📆 June 27, 2024 | ⏱️ 4 minute read

No Kurzgesagt, Feeling Free Isn't Good Enough


Before I critique Kurzgesagt’s new video, I just want to make clear that this entry does not constitute a return to writing. I’m still taking a step back from writing. I’m only writing this entry because Kurzgesagt has a lot of influence and I want to share my thoughts on why they’re wrong while the video is still recent.


Recently, Kurzgesagt made a video titled “Are You an NPC?”. The video argues in favor of free will, saying “You experience free will.” and suggesting that free will may be an emergent property that only shows up on higher scales of reality.

My goal here is to debunk these claims.


At any given moment, consciousness is inundated with bits of language, emotions, sights, sounds, sensations, memories, and other contents. These contents arise and pass away on their own, with no apparent prior cause subjectively, and they determine everything that comes out of you including everything you think and all the decisions you make.

The failure to be aware of this arising and passing away of conscious objects as it happens does not make you free. A puppet isn’t free just because it doesn’t notice its strings most of the time. Not noticing what’s going on in your mind may make you feel free, but that illusion can be readily pierced at any moment just by paying closer attention to your own mind in the right way (e.g: Vipassana meditation).

Take the optic blind spot as an analogy. Unless you’re using a technique to see your blind spot, it gets filled in and you forget it’s there. It certainly doesn’t feel like you have a blind spot most of the time, but no one would argue that the illusion that there’s no blind spot means that you don’t have one. Similarly, the feeling of being free doesn’t mean you have some emergent property called free will. It simply means that you aren’t noticing how your mind actually works most of the time.

The fact that one can notice their lack of free will, even at the level of reality emergence says it applies to, seems to pull the rug out from under the hypothesis that free will is an emergent property. And what’s more, not only can you notice that you don’t have free will subjectively, it’s also pretty easy to convince yourself that there’s no way you could possibly have it.

Even if you’re the most self-aware person on the planet, the fundamental dynamic of the mind never changes: Objects just appear in consciousness. You don’t know what the next object is going to be until it appears, and you don’t know why the last object that appeared was what it was rather than something else. There is no choice in any of it.

Now with all that said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about making decisions or using other free will based language for convenience purposes. So long as there’s the underlying understanding that free will is incoherent, then all is well.

Finally, I want to push back against the way the video implies that not having free will is necessarily a dark, gloomy, or negative outcome. I hate this common mischaracterization and I think it’s completely wrong. Free will says that everyone is ultimately responsible for their actions, and that reasoning is used to justify getting vengeance on evildoers as an end in itself. In other words, the feeling of and belief in free will motivates and justifies needless suffering. If it were harmless, I probably wouldn’t bother writing about it.

Experiencing how we’re all just a product of forces outside our control allows us to have more compassion, even for those who commit the worst transgressions. Even the most diabolically evil person ever was just a malfunctioning robot, and although they may need to be separated from society or even killed for others’ sake, they don’t really deserve to suffer. To me, that’s far more compassionate positive worldview, and one which the free will camp can’t offer.

That about wraps up everything I have to say in response to Kurzgesagt’s video on free will. Unfortunately even though I’m right and Kurzgesagt got this topic very wrong, I don’t have the kind of reach Kurzgesagt has as a well-funded animation and design studio that promotes their opinions through a more popular medium. As of the time of this writing, their video already has over 3.8 million views. In contrast, I’ll consider myself lucky if even one hundred people read this journal entry in its entirety, so please spread it everywhere. It may also be helpful to spread it to anyone who works at Kurzgesagt, if you can.