the question of free will pt1.

Free will, defined as "he power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate" or as "the ability to act at one's own discretion", or in simpler terms the freedom to make our own choices, is a term that many humans take seriously. After all, a lot of us base our existence on the concept of free will, that we are different and unique from the "lower" species of animals or that we are God's creations because we have the ability to choose and decide our path in life. But how exactly "free" is our will really?


free will: having the option to do whatever you want


I've had the chance to take a lot of interesting Psychology classes this semester, some of them bordering on philosophy, and the History and Systems of Psychology taught by Prof John Elliot is one of them. While I don't agree with some of his views (I suspect that he believes that everything in our body can be broken down to physiological processes), I do like the way he teaches the class, especially how he actually makes us think, which is a rare thing in today's university setting where the lecturer just drones on and on without actually passing any new knowledge to the student.

Anyways, the subject of free will is pivotal in addressing a lot of issues that we may have in life. Because after all, we humans pride ourselves in our freedom to make choices in life. That is the one fundamental thing that sets us apart from other creatures on earth. We are in essence, unique, because we are able to choose what we want in life, to be who we want in life and to choose how we want to life our life. Our destiny are not set in stone, so to say, and all our actions, thoughts and behaviors are the product of our soul and mind, not just the product of some random neurons firing. Or is it?

My professor raised a very interesting question while in class last week. What if the experience of free will, of us being able to choose or make decisions in life, is in fact an illusion created by our physiological processes, a product of of neurons firing? That in fact, we don't really have free will and all of the choices we make in life are indeed bounded and set in stone, meaning that if we travel back in time with our memories erased, there's a great likelihood of us making the same decisions that we made the first time. In essence, we don't really choose, but rather it's our brain, hormones and neurons that does the choosing for us.

It's a scary prospect but somehow I find that notion to have quite a bit of truth behind it. Me may be told everyday by the society, media and parents that we can be whoever we want, do whatever we want and chase whatever dreams we have but what we do not realize is more often than not, our dreams and ambitions are limited to the inner workings our body, our genes, for example. After all, it is our genes that determine our interests, our likes and dislikes and that in turn would affect what we want in the world. A person who has extroverted genes for example, would tend to choose jobs that require more of going out and avoiding jobs that are routine by nature. To put it simply, our wants and desires may be nothing more than our genes expressing themselves.

To be continued...


Comments

  1. "It is our genes that determine our interests, our likes and dislikes and that in turn would affect what we want in the world."
    Hmmm... the last time I read on this topic, I remember reading about the plasticity of our human brain. Also assuming that our genes indeed has some kind of effect on our interest, I think it was mentioned that it is more like a propensity of sort rather than it being deterministic. Meaning if we indeed travel back in time, there is a high chance that we might have the same interest. But that doesn't mean that it is impossible (0% probability) to have a different interest altogether.

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  2. Hmm interesting, kinda reminds me of the Assassin's Creed. I mean the part about genetic memory though i reckon it's different from what you are saying here. Anyway, i am looking forward to the next part of this topic. have a good day.

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  3. Philosophically, freedom is an illusion. The birds of the sky soar and we say they are free, but even the birds can only fly as high as their wings and bring them. The fishes of the sea can swim the vast ocean depths but they too, are bound in the water because of their gills. The train is constrained to the tracks, do we then say that it has no freedom? No, the train can only move in its' track and only then it will be 'free'.

    Your professor is right about choices and decisions being an illusion. The fish can choose to jump off the water onto the land, its a valid choice but a deadly one. When you drive a car you are also given a choice to drive anyway you like but you are still constrained to the road. Once again the illusion of choice is present.

    True freedom is not 'power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate' or the ability to do anything we want. Whether we like it or not, there will always be constraints. True freedom is the ability to be able to choose 'the right restrictions' and being able to live with it.

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