When it comes to topics which are overlapped by science and philosophy, free will is something I find largely interesting as it questions the very meaning of our lives when we look deeply into the fundamentals of free will. Throughout this discussion, I will talk about how I believe that we lack free will – or a better way to say it, that free will is merely an illusion we all face, hence why I like to call it the ‘the ultimate magic trick’. Free will is a topic sandwiched with biology, psychology and philosophy, which I will try and coherently piece together.

First, we must define what free will is; “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” One of the reasons for why we lack free will is the fact that it must be done under ‘one’s own discretion‘, meaning that the choice must be carried out without any factors affecting the decision. Here we can already see the flaw in free will, why? what choice is made without any external factors? Factors such as experience/history, preference and biological factors too (which I will get to later on) affect our decision hence it is not technically free will. The reason why someone may decide to have a kit-kat over a snicker may be to due to the desire of its taste or there may have been a bad experience with having a snicker one time in the past, these factors affect the individuals choice and is thus not their own discretion hence there is no free will.

There are many case studies that support this notion, especially when it comes biology. There was a 40-year-old man who was prosecuted for molesting his 8-year-old daughter and when he was in court he complained about extreme headaches. A  brain scan revealed that the man had a brain tumour in his frontal lobe – the part of the brain which controls sexual desires, once this tumour was removed, his paedophilic urges seemed to have vanished until later in time they returned, as well as the brain tumour. Thus there must be a clear correlation between one’s biological states and their actions, our biology affects out choice. The case study of Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, two career criminals shows that their malicious behaviour of raping and killing a man’s wife and daughters was most likely a result of psychological harm at a young age as one of them had reported to being raped several times as a child, they even showed very little remorse or care for their actions but reported that they did not intend to kill anyone as they were burglars, not murderers. Thus one’s own mental/psychological state may affect affects their decision.

Whether criminals like Hayes and Komisarjevsky can be trusted to honestly report their feelings and intentions is not the point: Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. Nor can we account for why we are not like them. As sickening as I find their behaviour, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him. If anyone had their genes and experiences, we would have made the same decision as them and not otherwise.

Some of you may completely reject the idea of free will being something we do not have and may accept the idea of libertarian free will: The belief that human actions are freely chosen, basically being metaphysically free. However, some who believe this may also believe that all events are caused by past events such that nothing other than what does occur would occur, for example, a baseball flying through the air was the cause of it being hit by baseball player using a bat – This cause and effect idea is called Hard Determinism, and it seems quite irrational and is a paradox to believe and accept these two ideas. This is because libertarian free will is tied to the principle of alternative possibilities which suggests that an action is free if the individual could have done otherwise, so if you have options then your action is truly free but determinism dictates that there can be no options as every event is caused by another event, leaving no other possibility to another one- hence there is no freedom from it.

People who believe in having free will would say that they are the agents which start the chain of causality, the decision was all theirs and is free – but then they would have to explain where these free decisions came from? This is the dead end free will believers face because whatever explanation they provide it would mean there would be a cause for that decision hence it was determined – very similar to the domino effect, when one domino is pushed leading to another toppling over (which was inevitable, determined) and so on and so forth.

The fact that we feel like we are free to make our own decisions isn’t something which we shouldn’t completely disregard as it may pay some truth, however, I would believe this to be the result of the complexity of our brain function in terms of cognitive thinking, but there is no real evidence or reasoning to support this so I am forced to disregard the feeling of being free in explaining why we have free will. Furthermore, what is so daunting about not having free will, is the fact that personal responsibilities are things we do not have any more, we cannot take full responsibility for our actions if they are bound to happen anyway due to our genetics and/or experience. So does that mean that criminals should not be punished for their actions as they had not control over it? Not at all, I would consider criminals to be poorly calibrated clockworks that need rehabilitation and help, similar to the case study of the 40-year-old father who had his brain tumour removed leading to him being ‘cured’. But this idea that everything is determined may lead to a fatalistic or nihilist way of thinking, which I wouldn’t recommend at all – maybe this is why we need the illusion of us having free will to prevent us from having a very gloom-ridden perception of ourselves and the world around us. Only development in neuroscience and philosophy will tell us more about the existence of our free will or more about our sub-conscious mind.


One thought on “Free will, the ultimate magic trick.

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