Why We Have Too Much Free Will || Ken Sheldon

May 25, 2023

Today we welcome back Ken Sheldon to the podcast. Ken is a Curator’s Distinguished Professor of Psychological Science at the University of Columbia, Missouri. He has written and edited over 200 academic books, scholarly articles, and book chapters. Among these, some of his most notable work include Optimal Human Being and Self-determination Theory in the Clinic. His latest book is called Freely Determined: What the New Psychology of the Self Teaches Us About How to Live.

In this episode, I talk to Ken Sheldon about free will. Instead of questioning its existence, Ken is concerned with how we might use free will to help us reach our goals. Each person has the capacity to make good and bad choices, and to learn from the past. Although we are unable to know everything about ourselves, we can still make informed decisions. Believing that we have the ability to choose directly affects our well-being and values. We also touch on the topics of neuroscience, self-determination, and responsibility.  

Website: sheldonk.mufaculty.umsystem.edu/home


    • Freely Determined
    • System 1 and System 2 
    • Cybernetic freewill
    • Choices are not predetermined
    • Self-determination theory
    • The feeling of freedom 
    • The evolution of the symbolic self
    • The default mode network in goal setting
    • The “Rewind the tape” argument
    • The problem of too much freedom
    • Determinism is detrimental
    • Living well together 
    • Free will is an adaptation

2 Responses to “Why We Have Too Much Free Will || Ken Sheldon”

  1. Yuri Zavorotny says:

    First, thank you guys for sharing your great insights. How we make our choices, why we do what we do — I can’t think of more fascinating subject. Or more pressing, given the choices we make 🙂 So I’d like to comment on hard determinism and how, I think, it actually allows for the free will. In the nutshell, hard determinism implies that our future is already decided, determined by the past events. What makes free will possible, I think, is the fact that we still can’t know how the future is going to unfold (determined as it is). Nor can we know what choices we’re going to make (determined as they are). The future, of course, will be revealed to us as it happens. As for our choices, they will be revealed to us only as *we* make them — because no one and nothing can make *our* choices for us (and because refusing to make a choice is also a choice). In other words, our decision process is the same, determinism or not. Now with that out of the way, what is free will anyway? And how can we have it given that we are machines, automatons? (so I’m reductionist) Well, consider how human machines might work under the hood (the following is pure speculation, but I think it explains a lot). So, human computers then — I find it helpful to think of the brain as the CPU, and the mind as its software. The conscious Self, for example, is one of the software modules. Our sense of agency — the free will — is another. Both are essential to the operation of the human machine. Summing it up, free will is our sense (our idea) of agency, a part of our psyche (“I have free will because I believe I do”); it’s critical for us to function properly; and it is no more illusory than our emotions, or our perception of color, etc.

  2. Stephen Grossman says:

    That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call “free will” is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.
    -Ayn Rand

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