Testing for the Freedom Quotient

What if you could numerically measure the amount of free will you have?

By Melody Xu

Illustration by Charlotte Southall

The concept of F.Q., or freedom quotient, originated from a 2015 article by popular philosopher Stephen Cave in his article “The Free-Will Scale.” Like any other quotient test (ex. intelligence quotient or emotional quotient), the freedom quotient would ideally work as some sort of standardized test that people could take. In this case, the construct that is being measured is simply the amount of free will that someone possesses.

There are, of course, many definitions of free will. Speaking of free will at a dinner table with a handful of philosophers is most certainly going to be a different kind of free will discussion than you would have in a court case with a prosecutor. To make things simple, we’re going to stick with one definition that is outlined in Cave’s article. He suggests three major components that should be used: the ability to generate various options, the ability to rationally choose between them, and the ability to follow through with that decision. These three qualities most certainly do not have clear-cut, black and white lines drawn between them but certainly do an effective job of giving an outline of what the general consensus of free will is when used in the context of popular culture.

This concept of being able to take a test and find out, on a numerical scale, just how much free will you have is, of course, an idea that still needs years of improvement and refinement—but it’s an intriguing idea nevertheless. A working F.Q. test would not only be a powerful tool in the hands of scientists, but would also make a lasting impact on any other field that involves people. In the court system, it could be used to determine how and whether an individual should be punished. Someone who is younger, or someone who was under the influence of drugs, would certainly be limited and therefore have a lower F.Q. score than someone who knowingly and purposely committed a crime. In governmental studies, the connection between free will and governmental systems could be studied. Do people who live in countries with less regulation of social media score higher on the F.Q. scale?

Right now, we do not have a psychological test that can plausibly measure the construct of free will that covers all three components that Cave describes. That does not mean that the psychological tests that we have now are entirely unhelpful in making steps in the right direction though. I believe that one of the functions that is measurable, which encompasses some of qualities of free will, is the ability to make decisions in a goal-oriented fashion. One of the tests that supposedly measures this capacity to behave in such a manner is the Tower of London test of planning and problem-solving. The Tower of London test essentially asks the individual to rearrange a series of balls on three poles from the starting configuration to a specific final configuration with a limited number of moves. Some rules include that each pole can only hold a specific number of balls on it and only one ball may be moved at a time. The Tower of London test also has been shown to have test-retest reliability, which means that the scores remain generally consistent even when an individual takes it again after a period of time. This is a great example, in my opinion, of a test that would be the starting point for creating an efficient and consistent F.Q. test.

The possibilities of a working freedom quotient test are limitless. If developed and implemented, it would add another interdisciplinary layer to the sea of discussion on the concept of free will.


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