety of statistical methods, my results were, by the thousands, confirming tests of significance. I felt that all of those years of meditation, introspection, and analyzing had been worth and I now had a good preliminary grasp of the processes of human intentionality.
Why did I do that all of that disciplined mental work? I had been restructuring institutions such as prisons, juvenile correctional institutions, psychiatric hospitals, and the like. I was impressed at the remarkable results I got in altering behavior in enduring positive ways when I restructured each institution and those were results that came without the use of psychoactive medications. I was struck by the evidence of the power of external structures and systems to shape behavior and by inference their inner processes. After the writing up my experiment on the writing process, based on my model of intentionality, I applied what I knew about the structure on institutions to what I now felt I understood about inner, intentional processes. The results now were even more fantastic in a positive direction.
Incorrigible offenders and hopelessly mentally ill became like the rest of us (not saying much, of course) and the changes for the better persisted. I am personally convinced that the belief in the concept of free will is a harmful delusion, while, on the other hand, an understanding of the relations between structures and systems and individual processes of intentionality, when put into effect, can free people from the fatalistically harmful effects of prior deterministic forces in regard to which humans are unaware. For an individual person, coming to understand how the structures and systems in their lives shape their inner intentional processes, they can begin to extricate themselves, using strict self discipline, and that persistently over a long period of time, from the insane impositions on them present in all civilizations from their earliest inception to the, definitely, present era.
Balaam’s Asses’ choices (substitute modern humans’) determined by modern propaganda, public relations, political campaigns, advertising brain numbing modern media’s entertainment, pseudo-education, and covertly political-economic programs used to shape and control them, when understood and they can begin to be re-evaluate and resist those forces, those impositions, where appropriate, which means in the vast majority of cases. Yes, I can choose between a Mars Bar and a Hershey Bar, but still am a sucker for their appeal while oblivious to their bodily harm. Actually, in practice, a life lived with this enlightened kind of awareness of the lack of free will and the nature of the relations between structures and systems of civilizations and humans' inner processes of intentionality is far better than most would imagination at first glance. The Balaam’s Ass example, on the other hand, hides and obscures a whole host of more important philosophical, and modes of being-in-the-world, issues.