The problem of free will is the problem of whether rational agents exercise control over their own actions and decisions. (Wikipedia)
Intuitively, it seems simple. I wake up every morning and choose lots of things â€“ what Iâ€™m going to have for breakfast, what Iâ€™m going to wear, whether or not I feel like going to work. My instinct tells me that I have free will. But some say itâ€™s just an illusion.
Determinists believe that humans are predictable, programmed with genetic data, past experience, and environmental influences; all of our actions and reactions foreseeable. Behaviorists experimented with dogs to demonstrate predictable responses based on learned association with stimuli. Dogs arenâ€™t people, but we too learn by association. Seeing a TV commercial about a juicy steak might make us salivate. The ringing of the dinner bell did it for the dogs.
Along this same line of reasoning, some would argue that when choosing from the menu of possible reactions to a given situation, we have no more control over our selection than we do over which foods we like to eat. Einstein himself took the view that â€œa human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants.â€
This point of view likens the human brain to a computer â€“ a processor of information, both genetic and environmental, producing an inevitable and predictable reaction in each situation. Taking it to the next level, some believe a computer could be programmed to â€œthinkâ€ like a human brain. The opposing side claims that the human brain is capable of complex tasks that couldnâ€™t be replicated by computer programming. The chief difference being that computers are syntactic machines and human brain function is semantic. A computer has no spontaneous thoughts â€“ it thinks only what it has been told to think. It canâ€™t decide that it doesnâ€™t feel like processing information right now. It canâ€™t make any decision â€“ itâ€™s a completely reactionary machine. Itâ€™s barely even capable of making a mistake, which makes it in some ways superior to the human brain, yet itâ€™s only as intelligent as its programmer. The computer is a tool that the programmer utilizes to get the result that he wants. And itâ€™s the wanting that separates the human brain from a computer. Or is it. Do we â€œwill what we wantâ€ any more than a computer does?
Then there are those who find common ground between free will and determinism, which may seem as diverse as science and religion. But compatibilists get there by slightly redefining free will; they acknowledge that genetics and the environment play a role in our decisions, but state that weâ€™re not forced or predetermined to make any particular decision. Philosopher Daniel Dennett says, â€œAll the varieties of free will worth having, we have. We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes. We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.â€
I don’t know where I stand with respect to the concept of free will. Introspection tells me I have it, but introspection is worthless in scientific discovery. Introspective “discoveries” are as numerous as opinions and opinions are like assho….well, you know where I’m going with that. Einstein found the concept of no free will comforting. He said, â€œThis knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals.â€ Unlike him, I find the idea more threatening than comforting. It raises disturbing questions about moral responsibility, self-image, and individuation. But maybe it’s not that introspection tells me I have free will as much as my current view of the world and myself requires it. Or….maybe I was just predetermined to be indecisive.
Free Will Wiki
Now You Have It, Now You Don’t