The Facebook Food Experiment with Friends


Call me a dork, but I’m always thinking about the question of free will. Not too many people ponder this question because the answer to whether or not you have free will becomes onerous either way you look at it. On one hand, you are consciously responsible for every decision you make. You are the sole agent of that choice. On the other hand, you can’t help yourself and you have no conscious control over the decisions you make.

The first choice, that you have free will, is known as libertarian free will. You are the master of your destiny, you make all your choices. The second option is called determinism. Your decisions are pre-determined based on both known and unknown causes. In other words, you’re just doing what you were supposed to do.

For now, I’m not going to break down both philosophies into their smaller parts because that can get confusing. Philosophical ideas run on a spectrum much like political and religious views. There are extremes on both sides as well as a middle ground known as compatiblism. All that isn’t relevant to this discussion, but if you want to no more, go here.

What is relevant is what we experience. I watched an excellent video from CosmicSkeptic that summed up the question of free will quite nicely. He said, and I paraphrase, that you cannot choose what you want so, you do not have free will. I found this compelling and decided to interpret that also as “you cannot choose what you like/don’t like” and wanted to do an experiment.

Let’s not assume that my experiment is any way scientific and satisfies the Scientific Method. The sample size is small and it was done on Facebook, but I’m confident the results would be the same no matter what sample size I chose or the demographic of the subjects. On different, consecutive days, I handed out 3 assignments. Here they are:

Assignment #1 was to choose a food you hated. Over 50 responses which I deemed quite good. Liver, mushrooms and olives were the big losers. Raw tomatoes and Brussel sprouts also had a decent showing.

Assignment #2 was to name a food you loved. This one only received 29 responses. Not sure why I got less, but it could be the Facebook algorithm and not everyone saw this one. Bacon was the huge winner here. Pizza and pasta made a strong showing as well.

Assignment #3 was to switch them. Yup, I asked everyone to choose to like what they previously hated and hate what they previously loved.  This post got 25 replies and contained the expected “Hell to the NO!” as a general reaction. Here are some quotes:

“…If it makes me gag, I figure my body is telling me something…”

“..I was forced to eat fish as a child and physically gagging at the table gave me such an aversion to the smell and look…”

“…it (coffee)  makes me physically ill to smell.”

“I wish it was that simple to eat foods I dislike…”

These quotes tell me exactly what I need to know.  These folks are not making a free choice to like or dislike a food and they cannot choose to do anything different. We like what we like and we cannot choose to do otherwise.  Apply this to other aspects of your life – the type of ice cream, a piece of art, a quality in a friend, a book – the list goes on.  How much control do you have over who and what you are and how does this affect you?

How about your sense of humor? Do you make a conscious decision as to what you find funny? Like most people, this is an automatic reaction. You don’t choose what’s funny, you just laugh. Maybe you don’t get the joke, but that says you also cannot choose to understand it.

When you laugh at that joke, you are also physically expressing it with a smile or laughter.  When you are angry, you express it on your face as well with a scowl.  And the thing is that everyone essentially does the same thing the same way.  There are universal facial expressions that we use to signal others as to how we feel.  This is not learned behavior, it is innate within us. And, once again, you do not choose which face you’re going to put on.  When you hear something that makes you angry, you will express it in a way that others will recognize.

There is a phenomenon called frisson that you all have experienced at one time or another. It’s those goosebumps you get when you are excited about something like hearing a song that touches you. I did an experiment and found I experience frisson any time I hear a simultaneous crescendo of a singer’s voice and the background music. Can’t help it. Can’t choose to not do it, either. After a time it may wear off, but, for me, I still get goosebumps at the end of Tool’s “Sober” when Maynard screams the chorus. I’ve listened to that song thousands of times. It still gets me. I even felt it during Lady Gaga’s National Anthem and I’m not even a big fan of hers.

Having an uncontrolled preference or reaction means that a choice is being made for you.  Your brain has decided without you being conscious of it until you experience the end result. It does what it does, following the subconscious around while you are just a drooling meat sack obeying its every whim.

So, how do you feel about your sense of free will now?

Author: TJ Dodenhoff

Part time philosopher, atheist and sarcasm professional.

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