Ego Depletion and Freewill

Physiology and resisting temptation. The role of glucose and freewill.

If freewill exists, then cause and effect are not in succession—and the past does not determine the future. You are messed up all by yourself.

It would be poor judgment to say that the force compelling a bad choice is deterministic, whereas the force countering it is free.

Free will supports culturally valued behavior. Such behavior often requires a personal sacrifice for the sake of the collective. This position implies that selfish behavior is intuitive, primary, and easy, whereas socially responsible behavior is only won by a successful struggle against the unfree forces of self-interest. Contrary to this view, recent research suggests that culturally valued cooperation often comes easily and intuitively, and that, in fact, selfish behavior is the most often the result of deliberation.

When we look back on the important choices we’ve made in our lives, it is likely to think we could have chosen differently and had a different outcome. This would be incorrect.

Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion. Glucose plays a big role in maintaining our normative self, or the societal self.

Imagine trying to make a rational decision with the all-seeing eye holding a hammer over your head? It would get tiring, hence the hypocrisy of belief in freewill. Every decision depletes energy. Every resistance to perceived temptation does the same. Eventually glucose wears down and you are charged with sin, the inability to continuously resist two opposing forces you never initiated.

Mermaid cave art

Author: jim-

One minute info blogs escaping the faith trap.

58 thoughts on “Ego Depletion and Freewill”

    1. If freewill exists, then cause and effect are not in succession—and the past does not determine the future”
      Let’s try it in reverse. If freewill does not exist, then cause and effect are in succession. And the past does determine your future. Then you are not responsible for your decisions. If freewill exists, there is no cause and effect. You are your own boss.

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        1. Typically the world believes in cause and effect. If that is true there is no freewill. If there is freewill, the wake does not power nor steer the ship. Your messed up all by yourself. Nothing is your parents fault, it’s all on us.
          What happened in the past has nothing to do with the present. Both only exist relight now in our heads

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          1. You’re confusing the wake as a cause. Is the effect of steering the ship. If I have free will, I can do anything I want, but those actions have consequences. Effects resulting from action does not negate free will. You make a blanket statement not backed up by evidence.

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            1. The wake isn’t a cause at all. The wake is caused by the present action of the ship which then dissipates into a past event and becomes irrelevant. Is that wake ever able to determine the course of the ship? In other words, is a past action the result of you being who and what you are today? I would say no. You are who you are irrelevant of the past.

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            2. I didn’t say the wake was a cause. I pointed out that it is an effect. You just haven’t offered anything that ties cause and effect to free will. If I freely chose the turn on the stove burner (cause) and the pan gets hot as a result (effect), how does that negate my freely chosen action? It doesn’t.

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            3. Cause and effect does not imply freewill but the opposite. What was the cause of you turning on the stove and putting your hand on it, me? Or was it something in your childhood that burgeons when you have a discussion? Turning on the burner and putting your hand on is one event, not two. Just the same as animal thinning and forest practices in the 70’s and 80’s and the fires we now have are one event, especially if you consider it in geologic time it was mere milliseconds. It’s the same event.
              Now that you have burned your hand, could you have chosen differently? Absolutely not.

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            4. Who says the wake is in the past? And why would being in the past make something not an effect? Do nouns not exist in past tense in your universe? The wake and the boat causing it exist in the present. So what? If I punched a hole in the wall with a hammer, that is cause and effect and the hole exists now-and it existed when I created it, too.

              You still haven’t answered my question about what all this has to do with free will. BTW I did not turn on the stove to burn my hand (which would be impossible with an induction stove), but to heat a pan. How does any of that negate my free will? It doesn’t, that’s what.

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            5. I think what jim is talking about is the ‘scientific’ physicalist view that everything in the universe is governed by laws of physic and chemistry that proceed inevitably from cause to effect. As our minds are no more than manifestations of reactions in our brains – which are also governed by deterministic laws – we have no free will.

              We don’t ‘choose’ to wallow in sad thoughts, they’re caused by insufficient serotonin in our neural synapses. The sex abuser doesn’t decide to attack a victim, he’s driven by sexual trauma and abuse in his own past he is unable to escape. Mind ‘sciences’ are predicated on the idea that minds, like falling apples, are entirely governed and defined by physical causes which can (theoretically) be traced along infinite chains of cause an effect going back to the big bang. Everything we do, say and think is bound by these chains, including our delusion that we have free will. The more credence mind sciences give to free will the less credence their ability to predict behaviour or offer reliable therapies has.

              It might sound ridiculous but it’s one side of a philosophical argument that’s raged for thousands of years and shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

              The notion of ego depletion is a sort of compromise position. It posits that we can break away from deterministic cause and effect to ‘choose’ in accordance with our ‘better natures’, but to exert such free will requires expenditure of energy. It offers a bit of a cop out in that you can always claim you didn’t really have the capacity to choose wisely or morally in a particular instance because you were too drained by other demands to muster the energy needed to do so.

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            6. I didn’t think this was that hard to understand “ If freewill exists, then cause and effect are not in succession—and the past does not determine the future” if cause and effect are in succession, you have no freewill. You are a product of the past and can do nothing out of your programming.
              My position is we are simply results. You could have chosen anything at all but you didn’t, and you can’t.
              So if there is freewill, cause and effect are of no consequence and when an event begins or ends, is simply a demarcation or point instance of a continuum. It’s all one event from the Big Bang to the present.

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            7. It’s not a hard idea to understand if you’ve already been exposed to it, but it’s not all that obvious if you live in a society that takes free will as a given. Rawgod makes some valid criticisms of some of what I write, though I think my problem is more often assumed knowledge than an elitist vocabulary. I think your original post also assumes too much from your readers.

              If you’re starting from an assumption of free will it makes more sense to think of cause and effect as something flowing from your choices, not to them. As Alan Watts points out, it’s more natural to see choice (or lack thereof) as something in the here and now than as a manifestation of the past. I think it’s not entirely coincidental that both Eilene Lyon and Watts reached for the metaphor of a ship’s wake to describe the relationship between choices made now and the traces of the past in the present.

              Determinism is both abstract and counterintuitive. It might seem natural to those in the business of elucidating cause and effect – such as scientists – but I think it’s a big ask to expect others will immediately know what you’re talking about unless you spell it out.

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            8. Whether we like it or not our western culture is laden with Christian thought processes which seem normal (may even seem authentic) until compared with other valid ways of thinking. This western type of thinking is often at odds with reason when you spell it out, but it’s what we’re used to.

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            9. If you ask me the primacy of ‘reason’ (or at least rationalism) is also an artifact of Christian civilisation, though some of it was originally appropriated from the Greeks (thank you St Paul).

              Even if it wasn’t, reason would still have to proceed from first principles, which are rarely examined tenets that are also embedded in culture.

              The notion the universe even has a determined beginning and end is an assumption we inherited from Christian eschatology and teleology.

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            10. I don’t lack understanding. I have a problem with your if/then statement being illogical. Not only is there no causation, there isn’t even correlation. “Free will” and “cause and effect” don’t even belong in the same sentence. Perhaps it’s that phrase “cause and effect” does not mean what you imply it does.

              Example: I flip a switch (cause) and a light comes on (effect). This action has absolutely no bearing on whether or not I have free will. You certainly could say that the light bulb does not have free will, but who cares? Does the fact that I turned on a light determine what I will do next? Absolutely not. The possibilities are practically infinite.

              Determinism is a load of bunk. It’s even more of a cop out for bad behavior than ego depletion. It’s like my mother saying the devil put evil thoughts in her head and using it as an excuse for all the horrible things she did to our family. Oh, please!

              Take the example of the sexual predator that Cabrogal brought up. Consider these two statements: 1. All sexual predators were sexually abused in the past. 2. All people who were sexually abused in the past become sexual predators. Unless those statements are true (and they aren’t), then the determinism theory crumbles.

              The problem with free will theories in general is that they are absolutist: you have free will or you don’t. I would posit that the answer to the conundrum is “none of the above”. Sometimes you have free will, sometimes you don’t. Free will can be impacted by some things, such as severe brain damage. Or confinement, be it jail, a straight jacket or drug-caused.

              If I don’t eat for ten hours, my body will be sending all sorts of chemical signals to induce me to eat. But I could choose to go on a hunger strike for political reasons, even to the point of my eventual demise. That is me exercising free will over biological destiny.

              I’ve yet to hear a theory that convinces me there is no such thing as free will.

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            11. I guess it depends on what you think ‘evidence’ is. To many rationalists the implacable movement from cause to effect is the very basis of evidence. It’s what Enlightenment science is grounded in.

              I’ve spent way too much of my life listening to the ‘expert evidence’ of forensic psychiatrists. They’re so mind-bogglingly hubristic they can stand in a witness box under oath and claim to know whether a defendant was acting under compulsion of a disorder/illness or in accordance with her own free will – as if their incoherent physicalist theories of the human mind/brain enable them to cut through millenia of philosophical arguments about determinism, free will and whether the dichotomy is even valid, to arrive at the ‘truth’ of individual volition in every specific instance. They then claim to know the ‘dangerousness’ of the defendant – whether cause and effect will inevitably drive her to future acts of violence. We condemn people to prisons, loonie bins and lifelong chemical straitjackets on ‘evidence’ like that.

              Our notion of what constitutes ‘evidence’ is inseparable from our world view(s). The more limited our viewpoint the more compelling our ‘evidence’ becomes. I try to be mindful in that rejecting the ‘evidence’ of others as narrow and simplistic I’m limiting my own viewpoint and blinding myself in the same way I see them as blind. But it ain’t easy. Validating a perspective you have no desire to adopt isn’t something our society teaches or encourages. Instead we’re taught ‘tolerance’ – a patronising way of othering and looking down on people while not saying nasty things about them.

              Boundaries have a way of becoming battle-lines and ‘evidence’ becomes ammo. It’s a trap I step into time and again. Maybe someday I’ll learn to communicate instead.

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  1. “Every decision depletes energy. Every resistance to perceived temptation does the same. Eventually glucose wears down and you are charged with sin, the inability to continuously resist two opposing forces you never initiated.” … Put a smile on my face! 😊

    We can be choicelessly aware, and then the illusion of free-will has little place or significance.

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    1. Glad you got a grin Tom…

      When making a choice against resistance )since resistance is a force) overcoming resistance also requires force, and where that comes from is social expectation. We can be praised or blamed for what we do, but only if we do the right thing voluntarily, or it is of no merit. It’s surprising our heads are screwed on at all… because of belief mode.

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    2. Glad you got a grin Tom.

      When making a choice against resistance (since resistance is a force) overcoming resistance also requires force. Where does that come from but social expectations? We can be praised or blamed for what we do, but only if we do the right thing voluntarily, or it is of no merit. If you choose begrudgingly then Jesus won’t know you. It’s amazing our heads are screwed on at all in this profoundly sick way of seeing the world.

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  2. So, you are saying we all have free will, until we run out of gas? That we are all strong, until we get tired? That we are all bright until we get hungry?

    I am not sure what your point is here, Jim.

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    1. Well the point, being an irreligious blog, is to point out the fallacy of sin and freewill on multiple levels. No immutable attribute of oneself can be a sin. We only have certain tools to work with and everything is as it could be.

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    2. Well since this is an irreligious blog, the point is to point out the fallacy of freewill and sin considering the tools we have to work with. No immutable attribute of oneself can be a sin.

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      1. Isn’t everything in question though? On the flip side, fatigue effects mental clarity while some of the best things happen by dumb luck…or is it?

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  3. You’ve completely disagreed many times with me, so maybe I should just bear you my testimony…😁Would you’re experience be considered dreaming, waking, or a deep sleep experience?

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    1. An LSD near death experience?
      Sounds like ego-death to me.

      You lose your individual self and you lose your cause-effect relationship with not-self. When you’re the entire universe it doesn’t act on you and you don’t act on it. Your will and universal will are the same. So of course it’s free. There’s nothing to bind it. You are simultaneously cause and effect. All is Brahman manifesting will as lila.

      Nondualism is a refutation of the dichotomy of determinism vs free will. There are many others, especially if you let go of unidimensional, unidirectional time.

      Maybe my present moves sideways across time with each decision I make, changing past, present and future. It would also change cause and effect and memory, so my will would not be bound by causality. Rather causality would be determined by the expression of my will.

      What if the many-universe interpretation of quantum mechanics has meaning? Maybe all my decisions split the universe into as many timelines as there are choices open to me, but each would be isolated from the others and seem to have been fully determined by what went before it. My choices wouldn’t extinguish possibilities, they would proliferate them, with my memory-consciousness following each new path as if it were the one choice I had made.

      Maybe the truth to the Genesis myth is that as sentient beings who imagine we know right from wrong we are now participants in the ongoing Creation. We exercise free will that’s not determined by prior causality, thereby bringing new chains of cause and effect into existence. Each choice becomes a first cause, as lacking in precedent as the Big Bang or Logos. When we choose to observe a quantum event we collapse the waveform, turning potential into realisation and retrospectively ‘causing’ the wave or the particle, the axis of spin, the position or momentum.

      Funny thing about the moment of realisation. It retrospectively and proactively informs every moment of existence. When you know you always knew and always will know. Each moment becomes complete in itself, requiring no prior or presumptive justification. The distinction between is and ought disappears. Time collapses into the eternal now. Cause and effect evaporate. You are free.

      The classical science that informed and is informed by Enlightenment thinking exists purely in the realm of cause and effect. You can’t use that sort of thinking to see beyond it. But you can use it to contradict itself.

      If there’s no free will, why would the illusion of it exist (other than because it does)? How could it be adaptive in a pre-determined clockwork universe? Why would we need the social convention of ‘blame’ if it had no effect on outcomes, as it too would be pre-determined.

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      1. According to Ramana Maharishi, seeing this moment of realization is the only form of freewill that exists in our present condition.

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      2. Dear cabrogal,
        Since you start with the “LSD near death experience” phrase, I can only take it that you are referencing my experiences, but nothing you say has anything to do with me, or my experiences. I know you believe all the Eastern mumbo-jumbo, the ego-death thing, but those things have nothing to do with me. And vice versa, I have nothing to do with them. I like to try to speak in plain English, as far as English can go when it 8s not capable of going far spiritually.
        I’m sure you had fun writing all that stuff, and I don’t want to belittle your beliefs, but those belong to you. P.ease do not try to include me in them. Your boxes do not fit me, or contain me. Thank you.

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          1. Actually I tend to agree with rawgod on this.

            The more he elaborated on what he meant the less it seemed like ego death to me. In particular his supposition a vegetative state might be the result of making a different choice seemed completely out of synche with my interpretation of what he was trying to say.

            I leapt to the wrong conclusion because so many describe the dissolution of ego by classical psychedelics as a ‘death’, often preceded by existential terror that dissolves into bliss when the ego is gone.

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          2. I may be, but I refuse the verbiage. How many people understand what Cabrogal spoke of. No, as I said, I want to use simple English. I read Watts when I was much younger, and trying to make sense of what I went through. But I felt like I was reading some specialized language akin to all the bullshit found in religious doctrines. My intention is to be as upfront as I know how to be. No hidden or secret languages for the already initiated, no. That is not my style.

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    2. I cannot describe it in any of those terms, no. I was completely awake, and, as far as I know, totally rational. But I had no body, I left that far behind me. The thing is, it was not only out of body, but also “out of mind” literally. I existed as spirit only. And once again I have to reiterate, I tried to be scientific about it. I had not just one such experience, but two. The mantra was that an experiment had to be repeatable, so I repeated it. And whereas the first NDE was mostly amazement, with only the big things standing out, in particular the non-sensical beauty of the experience of the adventure, the second trip was where I picked up the “facts” behind the beauty, the reincarnation process, the state of almost non-awareness of the spirit I encountered, the outside-of-time sensation. It was the second experience that taught me the fact of life, not just the sensation of being alive. And i was the second experience that really messed up my being stuck here on earth for the longest time, knowing “real life” was not here, but “there”! It took basically 40 years to make sense of all that, 40 years where I lived a life on the edges of society, not sure that I could ever be a true part of society ever again without ending up on a mental ward somewhere. It took over 40 years to become comfortable in my own skin again. And it is only in safe places like the blogs I frequent or write myself where I can sort of be myself. And I am, now, myself, though it took most of a lifetime to get here.

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    1. Damn my touchy android! To finish… LSD-NDEs, I had free will each time to return to this life’s existence, or move on to the next. Each time I choose to return here. If that is not free will, I do not know what it was.
      Well, actually, it was curiosity. If I chose a new life, I don’t think I would have the memories I have today. I was curious both how my “I” would react, and also how the world might react if I tried to spread my experiences far and wide. Well, now I know how my “I” reacted, it could not deny the experiences. As for how the world might react, I doubt I will ever find out.

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      1. Actually, I realized overnight, that I left out half the equation. In the middle to late 60s, and even into the 70s, there were other people who must have made the opposite choice to me. I knew two, and heard of many others, who seemed to have taken0 the choice to move on to the next life. Their bodies became vegetables, never again occupied by a driving force of any kind. They just stopped functioning like humans. I don’t know if any of them are still around, but I doubt it. They had be be fed through tubes to keep them alive, and after a while the families I knew of just turned the tubes off and the bodies died from starvation. If any of their parents or siblings are in your readership, I would love to hear from them, just to know. But for all intents and purposes they stopped being human and became vegetables. That was the word for them, all over the English world. No one knew why they became vegetables, but it always happened on acid trips.
        I think my experiences tell their stories.

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        1. Nope. I could wish for that, but I know that won’t happen. So I don’t really worry about future lives, I try to do the best I can IN THIS LIFE when I know why I am doing it.

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            1. To help Life advance its understanding of how to be a good Being in the sense of caring and compassion. This is the direction I sensed Life is going in, but while all living beings are part of Life, especially in humans there are one helluva lot of individuals who have no use for caring and compassion. It is evident in our present societies. Not nice people are willing to do anything to outpower and outmaneuver those people who prefer to be nice. Life is changing, but what is it going to change into? If it is allowed to devolve rather than evolve, we may do irreparable damage. I do not have much, if any, power to prevent that devolution. But I have to try as best I can. I do not want to see a world full of Trumps. But for right now that is a definite possibility!

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  4. I think the biggest challenge in the determinism vs free will debate is a lack of a clear definition of terms. This debate would have been closed centuries ago had people agreed on what they mean when they say we have free will.

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  5. You would write that wouldn’t you jim. You had no choice in the matter.

    That’s just one of the many things that renders arguments couched as determinism vs individual free will nonsensical. I’m a bit pressed for time right now but I hope to get back to you with some of the others, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with a simile Alan Watts uses to illustrate the weakness of inductive logic (as per Hume) and how it gives rise to the illusion of cause and effect.

    https://beingsakin.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/on-time/

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    1. I like that link a lot! It seems the debate of freewill vs determinism are the wrong questions. It is a sleight of hand where you are asked to define 2 faulty premises.

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        1. It is so clear when you see it. We’ve been duped by the almighty question. There is another question that forces one to react in a never ending circuitous manner—do you believe in god? Which in itSelf, we all know is the wrong way to ask that question.

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            1. And the ridiculous hubris of thinking you can believe or disbelieve what you can’t begin to comprehend.

              I wonder how Richard Dawkins would answer “Do you believe in infinity?”.

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            2. “Now with the word god there is nothing to which it refers, so each man can create his own image of that for which there is no reference. The theologian does it in one way, the intellectual in another, and the believer and the non-believer in their own different ways—Jiddu Krishnamurti
              Belief and unbelief are two sides of the same coin.

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