Do We Have Free Will? Examining the Scientific Debate

I recently heard a podcast argument about whether or not we actually have free will, as broken down by the scientific community. The arguments were not what you would expect them to be, and I didn’t like how either side changed the definition of the term ‘free will’ to fit their argument. It felt like they were putting that term in a very small box. So, today we’re going to review the debate, and I’ll give more of my thoughts on it. After all, the question of whether or not humans possess free will has intrigued philosophers, scientists, and thinkers for centuries. The debate unfolds across various disciplines, with opinions ranging from strong determinism to complete belief in individual autonomy. In this article, we delve into the scientific aspects of the free will debate, exploring both sides of the argument and examining why some believe we don’t have free will while others assure us that we do.

The Case Against Free Will: Scientific Skepticism

Hard Determinism and Neural Processes:

At the heart of the skepticism surrounding free will lies the concept of hard determinism. Advocates of this perspective argue that the universe operates under deterministic laws, leaving no room for true freedom of choice. Neuroscience has played a significant role in supporting this viewpoint.

Research into brain activity and decision-making has revealed intriguing patterns that challenge the traditional notion of free will. Benjamin Libet’s experiments, in particular, have raised questions about the timing of conscious intentions and the initiation of neural processes. In these experiments, participants’ brain activity associated with movement began before they reported being consciously aware of their decision. This temporal misalignment has led some to conclude that decisions may be predetermined at the neural level, challenging the idea of conscious, freely chosen actions.

Neurological Disorders and Deterministic Influences:

Another pillar of the scientific argument against free will involves the study of neurological disorders. Conditions affecting impulse control or decision-making processes suggest a strong connection between brain function and behavior. If neurological factors can influence decision-making to the extent that individuals exhibit impaired control over their actions, it raises questions about the true autonomy of human choices.

Additionally, the deterministic nature of neural processes has been highlighted. The intricate interplay of genetics and environmental factors shaping brain function challenges the idea of decisions being truly independent of external influences. If the brain operates according to fixed physical laws, it calls into question the existence of genuine free will.

Philosophical Implications and Conceptual Challenges:

Beyond the scientific findings, the debate extends to philosophical considerations. Some argue that the very concept of free will is logically incompatible with other principles, such as determinism or the nature of causation. Philosophical reasoning adds a layer of complexity to the scientific debate, questioning whether the traditional understanding of free will can withstand logical scrutiny.

My Thoughts on Determinism

I think determinism puts the ideas of free will in a very small box. I don’t think of myself not having free will just because my brain decides how to act based on the environmental conditions and the biology that has made me who I am. I am who I am based on all the factors I’ve experienced throughout my life, and I make my choices based on all of these factors. But my brain functionality leading me to make certain decisions isn’t a lack of free will in my opinion. This made me realize that the idea of ‘free will’ needs to be universally defined to have a valid debate in this area. It’s not, and when asked to define free will in the debate I listened to, the determinism group just re-iterated their opinion without a clear definition of this world.

keeping-up-with-your-meditation-practice-during-travel-main-free-will-consciousness

The Case For Free Will: Defending Autonomy

Libertarianism and Conscious Choice:

On the opposing side of the spectrum, libertarianism asserts that individuals have true free will and can make choices independent of deterministic influences. Despite the scientific challenges posed by studies on neural processes, proponents of such freedom argue that consciousness plays a crucial role in decision-making. And, again, we have yet to define ‘consciousness’ universally, which also adds to this problem.

Libertarianism emphasizes the subjective experience of making choices consciously and intentionally. While acknowledging the complexity of neural processes, advocates of free will argue that conscious awareness allows individuals to genuinely deliberate and choose actions that are not entirely determined by external forces.

Compatibilism: Bridging Determinism and Free Will:

Recognizing the complexities involved, some scholars advocate for compatibilism—a position that seeks to reconcile determinism with the existence of meaningful free will. Compatibilists argue that free will can coexist with a deterministic universe if one considers the nuanced nature of choice and autonomy. This seems like a healthy middle ground that I can agree with.

Compatibilist views often emphasize the importance of understanding free will in a pragmatic sense. Even if decisions are influenced by various factors, the ability to act in accordance with one’s values and desires can be seen as a form of free will. This perspective encourages a more nuanced examination of human agency, acknowledging deterministic influences while preserving the concept of meaningful choice.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m taking the compatibilist approach until universal definitions can be put in place for both the ideas of free will and consciousness.

Conclusion:

The question of whether humans have free will remains a deeply contested and multifaceted issue. The scientific exploration of neural processes, coupled with philosophical reflections, has led to divergent viewpoints. While some argue that deterministic influences and neurological findings challenge its existence, others maintain that conscious awareness and the ability to deliberate support the idea of genuine autonomy.

In the end, the debate on free will invites us to grapple with fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness, choice, and the intricacies of the human mind. Whether one leans towards hard determinism, libertarianism, or compatibilism, the quest to understand the true nature of free will continues to captivate the minds of scholars and thinkers across disciplines.

Malorie Mackey is an actress, published author, and adventurer. Malorie grew up in Richmond, Virginia where she loved sports, the outdoors, animals, and all forms of art. She took to acting at a young age, so it was no surprise when she decided to go to college for theatre. While in college, Malorie studied body movement with the DAH Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia, voice in Herefordshire, England with Frankie Armstrong, and the business of theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Malorie moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles after receiving her BFA in Theatre Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon arriving in LA, Malorie participated in the Miss California USA 2011 Pageant where she won the “Friend’s Choice” Award (by popular vote) and received a beautiful award for it.

While living on the West Coast, Malorie accumulated over 40 acting credits working on a variety of television shows, web series, and indie films, such as the sci-fi movie “Dracano,” the Biography Channel show “My Haunted House,” the tv pilot “Model Citizen” with Angie Everhart, and the award-winning indie film “Amelia 2.0.”

Throughout her experiences, Malorie found a love for travel and adventure, having journeyed to over a dozen countries experiencing unique locations. From the lush jungles of the Sierra Madre mountain range to the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, Malorie began adventuring and writing about her unique travels. These travel excerpts can be found on VIVA GLAM Magazine, in Malorie’s Adventure Blog, in Malorie’s adventure show: “Weird World Adventures” and in the works for her full-length travel book.

In 2022, Malorie was thrilled to become a member of the Explorer’s Club through her work on scientific travel. Her experiences volunteering on archaeological and anthropological expeditions as well as with animal conservation allowed her entry into the exclusive club. Since then, Malorie has focused more on scientific travel.

Malorie’s show “Weird World Adventures” releases on Amazon Prime Video in the Spring of 2024! Stay tuned as Malorie brings the strangest wonders of the world to you!

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