Do we have ‘Free Will’?

I have spent considerable time recently in trying to understand ‘Free will’ – whether we humans actually have a choice or our actions determined by external factors. The idea of believing you don’t have a choice is called ‘Determinism’.

Now let us take an example. I  go to a restaurant and I’m given a choice to choose between an Ice cream and Pasta. I make a choice to choose Pasta and happily eat it. Now the question here is ‘Did I choose the Pasta purely because of my choice or was it influenced by some other biological or physiological occurrences till that point’?. I could have had an ice cream the day before which could have consciously or subconsciously made me choose a Pasta the next day. In this case, though I made a choice, my choice was influenced by events and the fact that this behavior of mine would probably have a statistical consistency in any similar situation and thus makes my choice actually not a really conscious one.

Another complicated example about a story of a family. In this family, the Dad has an emotionally abusive personality with occasional violent physical tendencies. The mother has an outspoken personality but yet against her husband ( The Dad ) she turns out to be meek. She cries out to her kid of her difficulties and her kid having witnessed all this, grows out to be quite introverted with poor social skills but with a strong sense of hatred to any form of physical violence.Here, one can justify the act of dad by considering the fact that probably the dad himself grew in a society where it was ok to be emotionally abusive or his parents themselves were in a similar relationship. The values he gained or took in his childhood made him the person he turned out to be and it isn’t really his fault. Similarly, the child turning out to be introverted is again as a result of things beyond his control and his idea of being introverted is merely a subconscious coping mechanism to what he witnessed. So, everything looks like a form of causal effect and we have no control over how we turn out to be.

I, however, strongly believe in the concept of free will.It is true that world works on the principle of causation. That any event that happens is a direct result of some other event/events that preceded it. This includes human behavior, natural phenomenon or literally anything that can be felt by our senses. To a common man ‘Free will’ directly violates this very fundamental principle. But it doesn’t. In fact, free will is itself a cause. The causal process by which someone decides whether to pursue his/her ambition is vastly different from the processes that cause a ball to fall, or a river to flow or a stock price to rise or fall. Different subjects have different causes.And, most of the modern day scientists seem not to get this part- That they somehow feel the need to explain everything through physics or science. For example, physics may be the most elementary of all subjects, but we cannot use laws of physics to explain complexities of economics or human behavior.  Each subject has a different cause. Our actions cannot violate the laws of physics but they definitely are influenced by things beyond theories of gravity, electromagnetic etc. Similarly, ‘Free will’ cannot violate laws of science, but it invokes causes that go beyond them.Free will is our ability to choose, act and take responsibility for our actions as well as our emotions. It is what enables humans to control their actions in ways required to form complex social structures.If we imagine ‘ Free Will’ as just doing what we want, then I guess we are wrong . Free will is choosing to make our choices based on our moral values and not instincts.That’s what separates us from animals. Animals can do anything but they can’t make a rational choice or have self-control needed to build complex social societies.The freer actions would include conscious thought and deciding, self-control, logical reasoning, and the pursuit of enlightened self-interest.

Self-control and patience are forms of freedom because it begins with not acting on every trigger for an event or impulsive actions.Self-control involves a lot of conscious effort to make rational choices.

Our use of ideas such as moral values and principles go beyond simple forms of causality. Again, we are not breaking any laws of physics and at the same time, there is no need to explain these through these laws. Free will includes our fundamental experiences of feeling regret, accepting our flaws, feeling compassion and love, honesty and integrity etc. And to believe that nothing is real and everything is beyond our control doesn’t make much sense.

To conclude, I would like to believe that I have a choice no matter what, I’m responsible for my actions, I’m responsible for the consequences of my actions, I’m responsible for my emotions and no one else is responsible for how I feel and behave. Maybe they can have an influence, but how I choose to react to that influence is in my control.Of course, I’m not claiming that I follow this religiously, I do act otherwise and with a lot of impulses. But I try to learn and evolve with my experiences and that is the very essence of ‘Free will’.

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