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The Dallas Examined Life Philosophy Group Message Board › Free will and determinism - Wait...what?

Free will and determinism - Wait...what?

al c.
Dallas, TX
Post #: 72
My position is simple. We have free will.

Free will is modified by laws of science. Gravity and the like.

Free will is modified by other people, parents, police, politicians. In that case, our free will is to act or be punished.

I grew up with many notions of free will based on god, a supreme mystical power. I reject that notion as just a method to use mystical concepts to put some one else in charge.
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 123
When I said that determinism wasn't the problem, I meant that it wasn't the problem for free will. Free will has issues regardless of how the universe is constructed, so to me that puts the problem squarely with free will. I don't claim that determinism is perfect, or that any theory of way the universe behaves is perfect. I am merely claiming that there is a fundamental problem with the concept of free will no matter how things are set up.

I find myself thinking more and more that it would be awesome to have a philosophical discussion with alien and/or artificial life. If we made a computer that could act just as a human does, and appeared to have free will as we do, yet was able to scrutinize and understand every process which led up to every decision it made, what could we learn from such a system? The same would go for aliens or even earth-based life. I'm not sure how a philosophical discussion with a signing silver back or a new form of intelligent life from beyond the stars would go, but at the very least we could learn something from a mind which similar, yet different from our own. This is actually why I like to have philosophical conversations with children. We learn how they think and they come up with things we never would have dreamed of, connections we take for granted.

In AI there's an interesting paradox... actually, I think it's really more of an irony. Things things we find hard to do are easy for us to make a computer do. Things we do as second nature, we find difficult to make a computer to do. The reason is simple, we understand the process of the hard cognitive problems we face because we are forced to pay attention to the process. We understand less of easy cognitive problems we face because so much of it has become automatic that it just happens in the backgrounds of our minds where the light of consciousness rarely, if ever, shines.

What we are trying to describe with the concept of free will may well be one of those easy cognitive problems. We take it for granted that we are in control of our actions. We have been doing what we're doing since the dawn of life and as such much of the process has become automated. I do not have to think about the process that goes into decision making and it is difficult to think in such dimensionality that one can observe the stream of thought as it flows. As it is, the best we might be able to manage would be to set up dams where the nature of the stream can be stopped, observed, and then allowed to flow again. Even that it rather difficult and I'm not sure it would lead to a better understanding of what we are trying to describe with free will.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 300
When I said that determinism wasn't the problem, I meant that it wasn't the problem for free will. Free will has issues regardless of how the universe is constructed, so to me that puts the problem squarely with free will. I don't claim that determinism is perfect, or that any theory of way the universe behaves is perfect. I am merely claiming that there is a fundamental problem with the concept of free will no matter how things are set up.

I see what you're saying. I'd say that one of the main problems for concepts of free will has to do with causation and causal necessity, which are wrapped up in the notion of determinism. If there weren't causal necessity, at least at the macro level, one big problem for free will would be avoided. There'd also be the problem of the logical coherence of the very idea of free will that I alluded to earlier, but it's conceivable that much of this problem would also be averted if the universe were causally different than it is.

Determinism, aka causal necessity, likewise has problems dealing with consciousness and action. These things seem to be irreducible (your favorite word smile) to necessary physical causation. So there is an explanatory gap going in both directions, i.e. free will in light of determinism and determinism in light of free will ( if free will is understood as bound up in the ideas of consciousness and action) although the criss-cross is not perfectly symmetrical.

Anyway, although it's arguable whether or not we have free will or even that we have a clear sense of what this would mean, it's less arguable that we are conscious and that we act, and I think an argument could be made that if causal necessity is limited when attempting to understand consciousness and action, then that gap is enough to establish at least an agnostic position, regardless of how freedom is configured. ("Freedom" is probably a misleading word because it's not that clear as a metaphysical term and only confuses things when used metaphysically. Maybe something like 'purposive' or 'intentional' would be better.)

There are many problems tied up here with consciousness and causation. It gets more confusing the more I think about it. The 'answer,' if there is one, seems like it has to lie in the gap between the two, and that gap may very well lie in our 'blind spot' which the human mind may not have the ability to see, even though it has apparently developed the ability to sense that there is a gap there.

What we are trying to describe with the concept of free will may well be one of those easy cognitive problems. We take it for granted that we are in control of our actions. We have been doing what we're doing since the dawn of life and as such much of the process has become automated. I do not have to think about the process that goes into decision making and it is difficult to think in such dimensionality that one can observe the stream of thought as it flows. As it is, the best we might be able to manage would be to set up dams where the nature of the stream can be stopped, observed, and then allowed to flow again. Even that it rather difficult and I'm not sure it would lead to a better understanding of what we are trying to describe with free will.

You're also describing some of the very same problems in understanding consciousness. I suspect that 'freedom' and consciousness are slightly different aspects of the same problem, with the same conceptual barriers and limitations. For now, I think it's enough to say that there are probably some things in the world that causal necessity, by its nature, is unable to understand. That's relatively easy. Understanding what would have to be the case in order for some version of 'free will' to be true is the mind bender. I've got another philosophy migraine.
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 124
I had a thought about free will while trying to sort out what might make me feel as if I had more of it. I couldn't help but think of my anxiety as an instance where my free will is limited. My internal world is not completely under my control. Occasionally emotions and sensations arise which are beyond my ability to control them. In other words there are cognitive processes which lie beyond what my conscious mind can see that affect the way I think (and possibly even my capacity to introspect).

Now, technology is advancing to the point to where advanced AI, mind reading and neural/digital links might be possible. Imagine a device which is implanted in my head that can read my mind and observe the process in total such that every piece of the process can be observed by this device. Additionally, the device feeds this information to me so that I can observe my own mind in its processes. Imagine that I can also write bits of code with my mind that run on my mind. For instance, I could set up a simple event listener which keeps an eye out for a specific condition and when it happens it executes a bit of code which has an affect on the way I think. So, for instance, I could observe exactly what it is that is causing my anxiety, and either try to sort through the problem at it's source or set up an event listener and appropriate function which executes a feeling of calm whenever the precursors to anxiety arise. I might even be able to further specify this function so that it knows the difference between fearful anxiety and excited anxiety (anticipate of something negative/positive).

To me, this would FEEL like I've got an increase capacity for free will. I could literally choose not to be afraid in any given situation. I could choose to be happy. I could choose to be sad. I could choose to allow my mind to do as it will without the aide of the device. Hell, I could choose to be presented the correct answer to any math problem that I see automatically. I could choose to be presented with the answer to any legal question,a s it arises so that I'm never ignorant of the law. In these hypothetical situation, what I've gained is a greater control over both the internal monitoring processes and control over those processes. It would give me an additional subconscious mind which would be deliberate in it's construction as opposed to the automatic way that our subconscious is currently built. The mind cannot be completely self-caused, but it can be self-observed and self-influenced.

Now, if instead of me using the device on myself, someone else was, or the device has malfunctioned and is now just going crazy, then I would say that I have a decreased capacity for self control. Say someone hacks into the device and makes me maximally depressed (as depressed as my brain circuitry could possibly cause to be the case). In that instance, I would be paralyzed by sorrow and unable to act. They might install an event listener and function which sends me into belligerent rage when I see a particular person, causing me to be much more likely to act violently towards them. In this instance, I might be unable to prevent myself from attacking them. What all of these have in common is that these events are more influenced by external events that internal events. That is, I am not in control of the device the device is in control of me.

Imagine also instances where you can observe your own processes but not affect them and where you can affect them but not observe them. In the first instance, you know what's going on but are powerless to stop it, or at least the device doesn't allow you to make any changes. You can see what's going on but not change things any better than you normally would be able to. You still get an increased control, however, simply because now more data is available to you, you still have some native capacity to affect your own thought processes and now you've got an increased capacity to recognize what you might want to affect. Now, in the second instance you've got control over the processes but no increased way to observe them. You've still got some native observation though, so you would be able to hammer out (possibly through trial and error) what needs to be changed to have the desired result. In both instances, you've got an increased capacity for self control and free will.

It seems to me like this is what we're really talking about, the capacity to self-monitor and self-regulate. Introspection and intro-innovation.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 301
Interesting thoughts. What you write reminds me of Douglas Hofstadter's book "I Am a Strange Loop". You might check it out if you haven't already. I wasn't thoroughly convinced by it but thought he made a lot of valuable points about the mind and consciousness.

I agree with what you say about how self-observation and self-influence make possible our sense that we have 'free will'. That is not a controversial observation at all, I would guess. Those holding nearly any position in the free will/determinism debate would agree with it. The problem is in interpreting what this point could mean. Once we abandon the 'self-caused self' version of free will, then your point is entirely compatible with other possible versions of free will, as well as of compatibilism and hard determinism. The real problems lie elsewhere, such as in consciousness, causation, and reason, which your point may not address.

It may be the case that anxiety is just epiphenomenal, that it's merely an after-effect of deterministic processes going on in the body but that it doesn't actually cause anything to happen. But if that's true, what would prevent consciousness itself from being epiphenomenal, superfluous, 'just along for the ride', etc? And if that is the case, then none of our conscious states can do anything, including self-observation or self-influence. All the real causal work would be going on at the level of sub-personal physical processes, so that 'I' could play no role in any of the things that 'I' do. I understand what you're saying about how this emergent property of 'I' gets continually folded back into endlessly complexifying loops of self-reference, but I don't see how this fact would make any real difference in terms of the actual prospect of causal inertia ( Causal inertia meaning that the self and all of its conscious states, all of its emotions, thoughts, etc, cannot make anything happen, in a similar way to how the wake that a boat leaves or the exhaust fumes that a car spits out cannot contribute to the boat's or the car's forward progress.) If all this is true, then you'd have to bracket 'self-influence' in the same category as the 'self' and 'free will'. We can influence ourselves in the same way that we have free will, or that we as selves can cause anything at all. In other words, it is only as if we can influence ourselves, only as if there is an actual self there or that is has free will.
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 125
Even in terms of the self caused self, we don't necessarily need to escape causation to make it work. If I knock down a set of dominoes, with the last one ringing a bell, what was the cause of the bell ringing? Was it I who knocked it down? Was it the last domino striking the bell? Was it the initial starting state of the universe? Why not all of the above? I don't think a first cause is necessary here. Even when talking in terms of things which have no minds, such as falling rocks, we don't have to resort to first cause to know what caused a particular arrangement of stones at the base of a mountain. For instance, the infiltration of water into the cracks of rocks, which then freezes, expanded and caused parts of a larger rock to break off and tumble down hill. This erosion caused the rocks to fall. What caused them to fall the way they did? The shape of the falling rock as well as the nature of the terrain along the path the rock took. We don't need to explain everything that led up to an event to understand the event itself.

Also, the further away two events are (in terms of causal interactions) the less influence the preceding event has on the event which follows. My roommates and I were just musing today about how it was amazing how it came to be that we were sitting at the table and eating a meal together as roommates. This isn't just because the day was hectic, and it was amazing that it managed to fall together at the right moment, it was all of our pasts. If a certain person hadn't been at work on a certain day. If one person's marriage had been only marginally better. If one person hadn't been taking a philosophy class. If someone didn't have anxiety issues. If someone chose not to play a particular game. If someone's brother had been deployed to Japan. If any one of these things had been the case, then it we might never have even met. Now, it might be the case that if my brother had been deployed to Japan that I would be living there instead of living here(he offered to cover the cost of my moving out there so he wouldn't feel so isolated), but one could hardly say that my brother's not being deployed to Japan has caused me to be living here right now. Even if you could make that argument, you couldn't say that I am typing this from my current location because my brother wasn't deployed to Japan. The one event does not explain the other and I think that's important in this discussion.

You see, the more I introspect and deliberate the further the external world's influence is pushed in terms of the causal chain which leads up to my action. They become like my brother's deployment's effect on my typing this message. Yes, one could not be happening were it not for the other, but you cannot explain one in terms of the other with sufficient detail. If I hear a loud bang, I will jump. There's not a very long causal chain there, the sound could reasonably be said to have caused my action. You may also speak in terms of the instinctual startle reaction as being the cause of my action. When I was a kid I saw a movie only once, but it was very influential on the way I think, that was "The Flight of Dragons" which admittedly gave me a slight preference for science, logic and reason over mystic thought processes... it also gave me a fascination with dragons, but that's beside the point. In any case, I eventually became an atheist, but that wasn't for years and years afterwards, after I had all but forgotten the movie. Did it have an effect on my current theological stance? I would say that it's entirely possible. Did it cause me to become an atheist? I wouldn't go that far. There were a lot of other factors, a long journey of self discover, dabbling in various religions, learning more about religion, psychology, the occult and philosophy before I would come to this state. You just can't explain my atheism in terms of my watching that movie. Oddly enough, after finding it and watching it again, I found that it actually encourages people to keep magic alive and use it side by side with magic. It's hardly the pro-science piece that I remembered it to be... but it's still an interesting watch for little skeptic kids.

For another example, lets say I'm faced with an ethical decision. I must choose whether or not to steal some money from a friend. I am caused to consider theft because of a bad financial situation. I mull it over, consider possible outcomes, weigh the importance of my friendship against my need for this sum of money, consider asking for a loan instead of stealing, consider stealing from someone I don't know, etc... Regardless of the outcome of my decision, the longer I spend thinking about it, the more links I add to the causal chain. This makes more and more of the causal chain leading up to my decision exist internally. So, even though external events (my current financial situation) lead me to consider theft, my deliberation pushed that cause back far enough away that I could consider my action to be the result of my of my own deliberation rather than the situations I currently find myself in.

The difference seems to be one of generality or specificity. My brother not being deployed to Japan has a general and wide reaching effect on present states of affairs. I would not be living where I am, I would not be typing this message, I might even be dead right now if he had been deployed there, but that event has no specific effect anymore. After being told that he was being deployed elsewhere I found myself disappointed. In other words, his not being deployed to Japan had the specific effect of causing my feeling of disappointment. The fun part is that it's hard to say when we should cut things off and say that this or that caused another without it seeming arbitrary. Even assigning weights to the influence of any one event on another would seem arbitrary unless quite a bit of testing was done... I'm not even sure how such testing would work... perhaps by doing computer simulations or the like. That's actually a good point. There are many instances where one would be hard pressed to solve a problem purely with an equation while an algorithm solves it fairly easily. The difference is that the equation is just one link in a causal chain while an algorithm encapsulates many links into one package.

Now, I agree that consciousness, causation and even reason do present us with interesting problems even if the problem of free will is resolved. The problems are related, but it's not necessarily that bad. I would prefer to attack it like a programmer or hacker. You just make one bit work, then go to the next and hack away at it until you get it to work. You've likely screwed something else up, so just keep testing and hacking until you've got both working. Then just go on to the next thing. It's tough, it isn't all that accurate or efficient, but it gets the job done. The problem with trying to attack too many problems at once is that you run into the possibility of having multiple errors and not being able to find them, some errors can even hide others while some may even compensate for others (effectively hiding both while causing problems elsewhere). Personally, I think that's as good an argument for the importance of a "first principle" as any other I've heard.

I'm going to look into the book. I've heard the title before but never gave it second thought.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 302
The standard definition of "Cause" is "necessary and sufficient antecedent condition(s)." But like every other concept, the meaning here is limited by the particular context involved. The word is almost never used in a really rigorous way, because the rigor that would be needed would fall well outside of the context of usefulness involved in nearly any use of the word "cause". I lift my left index finger to press the next key. What caused it? It depends on what I'm talking about and what purposes I have. Of course I'm constrained to certain answers over others - certain muscular and neural events in my body are much more plausible as causes than saying that supernatural entities caused it. Even limiting the answer to muscular and neural events as a necessary condition, that would mean that there are a vast number of events that could be identified as necessary to my lifting my finger, but do they make up a sufficient condition or set of conditions? I'm not sure, but I would say that it all depends on the context.

The cause or causes for any single event are potentially infinite and endless, at least according to the definition of 'cause' quoted above. That's why I tend to think that cause is not so much a linear concept as it is a multi-dimensional web. And in a given situation, we choose a certain very limited part of this web and name that part as the cause of an event because that part happens to suit our purposes at that time. I could see how this approach could possibly support something along the lines of what Kant thought, that the concept of cause is something minds impose on the world. It may be a bit of both, but there does seem to be a constructive aspect to it, although I could be wrong. And that beyond this constructive aspect, causation is noumenal, which may be why consciousness and action also seem to be noumenal, at least for the human mind. It's all extremely confusing and I don't claim to understand any of it. I'm just talking out of my ass(umptions).

As far as your brother not being stationed in Japan, I would say that this would not be a cause for anything if cause is understood according to the standard definition. Only an event or events can cause another event. A non-event cannot cause anything. It's an interesting idea though. If non-events can cause events, then you're expanding the idea of cause beyond what physical science understands, and this expanded idea of cause could tie into the notion that possibilities, and not just actual events, can cause things, which would seem to undermine strict determinism and hold open the door to intentionality per se as having causal power.
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 126
What's the difference between a non-event and an event? For example, if my brother were stationed in Cuba instead of Japan it would have the same effect as him being not being sent anywhere instead of being sent to Japan. We can also think in inhibitory terms, that something happens only when something else doesn't. I could imagine a device which is effected by beta decay such that a light turns on when, and only when, radiation isn't detected. How is this different from saying that the device has it's light turn off when exposed to radiation? It seems like we're talking about the same kinds of things either way. We can even take this into ethics and say that inaction is always okay because it causes nothing and therefore you can never do anything wrong through inaction. I know you disagree with that. To claim that you cannot be held responsible for not doing anything just doesn't seem to add up quite right. When you do nothing, you have done something, and that something is nothing. Language is a bit silly with this concept but I think it makes sense.

I was under the impression that necessary and sufficient causes were two different things. For me to be typing this, it is necessary that I have fingers, hands, the requisite muscles and nerve impulses capable of coordinating such an action. However, that is not sufficient to explain why it is that I'm actually typing this. I have an opinion, I want to learn through discourse, I enjoy philosophical discussions and I am responding to what you've typed before. In reference to the causal chain I was talking about before, my physical actions are the immediate cause, look back a bit and you get my mental actions, look back a bit more and you get the inputs which caused my mental actions, and so forth. I'm not denying that the chain is complicated, I don't think we can describe it accurately in a linear fashion. It's a big interconnected web because of the fact that the universe is running on parallel processing.

Once again though, I think there are two parts to causation. There is the description and the described. If we go simply by what is being described, then we could answer every question about what caused what with "the initial conditions of the universe". However, that doesn't actually say anything useful. When we are asked that question, we are asked to describe what has occurred. Going all the way back to the first cause is just silly and is obviously not what we were asked. In fact, one would be considered a smart ass for making such a comment even if it were true. For example, someone might ask how I got to be friends with someone. There's not a simple answer to that, but in short it would have to do with the necessary cause of actually meeting them and my impression of them at that initial meeting and those that followed which made be of the belief that they were someone I wanted to spend more time with. There are a whole mess of other causes, technically our whole lives have led us up to this point but once again, that's not what we're being asked and that's not what we think about when asked this sort of question.
Rinda G.
user 7444310
Dallas, TX
Post #: 83
I’ve been following this fascinating discussion for the past month and I find myself wondering why the idea of free will is such a problem. What, exactly, IS the problem or problems?

For me, the idea of free will encompasses the ability to choose from various alternatives AND the ability to learn (if we choose to) from our own and other’s mistakes. Best I can tell, I must be a compatibilist as I find it plausible that our current choices/behavior are likely a product of several things:
• What we’ve been exposed to (ideas, people, books, education, etc.)
• Our biology / neurology
• Our culture
• Our desires and motives
• Events (random or otherwise)

I suppose I could give up the idea of “free will” if it didn’t involve my simultaneously giving up the ideas of choice, learning and growing. The philosophy of Determinism (hard or soft) seems a rather sad way to try to live one’s life. For instance:

Are you engaging in this discussion because you have no choice? Out of the myriads of things you could be doing, have all previous causes led you inevitably to this activity and none other?

Am I now entering the debate because I have no choice? I’ve been thinking about it since the discussion began, so why today, this moment?

Overall, humans seem to have a propensity for asking “Why?” and “How?” things work. We want to be in control of our world, happy/contented, so we put effort into those things (behaviors, activities, friends, etc) which we think will accomplish that goal. We’re constantly making choices, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes a random event (auto accident, natural catastrophe, death) occurs that totally shakes our world and we discover that there exist things over which we have no control.

At some point in this life I learned the valuable lesson: “I cannot control what happens to me, but I can choose how I view it; how I allow it to destroy me or to grow as a result.”

While my choices may be limited by circumstance ... and ... the choices I have may be the lesser of all the evils ... it seems to me that I still have "choice" and (barring a brain malfunction) my ability to choose is what I call "free will".
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 127
I'm essentially arguing from the position that the definition of free will doesn't make sense, but the phenomena that we're attempting to describe by appealing to the concept of free will does. In this way, I suppose you could say that despite the fact that I want to throw out free will as a concept, you do still retain your capacity to choose. However, it is not the same capacity as a free will proponent would suggest.

As far as I can tell, it works like this:
1. We're exposed to a situation where we must choose.
2. Our minds mull over those choices and based on what has happened in the past come to the only conclusion possible.
3. The outcome of this choice is fed back in and we are subtly changed by it.

Hidden within #2 is a bit more dimensionality than that. We've got our subconscious which is very fast and dirty with it's suggestions, it bubbles up many different options that we choose from and it does this in the background. Then we consciously choose one of these based on past experience. There is also a process which oversees this conscious process and is capable of thinking about and changing the way we are thinking about the problem. For instance, I have chosen not to live my life by fear anymore. That is, I do not make decisions based on fear anymore, if fear is behind my reason for wanting to do one thing over another, I invalidate that decision and rethink the whole thing. What happens is my subconscious bubbles up my options, often the options I'm presented are effected by fear, I can't help that. When I make the conscious decision to choose between these options, I further evaluate the process by asking myself "was this chosen out of fear?"

There are interesting points to be made about this.
Firstly, the subconscious is a bit temperamental and somewhat random in what it does. Because the algorithms it uses are not deliberate and are optimized for speed as opposed to accuracy, it can sometimes present you with some rather odd options. This is where we get the urges to jump off cliffs or randomly smash a dinner plate. Your subconscious is sitting in the background, watching what you're doing and when you're presented with a choice it can sometimes just say "hey, you could just smash that plate, it is certainly an option." This doesn't quite free us from determinism, but it does add a bit of unpredictability to the algorithm. This is especially true if the subconscious is the only place where our options come from, that is, the conscious mind does not give us our options, that is all up to our subconscious. I'm not sure if that is the case or not, but it certainly is possible.

Secondly, the manipulation of the thought process while it's happening makes things incredibly complex and accounts for a lot of nuance. For instance, the choice we make might be effected by the amount of time and effort we spend on this second level of thought. That is, there are decisions which I just make off the cuff and decisions I make after long and careful deliberation. If I were to only carefully deliberate or instantly choose off the cuff for every decision I made it would drastically change the choices I make. It's not always black and white either as some decisions are made with more deliberation than others and we can even choose what amount of deliberation to apply to a given choice.

It is within this process that I believe the phenomena we refer to as free will lives. I am still a hard determinist, I still believe that we are rocks rolling down hills in the only way we could have done... but we're such complex rocks that our behavior cannot be explained in the simple terms of determinism. This is the explanatory gap that free will is supposed to be filling and is failing to do so. Admittedly, the concept works in practice. It is certainly a pragmatic way of going about the whole thing. It is simpler and easier to assume the free will is as people say it is. It doesn't hold up to scrutiny, but it works all the same for the general population.

I also don't see why it is necessarily bleak if all our actions are determined. It's easier to imagine why if we think in terms of things being divinely determined. Some god has a plan for us and a plan for everyone. She knows how things are going to turn out and has meticulously planned all of it. We cannot escape the fate that she has written for us. However, we also don't know what that fate is. No matter what we do, it is by her design. If I write this message or not, it is as it was supposed to be. If I go jump off a cliff, it's the same. If I live my life as if there were no fate imposed on me at all, it would also be part of that plan. Because I cannot escape the plan, I might as well just do what I want to do. I could sit and worry about the philosophical implications on my ability to choose in this respect but it would be futile because no matter what, I could not escape my fate. If I can do nothing about it, then why ponder it at all? Why not just enjoy myself regardless?

That's how I live my life anyway. Whether a god exists or not, whether I have any real choice or not, it doesn't particularly matter. I'm going to live my life the way that I want to. It might be an illusion, but this reality is real to me regardless. I may be living in a real-world matrix, programmed by the stuff I'm made up of, but so what? That doesn't have to send me spiraling into an existential depression because I am armed with those two magic words "so what?"

Somewhat on topic, there was a study done which showed that the more difficult a choice was to make, the more important we tend to think it is and thusly spend more time on it. In this regard, we often overestimate the importance of a question simply because it is hard to answer. I can't help but think this applies to philosophy as well. I mean, we've been asking questions for thousands of years and have yet to come to satisfactory answers for many of them. I tend see if such questions pass the "so what" test, and if they don't, then they become purely intellectual for me, that is they are interesting, but not particularly important. Free will and determinism both fall into that category for me because no matter what they're nature is, reality is as it is and I've been living with it this whole time. I doubt my life will change after having come to some concrete realization about either. Heck, after realizing that determinism is most likely true and that we probably don't really have free will, I haven't really changed the way I live. Why should I? There's a paradox produced in those who are faced with the idea that we have no choice in what we do. Often, they attempt to act in unpredictable ways, sometimes doing something wrong on purpose just to "prove" that they have a choice. I see these actions as stupid. They just don't get the problem and they don't see how the suggestion of having no free will could cause them to act the way that they did in a deterministic manner. The appropriate response is "So what? If that's true, I've been living without free will up until now and what I've been doing has been working well enough for me so far, I think I'll keep that up."
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