People around this time of the year like to make grandiose announcements. New Year's resolutions are often used to announce to the rest of the world the ways in which we will change...
I also happen to know quite a few people who like to proclaim, "The beginning of the rest of my life starts now"...or, "This is a brand new me"...or any number of other retarded cliches.
Hubris, man. Hubris.
The belief one has that they can be totally unlike themselves, is not only logically flawed, but also the result of a big ego, and an inflated sense of self-importance.
Change is one of the most difficult, if not impossible, things to accomplish. Especially when you don't believe in free will.
Most (I hesitate to say all, as I have not read ALL of anything), but MOST current research in neuroscience indicates that free will does not exist. Free will is a philosophical or theoretical concept, and one that is not rooted in any physical reality. If you were to split open a person's head and search around, you would not locate the 'free will' lobe. The concept of free will is pretty well synonymous with the soul. It's a nice thought, but it's not real.
Future behaviour is not determined by one's 'free will', or 'choices', but rather from the interaction between one's past experiences and one's genes.
We are not acting out on the world. But rather, we are in a constant state of reacting to it.
The two can be easily mixed up, especially when most of our social and political ideologies in North America are centered around so-called 'freedom'.
Free will is a defense mechanism. The same as meaning in life, or the belief that 'God has a plan for me'. Not to say that belief in any of these things is unhealthy...defense mechanisms are exactly that...they are meant to protect the self and the ego, to keep oneself happy, or at least at peace.
The belief that one can change, or even more plainly, that one has control, is absurd. I don't know a single person who controlled their arrival on earth. Heck, nobody knows how they individually came to exist (why am I me and not you, and why are you not your own cousin, twice removed, and so forth), and yet people have no problem believing that they control everything from that point forward?
We each live separate, unique, individual lives, none of which can be accounted for, so it would be hard to argue that the motive or impetus or directional movement from that point on could be so easily narrowed down to mere freedom in choice. Certainly no one (outside of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ) chose to come to earth, so how could anyone choose anything beyond that?
If one has no control during the initial stages of life (being completely dependent on others for support and survival), how can it ever be truly said that one has ever been 'free'?
The child that is placed in a cardboard box with only food and water ends up being severally emotionally and intellectually retarded. Shoot, why use a hypothetical example? Check out the story of 'Genie' here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genie_%28feral_child%29
Why doesn't Genie just choose to be normal? Heck, we believe in free will, don't we? She ought to be able to do it.
For that matter, why don't we all just choose to be unlike ourselves? Why aren't you a rodeo clown, and why am I not 5-time weight lifting champ? Where there's a will, there's a way. Only there is no (free) will, and therefore no way.
I was raised on french, and eventually learned english...why didn't I speak cantonese from birth? If it's all up to my choosing, why don't I just know everything now?
What about if I wanted to learn a new language today?
Interestingly, it would take me far longer to learn a new language than a 4-year old, and yet I have all the wisdom and experiences of a 23-year old. Synaptic pruning shows that the older we become, the less we are capable of learning new things, and therefore, less capable of change. The same reason Michael Jordan couldn't hit a baseball, is the same reason none of us have free will. Because life ain't that romantic. It's cold and harsh (or warm and liberating...depending on how you look at it).
The older we become, the more like ourselves we become, and the less capable we are of changing (I'm speaking from a purely neurological, physiological standpoint). It's the same reason adults and old people are far more closed off to new ideas than a child ever would be (which incidentally is the same reason that 99% of adults are the exact same, never change, and are boring as fuck to talk to).
That is not to say that change is not possible, but merely that it has nothing to do with choice (see Reasoning vs Free Will).
I'm sure every addict would choose not to be addicted if it were that easy, but again it is not (although that moron Gene Heyman would have you believe differently).
The same way none of us can merely will our bodies into changing or morphing with a thought or belief, the brain is not capable of simply becoming different just because it wishes to do so. Just like the body, the brain has very real physical limitations. If the mind is a product of the physical brain, and every 'free choice' is performed by the brain, then the brain becomes the ultimate deciding factor as to whether or not change, or choice for that matter, can occur.
There is no choice that can be freely made without the knowledge and experience that has come before it.
Reasoning vs Free Will
The ability to reason is oftentimes confused with the ability to freely choose.
A child has difficulty reasoning, and will make many mistakes as it learns to reason (as its frontal cortex continues to develop). The fact that people are capable of making better choices as they age (primarily due to their past experiences) does not mean that these choices are "free" in any way, shape, or form. These choices are based upon the neural circuitry that has been laid down throughout our entire lives, and has been dictated by our genes.
Too many things in our society are forgiven for being simple 'accidents' or 'bad decisions'. If you believe in 'free will', you cannot believe that anything is an accident, because everything would thereby be a choice. In that sense, the world is very black and white. Either we're all completely in control, at all times, making choices, or we don't make any choices, and it just so happens some of us are better at reasoning than others, better educated than others, or simply dealt better cards to begin with.
I know that what I'm presenting isn't a popular theory. I'm essentially saying we're not free birds flying through the night sky...we're on very certain, clear paths. But I believe that in 100-200 years, this will become the standard, especially as neuropsychology gains more steam.
With that being said, I don't really have a problem with people believing in free will...everybody's gotta believe something...and as I stated earlier, it's a defense mechanism. Believing that one is in control of their own destiny can be incredibly empowering. But just like the belief that one has a personal relationship with god can be incredibly empowering, it can also be incredibly annoying to everyone else around you. The two are just on opposite ends of the same scale. They are both overwhelmingly narcissistic...and narcissistic defense mechanisms typically distort our view of the world as it truly is.
So although believing in free will might bring comfort to some, it is not a belief rooted in any kind of reality. It is an illusion at best, and a delusion at worst.
PS - For those keeping score at home, that means the Free Will Complex might simply be classified as a type of Superiority Complex.
PPS - I realize after a month or so that many more people are landing on this page than I had expected, and finding only the mad ramblings of a realist.
If you're looking for the science behind what I believe is called 'downward' causation of free will, you can check out a book called 'Incognito' by David Eagleman. Your local library ought to have it, and he spells out the neuro-biological argument against free will far more eloquently than I ever could. I only read Eagleman's book after writing this post, so if you're looking for something with far more research, it's a good place to go!