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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index F > Category: Free Will

Free Will Quotes (15 quotes)

Error of confounding cause and effect.—There is no more dangerous error than confounding consequence with cause: I call it the intrinsic depravity of reason. … I take an example: everybody knows the book of the celebrated Comaro, in which he recommends his spare diet as a recipe for a long and happy life,—for a virtuous life also. Few books have been read so much… I believe hardly any book … has caused so much harm, has shortened so many lives, as this well-meant curiosity. The source of this mischief is in confounding consequence with cause. The candid Italian saw in his diet the cause of his long life, while the prerequisite to long life, the extraordinary slowness of the metabolic process, small consumption, was the cause of his spare diet. He was not at liberty to eat little or much; his frugality—was not of “free will;” he became sick when he ate more.
From 'The Four Great Errors', The Twilight of the Idols (1888), collected in Thomas Common (trans.), The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1896), Vol. 11, 139.
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Apparently separate parts of the world would be deeply and conspiratorially entangled, and our apparent free will would be entangled with them.
In 'Bertlmann's Socks and the Nature of Reality', Journal de physique (1981), 42, No.3, Supplement, C2-57.
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But here I stop–short of any deterministic speculation that attributes specific behaviors to the possession of specific altruist or opportunist genes. Our genetic makeup permits a wide range of behaviors–from Ebenezer Scrooge before to Ebenezer Scrooge after. I do not believe that the miser hoards through opportunist genes or that the philanthropist gives because nature endowed him with more than the normal complement of altruist genes. Upbringing, culture, class, status, and all the intangibles that we call ‘free will,’ determine how we restrict our behaviors from the wide spectrum–extreme altruism to extreme selfishness–that our genes permit.
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Free will is to mind what chance is to matter.
Notebook M (begun July 1838). In Charles Darwin, Paul H. Barrett and Peter J. Gautrey, Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844 (1987, 2009), 536. Darwin inserted a note “M. Le Comte,” perhaps (thinks the Webmaster) as a reference to the latter’s philosophy.
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From this fountain (the free will of God) it is those laws, which we call the laws of nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experimental. He who is presumptuous enough to think that he can find the true principles of physics and the laws of natural things by the force alone of his own mind, and the internal light of his reason, must either suppose the world exists by necessity, and by the same necessity follows the law proposed; or if the order of Nature was established by the will of God, the [man] himself, a miserable reptile, can tell what was fittest to be done.
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I recognize nothing that is not material. In physics, chemistry and biology I see only mechanics. The Universe is nothing but an infinite and complex mechanism. Its complexity is so great that it borders on willfulness, suddenness, and randomness; it gives the illusion of free will possessed by conscious beings.
In Monism of the Universe (1931).
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It is strange, but the longer I live the more I am governed by the feeling of Fatalism, or rather predestination. The feeling or free-will, said to be innate in man, fails me more and more. I feel so deeply that however much I may struggle, I cannot change fate one jot. I am now almost resigned. I work because I feel I am at the worst. I can neither wish nor hope for anything. You have no idea how indifferent I am to everything.
In Letter to Anna Carlotta, collected in Anna Charlotte Leffler, Sonya Kovalevsky: A Biography (1895), 133, as translated by A. De Furuhjelm and A.M. Clive Bayley.
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Many scientists have tried to make determinism and complementarity the basis of conclusions that seem to me weak and dangerous; for instance, they have used Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to bolster up human free will, though his principle, which applies exclusively to the behavior of electrons and is the direct result of microphysical measurement techniques, has nothing to do with human freedom of choice. It is far safer and wiser that the physicist remain on the solid ground of theoretical physics itself and eschew the shifting sands of philosophic extrapolations.
In New Perspectives in Physics (1962), viii.
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Overwhelming evidences of an intelligence and benevolent intention surround us, show us the whole of nature through the work of a free will and teach us that all alive beings depend on an eternal creator-ruler.
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The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”
In 'Introduction', The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul (1994), 3.
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The contingency of history (both for life in general and for the cultures of Homo sapiens) and human free will (in the factual rather than theological sense) are conjoined concepts, and no better evidence can be produced than the ‘experimental’ production of markedly different solutions in identical environments.
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Though genius isn't something that can be produced arbitrarily, it is freely willed—like wit, love, and faith, which one day will have to become arts and sciences. You should demand genius from everyone, but not expect it. A Kantian would call this the categorical imperative of genius.
Critical Fragment 16 in Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde and the Fragments (1971), 144.
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To take one of the simplest cases of the dissipation of energy, the conduction of heat through a solid—consider a bar of metal warmer at one end than the other and left to itself. To avoid all needless complication, of taking loss or gain of heat into account, imagine the bar to be varnished with a substance impermeable to heat. For the sake of definiteness, imagine the bar to be first given with one half of it at one uniform temperature, and the other half of it at another uniform temperature. Instantly a diffusing of heat commences, and the distribution of temperature becomes continuously less and less unequal, tending to perfect uniformity, but never in any finite time attaining perfectly to this ultimate condition. This process of diffusion could be perfectly prevented by an army of Maxwell’s ‘intelligent demons’* stationed at the surface, or interface as we may call it with Prof. James Thomson, separating the hot from the cold part of the bar.
* The definition of a ‘demon’, according to the use of this word by Maxwell, is an intelligent being endowed with free will, and fine enough tactile and perceptive organisation to give him the faculty of observing and influencing individual molecules of matter.
In 'The Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy', Nature (1874), 9, 442.
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When intelligent machines are constructed, we should not be surprised to find them as confused and as stubborn as men in their convictions about mind-matter, consciousness, free will, and the like.
Concluding sentence from 'Matter, Mind, and Models', Proceedings of the International Federation of Information Processing Congress (1965), Vol. 1, 49. As quoted in Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981), 57, 70.
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When people talk of atoms obeying fixed laws, they are either ascribing some kind of intelligence and free will to atoms or they are talking nonsense. There is no obedience unless there is at any rate a potentiality of disobeying.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 72.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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