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I’ve read a good amount about the free will vs. determinism argument, and I’ll lay it out here quickly and simply. It’s a really classic argument and I have a strong opinion on it, so here’s my take.

First, the definitions:

The question of free will is the philosophical question whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions, decisions, or choices

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will

Free Will: The power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies

http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=free%20will

Determinism: A philosophical theory holding that all events are inevitable consequences of antecedent sufficient causes; often understood as denying the possibility of free will

http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=determinism

Naturally, everyone seems to be born believing in free will. Our minds almost certainly give us the impression that we are choosing our actions. Everyone feels like they can waver between turning left or right in life. The question is though, is that true?

Well, let’s start by checking out things that we believe are determined:

Inanimate objects

The easiest to assume is determined. Rocks, for example, most everyone believe lack free will. They don’t seem to choose to fall nor choose to be thrown. They are completely determined by their environment and physical properties.

Animate, non-living objects

A car for example. It moves, on its own, so does it have free will? Most people would say no, the person at the wheel controls its actions. Their actions determine its actions. I don’t know of any instances of an animate, non-living object that performed an action that would indicate free will without explanation. Though it’s possible I haven’t looked hard enough.

Living things

Do they have free will? Many people would say yes, especially to human beings.

Starting with simpler life forms, like plants, bacteria, microbes, etc. Do they have free will? Well, I’m not going to pull out scientific documents, but it does seem that those creatures just feed, reproduce and get on with life. They really don’t seem to make any surprising choices. It shouldn’t be a huge stretch of the imagination to believe they are compelled to make exact decisions, and are thus “determined”.

How about bigger animals though, like dogs for example? They may actually have free will, or so it seems. However, could it not just be the case that they have a more complicated set of responses to environmental factors? I have a dog, and I can say that I’ve never really been surprised by his actions. He eats a steak if I give him one, he yelps when someone steps on his tail, etc. He really doesn’t seem to make an active choice. He just is compelled to do what is best from his standpoint. Why should I assume he has some special “free will” if I don’t give that to a car which also always has predictable behavior. Certainly there are instances where a dog or other animal will surprise you with it’s actions, but so will a car. The actions of a car may be baffling to a new driver, but to a skilled mechanic, not too much takes more than a few minutes to figure out. It may take biologists a bit longer, but they do seem to find the reasoning behind all the actions of living creatures.

Humans Beings

So, we come to humans. Now we, WE must have free will. We must, I mean, I can type any word in the world next to here: Bubblegum. See, hah, I made that choice! However, where did that choice come from? I’m going to make the argument that we are only more complicated in our cognitive processes (like a computer program), but we don’t have some special ability called “free will”.

Firstly, how do we come to a decision if we do have free will?

Well, there’s logic: “I want to go through a door, so I open the door”. It’s the logical course of action. Well, isn’t it determined you’d pick the logical route then?

How about by emotion: “I’m feeling happy, I should eat ice cream”. Well, then you are determined by your emotion.

I could go through a great many other things: classical/operant conditioning,  genetic predisposition, etc. but regardless, there would always be a factor that influences your decision. Maybe there are 100+ factors, regardless, those factors are already determined, and your final conclusion, therefore, is also determined. What if there are no factors? Then your decision is arbitrary, random. I don’t think anyone wants a free will that consists solely of randomness. I mean, it’s not really choice if it’s just chance.

So where are we left? I can come to no other conclusion than that we are such complicated machines, a supercomputer if you will, that because we can’t figure out precisely our decision processes in all cases, we falsely assume we must be making “free choices”. However, just as we can’t assume “magic” for every unexplained mystery in life, we can’t assume unexplained decisions are made by the mysterious “free will”. I can find no good definition for how one could have a free choice in the first place. If I choose the blue shirt over the red one, it’s because of a reason (determined by that reason) or because it’s arbitrary (completely random and uncontrolled). Therefore, I’m left with the inevitable conclusion that I was determined to write this article in the first place.

Oh well, nothing I can do about it.

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