Joseph LeDoux: Inside the Brain, Behind the Music, Part 4

How Free Is Your Will (J. LeDoux)

How free is your will

Do you have control

Are you in charge

Who’s running your soul

How free is your will

Are you automatized

Just a bundle of habits

Is your freedom disguised

How free is your will

Do you make up your mind

Do you decide

Or are your choices blind

How free is your will

Perhaps an illusion

A mystery

Convenient delusion

How free is your will

Once you decide

Are you compelled

Do you have to abide

How free is your will

Can you change your mind

Reverse direction

Leave a choice behind

How free is your will

Well of dignity

Fountain of pride

Sea of grandiosity

How free is your will

The stuff of lore

The source of evil

The reason for war

How free is your will

A truth to behold

The secret of peace

A story to be told

How free is your will

The way to stand tall

The basis of good

The hope for us all

Free will

A truth to behold

The secret of peace

A story to be told

Free will

The way to stand tall

The basis of good

The hope for us all


[1] In the process of writing this I noticed that a “?” did end up in the title of the song on the lyric sheen that comes with the CD. This was not an act of free will but simply a mistake.

About the author

Joseph LeDoux

Joseph LeDoux is a University Professor, Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology and Child Psychiatry at NYU. He is also the Director of the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute. The author of two best-selling books, The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self, LeDoux is also the singer and songwriter of The Amygdaloids, a band of scientists that plays music about mind and brain and mental disorders.

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16 Comments

  • Thanks for keeping my brain engaged. It’s a fun way to describe the process of songwriting, breaking it down between conscious and unconscious. I bet Jimmy Page would enjoy your article.

  • I’m not sure whether free will can theoretically exist. But in practice it rarely exists nowadays, since society and the media are very successful in controlling our desires, “needs” and decisions.

  • I wonder what you would think about this issue after seeing the movie Inception. I saw it recently and it deals a lot with the (science-fiction-y) potential to implant a thought in someone’s brain in a way that makes them think they came to the conclusion on their own.

    Also, nice watercolor Noah.

  • Oh, come on, list the chords at the end of the song. I doubt it was Mahlerian or Straussian in its complexity.

    • Dear Roger Strukoff,
      The chords weren’t complex in any absolute sense. Just complex for me and my usual 3 or 4 chord riffs. Certainly no secret. Here is the sequence. Not sure what key the song is in at this point, so I will give a little context.

      After bouncing back and forth between G and A for the ending four lines of exclamations, the chords take off in the following sequence.
      C D Em Bm F#m C#m Abm A Am E

      Try it. It’s fun.

  • A causal loop is not “downward causation”. Free-will would violate the law of conservation mass-energy. Though mind may become conscious, and activity may occur ‘in’ consciousness. This does not mean that consciousness violates any physical laws or logical necessity. The lack of free-will is the source of understanding. Nor does the Bible ever teach us we have it. Else why does it read “Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump to make one vessel fitted to honor and another fitted to destruction”? And why does it say “Therefor it is not of him that runneth nor of him that willeth but of God that sheweth mercy.” Or “God caused their hearts to become calloused”. Rather, there is a lot of believing whatever one wants to be the case.

  • “While these issues are not so easy for materialist-inclined brain researchers either, at least we have the advantage of being able to work within one realm, the material realm, rather than having to try to forge a relation between two realms (material and mental).”

    This is like opting to suffer from Simultanagnosia.

  • Humans came to be in accordance with causal necessity. Their sense of self is defined by their object-relations. “A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies.” (B.F. Skinner) Who’s nature is defined by those relations, whatever “control” the self could exert would only be in accordance with its composition. Which itself is not free from determinacy. But humans believe they are free, and remain blind to the ties that bind them. The mystical pursuit is to undo these bonds through psychological self-mastery. A cutting away of determinate processes within the mind. Though this process is always driven by an equal determinacy to free oneself. Eventually, one must choose to align themselves with something, cutting all the ties leaves one empty and void. People will generally want to align with what is true, with truth, and make it their determining attachment. But all this is easier said than done, and infinitely harder if one isn’t even aware they are not free already.

  • I don’t understand, Joe, you know the answer to the question that you pretend to ask, as you have stated so in your music without question marks, only mocking the listener.

    So, why continue with research that propagates a system that allows the few to surreptitiously manage the many? Where does this authority come from?

    Is lack of awareness of the deception justification?

  • “Since introspection alone can’t give us all the answers, we need scientists…”

    Introspection alone has _already_ given us all the answers. (In fact, it did so thousands of years ago.) You’re just “not reading the right books,” as Will Hunting once said. Follow these words down the rabbit hole to find out: dhyana, samadhi, akartrtva, non-doing.

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