Do we have free will?

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”

I object.

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?

Do we have free will?
  

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18 thoughts on “Do we have free will?

  1. Great post. Lots of thoughts about this. I’d like to start with the argument you present about animals. If they are following instinct, is that not showing that they have no choice? Does a person CHOSING to go on a diet (for whatever reason) or CHOSING to eat a certain thing not show that they do have choice (and so, free will)? I understand where you are coming from saying that biology and social impact means everything and I definitely agree that they mean a lot but I think there is a certain part that is also just consideration of options. Anyway just a few quick thoughts for now but hope to have a great conversation about this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all thank you for taking your time to have a read, I really appreciate that! And yes I completely understand where you’re coming from and I suppose you can use the example of animals for both sides of the argument. But I guess that’s why I chose to do a post about it because while there is a clear division between the two views, the actual line in terms of what constitutes choice and what does not is actually quite blurred!

      I love hearing views on the topic and I thank you for sharing yours!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It does seem that there is no clear answer to this question and that in some ways it is all about belief and how you can explain your position. I don’t know if you know Sam Harris or have heard his position on this, but he is a great thinker and takes the same sort of position as you on this topic, it might be worth a look! In my mind though as much as biology and genetics, as well as environment play a huge role in the action one takes in their life, to me there is still some form of choice that humans have in their life whether it be what they do, the people they decide to hang around or the thoughts that they have!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Once again you make extremely valid points!

          On your recommendation I have just been watching some Sam Harris talks on YouTube! And I have added his book to the never-ending list of ‘books that I need to read’!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, we have free will. We choose to conform to “societal norms” only because we are afraid of the repercussions of doing the opposite of what everyone else in our environment is doing. We also don’t want to disappoint people in their expectations of/for us. The good news is that once in a while, a few break free of the cages and make the choices they REALLY want and damn the consequences. If there were no free will and we all just allowed external forces to mold us, there would be many more bigots, racists, theives and war-mongers in the world. And we wouldn’t have quirky bloggers like you, trying to make us think. You’d be asking us what we thought about Kanye’s stage attire at Glastonbury. How did it go, by the way?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow thank you so much for your response and taking the time to have a read!

      You make a very strong, clear, measured and valuable argument! And one that certainly has given me a lot to think about! So I thank you for that!

      It’s interesting that you raise Kanye West as while I wasn’t actually as the festival I did still watch it from the comfort of my own home, and I just so happen to be writing a post of Kanye West’s set and everything that evolves around Mr. West for later in the week!

      Thanks again for taking your time to contribute to the topic!

      Like

      • I believe we have free will to an extent. If someone is bigger and stronger than I am and is blocking a doorway, I don’t have the free will to go through the doorway. If a psychological or biological urge is persuading me to do or not to do something, my free will is compromised, but unless voices in my head are vERY compelling, I can ignore whatever urges are impacting me and do what it is i think I should do anyway. I guess I believe that for the most part, unless there is a physical force circumventing free will, or unless a person is extremely affected by mental illness, we have free will although there may be consequences that go along with it.

        Alexis from TheAngelAlexis@twitter

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ah Alexis you make some very valuable and well thought points here and you’ve certainly given me something to think about! Thank you for taking the time out of your day to contribute towards the topic!!

          Like

  3. I may be able to lift your depression. Why would you choose to say “I believe we are slaves to our biology and our social influences” rather than saying “I am my biology and my experience acting on my own behalf as I see fit”?

    If you insist you are a slave, then your determinism is actually fatalism. (Hmmm. All of a sudden I’m getting this urge come up with a “You might be a fatalist if …” routine, you know like that guy who did the “You might be a redneck if …” list.

    The determinism “versus” free will paradox, like all paradoxes, is based upon a fraud. Determinism, which is nothing more than a belief in the reliability of cause and effect, logically implies universal inevitability. Inevitability often implies “beyond our control”. And all of a sudden we fear being the “slaves” of forces beyond our control. But that’s a fraud. Some of the most relevant stuff only becomes inevitable because of us.

    “Us” is those biological organisms with sufficient neurological evolution to imagine, experiment, plan, evaluate, and choose. And this mental process, which actually is taking place within the physiology of the living organism, results in both rational and irrational choices as to what to do next. And what we do next causally determines what happens next (within our sphere of influence).

    So this “slave” crap is just a depressing, negative spin upon what is actually deterministically happening. We are doing stuff. That biological sense of thirst is a part of us. And that mental process by which we figure out the best way to satisfy that thirst is also a part of us. And that will to have a cold soda drives our muscles to get to the fridge and open a soda. All of that stuff is US.

    Our free will is not some abstract concept. Our free will is nothing more complex than us making those choices for ourselves.

    And where did this “freedom from necessity” requirement come from? Is there any other rational use of the word “free” that requires freedom from causation??

    If we set the bird free from his cage, do we say he is not really free because he is still subject to the physical laws of nature? And how would we expect his freedom to mean anything if flapping his wings no longer produced a reliable effect?

    Free will requires a deterministic universe, one based upon reliable cause and effect. Without it the will can never reliably implement its intent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for contributing such a well structured and valuable comment!

      I think you’re probably right and what makes this such a good topic is that I believe both sides of the argument, to whether we have free will, are credible to an extent!

      By using the cognitive model (i.e. rational/irrational choices) I think you have a very strong argument to why we may have free will!

      I think it comes down to a matter of interpretation, I don’t think we can be objective when deciding whether we have free will or not. Some will see this subjective choice as an example of one exercising their free will (e.g. you!), while another will interpret this as are social influences/biology making the choice for us (e.g. me!). – And that is why this is such an interesting topic, there is no definitive answer, no observable law, just interpretations!!!!

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      • I’m pretty sure the correct answer is that ordinary determinism (the belief in the reliability of cause and effect) and ordinary free will (the simple ability to make choices for ourselves) have never really been incompatible.

        The idea that free will must somehow be exempt from cause and effect is where all the trouble started. Someone replaced “ordinary freedom” with “absolute freedom”, and the interminable debate began.

        Reliable cause and effect (determinism) is a characteristic of the real world.

        Us choosing for ourselves what we will do next (free will) is an objectively observed phenomenon that occurs in the real world.

        Both are facts of our existence. Neither fact can dispose of the other.

        Every decision we make of our own free will is also inevitable.

        When we are very certain that we have made the right decision, then the inevitability will be obvious to us. Certain considerations made one choice inevitable and other considerations showed the other options were never really viable. Upon reflection, we realize the decision was the only one we could have made.

        With other decisions, we may still feel some uncertainty about our choice. Perhaps there was information lacking about some of our alternatives. Perhaps it was hard to estimate the outcomes of choosing this option over that one. Perhaps the decision was insignificant so we just flipped a coin. But there will always be some reason why the choice was made, something that tipped the scales, even if by a very little bit (or some physical reason why the coin turned up heads rather than tails).

        The difference between determinism and fatalism is that fatalism attempts to stress the fact of inevitability and to crowd out any sense of free will or self-control.

        Basically, any version of determinism that attempts to deny the mental process of choosing as a significant causal agent is actually fatalism.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m going to jump in here & say “to a degree we have free will” – as a spiritualist, my training has taught me; prior to incarnating on earth, we decide what path our life will take, depending on the lessons we want, or need to learn. We even choose the people, and animals we will walk with.
    When on earth, whilst walking this path, side roads appear, and whether to take a diversion, or not, is our choice, but major events are already set in stone, or pre-determined if you will. We do have a modicum of free when deciding to travel off the original path, as this is part of our ‘school-work’……It’s taking an alternative path, that teaches us about being human, and becoming more spiritually aware, so we can progress ‘up-the-ladder’ once we return to spirit.
    In reference to social and economic choice, that’s what affects; our choosing to take a certain route, but once we’ve learned from it, we eventually make our way back to our primary path……if we don’t learn from a diversion (off path), the lesson will appear again later in life, until we take our chosen lesson to heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great thoughts! I enjoyed reading this very much. It’s my contention that we do have free will, but for whatever reason we make a choice, conscious or otherwise, not to use it on certain appropriate occasions, and simply take the path or least resistance. If that happens to lead us down a wrong path, we simply chalk it up to: “The Devil made me do it!” We need to make a concerted effort to think before we act and use our free will as often as necessary. I fear if we don’t use it, it will simply go the way of the latest fashion less fad and we will lose it!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Damn You, sir! I do assent to every single sentence You have written! Now, I´m utterly furious 😉 But, seriously, I do believe most people in our modern society prefer to dwell in the slight misconception that we are in possession of a completely free will. However, this is not a static and unconditional reality, but rather a truth with a certain modification. The answer to Your eminent question is therefore NO! I assume we pitiable human beings feel better about ourselves when we can embrace the indeterminism; a more agreeable philosophical standpoint than to give in to the conception we are doomed from the very beginning.
    Your sterling subaltern, Andre´, born a rebel, sexy by nature, decent by choice 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make such valuable and interesting points!

      Thank you for taking time out of your day to look at my work and thank you for your kind comments on here and on Twitter (yes, I read everything!)!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a believer, in G-d. MAN WAS GIVEN A WILL, UNLIKE OTHER CREATION, WHICH COMES ALONG WITH CONSIGQUINCE, OF FREE WILL CHOICE. TO measure it is incomparable do to action a pond that CHOICE. DON’T U THINK? (?) THIS EARTHLY LIFE HAS PARAMETERS, FREE WILL, SEEMS TO BE A WILL UNCHECKED… THAT, CAN GET U KILLED IN A LETHAL ENVIRONMENT SUCH AS THIS EARTHLY LIFE PRESENTS.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi.
    You say that animals have free will, but then you say they act on instinct. Instinct is an action that is inbuilt and requires no thought. If a person or animal acts on instinct it is like a reflex so is _not_ free will.

    How do you explain people whose views and actions are changed by argument? Or people who end up with totally different views from those they were brought up with?

    I am not religious, but science has not disproved the existence of God. Science tells how things happen and the rules that govern them. The universe started with an explosion of what is known as a ‘singularity’. Science has not yet explained where that singularity came from, nor why it exploded. (There was nothing else to make it do so).

    The only thing that people say about the existence of God is that there is no evidence, but remember that absence of proof is not proof of absence.

    I find the idea that we don’t have free will very depressing. We may just as well not bother to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong then.

    Bye, Viv

    Liked by 1 person

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