The question of whether or not free will exists is something that I find fascinating. It is commonly believed that humans do have free will, but is such belief justified? As humans, we are hardwired to have the perception that we have free will. Asking whether or not free will exists is really all about our perceptions and experiences and asking whether or not they are accurate representations of reality. Therefore, we cannot use our perceptions or experiences as evidence for or against free will. To do so would be circular reasoning. In order to formulate reasons as to whether or not there is free will, one must use evidence and reason to justify their claims.
In order to discuss whether or not there is free will, we must first define what we mean and keep consistency. Unless otherwise stated, I'll be talking about libertarian free will, also known as contra-causal free will. Libertarian free will is the ability to make choices independent of any causal agents, which include the fundamental laws of physics. Another way of looking at it is that for any decision that you made in your life or any thought you had, if the initial conditions prior to that decision or though were exactly recreated, you could have chosen a different decision or made a different thought out of your own willing to do so. In other words, the apparent decisions that you make are actually you choosing them out of your own volition, and your volition can super-cede the laws of physics.
What is necessary for free will? At the very least, it would require that something goes above the laws of physics in order to cause our bodies to act, which I'll call a free will operator (FWO). Since all of our decision making seemingly starts at the brain, if there is a FWO, it would have to be a part of the brain or something external acting on the brain. Brains are essentially large systems of atoms, which mean that what's going on there is all chemical and must obey the laws of physics. No violation of physics has ever been detected from within the brain and there's no part of the brain that acts independent of the rest of the brain, so if there is an FWO in our decisions, then it must be something acting on the brain.
What then is the FWO? A free decision would require that one must be able to deliberate before making the decision. This requires that the decider must be conscious. In order to act on the decision, then something must be using the brain to get it to tell the rest of the body what to do. Thus, a free decision requires a conscious operator on the brain that is independent of the brain. Therefore, if there is free will, then consciousness exists independent of the brain and body. It must also be noted that if consciousness exists independent of the body, then free will is not guaranteed. I'll come back to this point later.
Does consciousness exist independent of the body? While consciousness is not fully understood, there is sufficient data to say that consciousness comes from the brain. Currently, scientists are looking for the neural correlates for consciousness to understand what is going on. There's debate on how the brain does it, but it's accepted as fact that the brain is what is producing consciousness. It can be shown that physical substances interacting with the brain can cause consciousness to behave differently. For example, a person's LSD trip is caused by an incredible amount of brain activity caused by chemical reactions with the LSD. That is just one example of many of consciousness being altered by the brain interacting with physical substances.
Brain damage is another example of how consciousness can be changed by altering the brain. It can be shown how a person changes in how he or she thinks and behaves after injury to the brain. Phineas Gage is a man who had a railroad spike shot through his head and lived to tell about it. His left frontal lobe was destroyed. This dramatically altered how he thought and radical behavior changes followed. Other examples of changes in consciousness from damage or injury to the brain can be found in dementia patients. Dementiais when the brain stops functioning properly because of disease or injury. There are many changes in consciousness associated with dementia, such as loss of cognitive skills and changes to one's personality. Brain disorders such as dementia are evidence of the physical basis of consciousness.
In the fourth paragraph, I reasoned that if free will exists, then consciousness must exist independently of the body. Because consciousness can be altered by physical changes to the brain and because there is evidence from neuroscience to show that consciousness comes from the brain, it is safe to say that the idea of consciousness existing independent of the body is false. Therefore, it can be concluded that the notion of libertarian free will is also false. This is a symbolic representation of the argument:
1. If FW, then C.
2. Not C.
3. Therefore, from 1 and 2, not FW.
Suppose that it is the case that consciousness is independent of the body. It can still be argued that free will does not exist. Sam Harrismakes an argument along the following lines of reason. Basically, if you have a thought and you weren't aware that you were going to have it prior to it happening, then you didn't have any control over that thought. Furthermore, if you cannot determine why you had that thought, then it wasn't out of your own volition. In the cases of people not agreeing with their thoughts and wanted to have thought differently, this is clear. However, the fact that one agrees with their thoughts doesn't mean that they knew that thought was coming and why they had that thought. In fact, unless you plan our your thoughts before you think them, you don't know what they will be until you think them. Furthermore, there's no guarantee that such a plan will actually work, and even if it did, the plans are thoughts themselves, and in order to have planned your most recent thought, you'd have had to have an infinite regression of thought planning, and that is something that doesn't happen. Therefore, thoughts are not of your own volition and out of your control. Since you don't have control over your thoughts, you don't have free will.
What appear to be your conscious choices are not actually conscious choices. There was an experiment a few years ago led by John Dylan-Haynes, similar in concept to the Libet experiment, in which brain activity before a decision was made was the target of investigation. What was found was that the brain had locked into a decision up to seven seconds before the owner of said brain was aware of the decision being made. This is evidence that your consciousness is not what's making your choices. Another neuroscientist, Patrick Haggardmade a device that can literally control the movements of another person, independent of whether they want to move a certain way or not. The motion of the person being controlled is completely out of their control. If the person being controlled had free will, then Haggard's machine wouldn't work.
It can also be shown how tumors affect the actions of a person. Take Charles Whitman, for example. Growing up, Whitman was an intelligent individual. Everything seemed normal about him until after he joined the Marines, and it was even more apparent that something was wrong when he began studying at the University of Texas. When he was in the Marines and at the university, he would have occasional bouts of violence. His temper eventually got worse and he started killing people. After his death, his brain was examined and it was found that he had a glioblastoma multiforme tumor. Similar occurrences have been found in criminals like Whitman, as outlined in David Eagleman's article, The Brain on Trial, which I recommend that everyone reads. In summary, your thoughts and actions are the result of what's going on in your brain and there's nothing you can do to overwrite that.
You don't have free will and your perception of having free will is an illusion. You might wonder, if there is no free will, then why did I just write this essay about it? The answer is simple. I find the subject interesting, but the real reason is one that's more fundamental as to why I wrote what I wrote. I couldn't have done otherwise.
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