Free will – the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s discretion. To put it simply; choice.
Enters ‘Do we have free will?’ into Google. Spends hours trawling and trudging through forums, YouTube videos, PowerPoints, extracts from books and quotes from philosophers. I even take to Twitter and ask my followers for their opinions. In response I receive four people who believe we do have free will, four who believe we do not have free will, one person has no clue, another tries to sell me a washing machine, one sends a death threat to me rather than answering my question and another by the name of Dave Mills tells me “I hope so, or God got one sick sense of humour”. So as always there is no definitive answer from Twitter, just death threats and washing machines (no changes there then).
But one line that stands out to me above all is one which I stumble upon in a forum. It is from someone called Tiana Jade, published on May the 12th, 2011:
“What I believe humans have that animals don’t is: choice”
You see I have decided to adopt the view that no we do not have free will. But before I explain why and try to convince you why my opinion is correct, I will first offer you a way out, an escape route, I shall discuss why we maybe do have free will.
For humanistic psychologists such as Maslow (1943) and Rogers (1951) disagree with me and instead side with Tiana Jade. They tell us that freedom is not only possible but also necessary if we are to become fully functional human beings. Both see self-actualisation as a unique human need and form of motivation setting us apart from other species.
Stephen Wolfram associates free will with predictability, now while Wolfram doesn’t specifically state that we have free will, he does raise the point that surely if we did not, we would be able to predict every decision made by a human depending on their social influences and biology. But we cannot, can we? Therefore surely we do have free will, as humans are largely unpredictable.
When you looked at the title ‘Do we have free will?’ many of you probably associate this idea with religion and the idea that those who believe in determinism believe that God has a path for us all and that we cannot do anything to stray from these plans. But scientists have proven that religion isn’t real haven’t they? 3000 years of evolution have shown us that right? Well firstly let me tell you that I think I’d rather chew my own fingers off than try to argue whether or not God is real on the internet, and quite frankly I think everyone should be allowed the freedom and respect to have their own beliefs recognised and accepted regardless of your own. But for the sake of this blog post, let us take the view, just for now, that God is not real.
I do not believe we have free will. I believe that it is our social influences and biology that shapes our decisions. But surely we can choose what we let influence us, therefore we have free will? No, I do not think we choose what will or will not influence us; rather that choice to allow what influences us comes from other experiences and biology. I know, it all makes me feel very nauseous just thinking about it, I’m not sure if it is healthy either to be honest.
I believe we are slaves to our biology and our social influences. Therefore I believe that anyone with the same biology and social influences that Adolf Hitler had, would react in the same way as he did. Controversial.
If we don’t have free will then how can anyone be held accountable for the acts they commit? A criminal surely does not choose to commit a crime but he does it because of the influences and biology that he has come to experience before he commits the crime. Therefore can individuals really be punished for their crimes as surely it was not their choice to commit a crime? Yes I think it is plausible that no one can really be held accountable for their actions, but I still believe in the criminal justice system as I feel that can act as an influence that can limit the chances of someone committing a crime through punishment (e.g. operant conditioning).
If you are unsure to whether humans have free will, I would advise you to take the standpoint that yes we do, I’d advise you to close this blog post down right now and to never think about the issue again.
It is quite depressing to have the viewpoint that we do not have free will and I wish I felt that we did have free will. For example if someone does something harsh to me, such as to send me a death threat online, my first conclusion is usually that it is not their fault and that I would have done the same if I’d been through exactly the same life experiences as them and had had the exact same biology as them.
So why? Why don’t I believe that we as human beings have free will?
Let me go back to our good friend Tiana Jade (I don’t know how she has become a good friend when the only thing I have on her is that we disagree, but oh well I guess it’s because I’ve been raised to be such a nice charming man (see what I did there)).
Tiana Jade tells us that “what I believe humans have that animals don’t is: choice”
At the start of this post I told you that I disagree with her. Well actually I do agree with her to an extent. I believe that it is choice that separates humans from other animals. But I believe it is animals who possess choice, not humans.
For some reason (I’m not really aware why) I associate free will with animalistic behaviour. Animals (in my view) act far more on instinct than humans. Animals are far less aware of socials pressures such as peer pressure and animals (particularly wild animals) act to survive above all else.
Let me give you one example. Diets. Many humans are impacted by a socially constructed perception of how they should look, and many partake on modifying their diets in order to achieve an external appearance which is far closer to the one made desirable by the rest of society. However when a dog walks up to its bowl in the morning, it is not thinking about the picture it saw of another dog in a yellow bikini on a billboard on the underground asking if it “is summer ready”, it does not think about last week when its grandmother told them that they need to watch their waistline and it certainly does not think about how good Zac Efron looked in that film that the girl you fancy has been tweeting pictures of all week. The dog eats because it is hungry. It eats to survive. It resists social pressures and instead acts on instinct. And that is why what I believe sets us apart from animals is that they have free will, and we do not. Damn the dog.
I respect that there are a vast amount of flaws with my opinion and that many of you will disagree with me completely. Now I want to hear your opinions and your arguments in either the comments below or tweet me @billyblogged.
To put it simply – did you click on this post because you chose to? Or are you doing so as a result of forces beyond control?