“person in yellow coat standing on top of hill” by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

The Illusion of Choice

Duncan Riach
3 min readOct 31, 2018

I’ve been examining the concept of free-will and choice. When I pay attention to what’s happening, I notice that there is only reality (what is). On the other hand, what isn’t is just a concept. Without being overlaid with concepts, there is only bare reality. You can do this right now as well. Can you find anything that isn’t? Notice that even the concept of what isn’t is reality (what is), but only as a concept, not truly as what isn’t.

Given that there is only reality, which seems obvious (to me), there is no other option. This is how it is. The concept of choice is that reality could be some other way than how it is. Choice is real, but only as a concept.

Okay, but what about when I make a decision? When I seem to make a decision, that’s a thought or a concept that is arising as part of reality (what is). So a decision is part of what is. There is no alternate reality where no decision is being made, except when it appears as a concept. So clearly the decision appears to be the only thing that can happen. That seems to be how it is: there is no way to decide to make a decision; there just is one.

I notice that I don’t want it to be this way. I want to have choice. For me, wanting to have real choice seems to also part of reality right now; there’s no other way it could be. I question this even further: how about if I decide something specific, such as to drink a glass of water. Well, there’s an assumption of some other reality where I decide not to drink a glass of water. But that other reality doesn’t actually exist; it only exists as a concept. There’s only this reality, this reality where I am apparently deciding to drink a glass of water and considering the concept of not deciding to drink a glass of water.

When I’m actually drinking a glass of water (or not), an alternate reality where I’m doing anything else only exists as a concept. So again, it’s seen that there is no real choice in action, just as there is no real choice in thought. There is no real choice in anything.

In fact, I keep looking for free-will and choice, but I can’t find it. I cannot find a time or a place where choice could happen, because there is always only reality (what is). I have to conclude that choice doesn’t exist. Whenever choice appears to be happening, it’s only happening as an unexamined concept, with no concrete basis in reality.

I wonder if realizing this might stop me from judging myself about apparent choices in the past or agonizing about apparent choices in the future. Maybe that’s true, but I clearly have no choice about whether self-judging or agonizing arise.

So what is the consequence of all of this? Nothing. How could it change anything? It’s just something I noticed.



Duncan Riach

Top Writer. Self-Revealing. Mental Health. Success. Fulfillment. Flow. MS Engineering/Technology. PhD Psychology. duncanriach.com