According to the author of this article, (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/yuval-noah-harari-the-new-threat-to-liberal-democracy) “free will” is a “myth”. While we can choose who to vote for, our choices are, for the most part products of our biology and societal influences (E.G. family upbringing). The author contends that governments and corporations will, in the future be able to “hack” us and know us better than we know ourselves for, in his view we are “hackable animals”.
The author is right that we are not free in some respects. For example there is considerable evidence that one’s sexual preferences are biologically determined (I.E. gay people have a natural/biological attraction for the same sex, while straight people have a natural/biological attraction to people of the opposite sex). For this reason it is, in my view cruel to try to change a gay person, by religious or other means into a straight individual. It doesn’t work and one is forcing them to adopt a way of life which goes against their natural inclinations.
I do, however fundamentally disagree with the author’s assertion that “free will” is a “myth”. Take, for example the young man attracted to a pretty girl. It can be argued that he lacks “free will” in the sense that he can not help being attracted to the beautiful woman. However where that same man to pester that young woman for sex or, god forbid sexually assault her, can we really say that he lacked “free will” and his actions where predetermined? We can not, for the overwhelming majority of men attracted to beautiful women do not make inappropriate advances or force themselves on the object of their desire. Where there no such thing as “free will” the number of sexual assaults would increase massively. It is moral precepts and the existence of “free will” that makes us human.
The author is correct that corporations and individuals can (and do) try to (and sometimes succeed) in influencing our behaviour. For example a person who frequently searches for news stories with a particular political bias may well find himself confronted by only those kinds of articles. However the educated person does (in my experience) go out of their way to find stories which challenge their preconceptions and its through education that we can help to combat the danger of “echo chambers” in which people only find themselves exposed to views that reinforce their existing view of the world.
With the growth of artificial intelligence, we do need to think seriously about the hacking of humans (the author is undoubtedly right here). However his view of “free will” (the lack thereof) is, in my opinion wrong and dangerous.
(My thanks to my friend Brian for drawing the above article to my attention).