Is there such a thing as free will?
Do we have free will? I personally don’t think so.
Our genes, past history, our physical brains and the events and life that we have experienced and the current state of the universe equals the sum result of decision we will make now. We dont choose our genes. We don’t choose our upbringing or the circumstances that we were born in. Some people are born into good families, and many are not.
The world is like a ball of yarn that’s unraveling. Each state of the universe is determined by the one before it.
Why does this matter?
Because if we have no free will, it makes no sense for God to punish us. It makes no sense to treat criminals as evil but rather as sick people that need to be fixed, or at least kept away.
I will discuss free will from a scientific, biological and physical perspective, which avoids “qadaa vs qadr” issue
Premise: Free will is a mental model, an illusion that we have, but it doesn’t exist.
Choice is product of the brain
– product of cellular activity which is made of molecules and then atoms, which is controlled by physics
– we find that our choices can be traced back to biological chemical and atomic interactions
Reality is constructed by our brain. For example prodding a brain with an electrical signal and certain smells feelings or thoughts come back. You might smell coffee when a certain part is stimulated. When you go into a coma, you could sleep for years and not notice it.
Our brain is ultimately determined by the laws of physics because the universe made entirely of particles.
We are like a robot that can think and make decisions based on genes, past experiences, input from the environment.
Experiments on the brain
- Experiments have shown we can predict peoples choices based on brain activity a few seconds in advance.
- Benjamin Libet 1983 experiment that showed that brain activity occurred even before the person raised his hand. (Life Noggin – Youtube)
Whatever you think, you cant actually choose it.
It originates by unconscious neurological processes inside the brain that you cannot control.
Notice the ground beneath your feet for example.
The influence of genes
- genes that predispose you to addiction (like alcoholism) Some people with these genes are more likely to be addicted, and experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. (GABA gene)
- to violence, to moodiness.. to patience..
- “A genetic analysis of almost 900 offenders in Finland has revealed two genes associated with violent crime.” (BBC)
- In 2009, a court in Italy reduced the sentence of a criminal with genes linked to bad behaviour. In a similar case in the US a murderer’s genetic profile was highlighted as a contributing factor for his crime.
- dogs bred to obedient (Golden Retrievers), bred to be protective (German Sheppards).
understanding environmental factors helps us to understand why people do things:
- Terrible experiences: The psychopath, the killer who had a brain tumor, the child that was raped repeatedly and grew up without empathy.
Some examples of the environment affecting people:
- Adding lead to gasoline and removal of poisonous lead from gasoline in the 1970s lead to a decrease in crime in the 1990s! (BBC) (image)
- Freakonomics authors/researchers studied a connection between legalizing abortion and drop in crime. They found that because a lot of people had unwanted children, and many of these kids were not cared for properly and ended up criminals were instead not born, and this decreased crime rates, (Freakonomics)
If we are machines that are operating according to a set of inputs and experiences and previous state, what moral implications does this have?
- more empathy for criminals who grew up with rough lives
- more humbleness for those of us successful in life based on the good conditions, health, and situation we were in
- increased desire for reforming people instead of punishing them
- still will need to protect others by keeping them away or locked up or changing laws to protect life
Example of my dad
- rough childhood, drinking and smoking at a young age, parents had to leave country at a young age leaving him with his uncle and aunt, not his fault
Better criminal justice system, trying to prevent criminal behaviour driven by systematic causes (wealth inequality, educational inequity) instead of blaming and punishing them
Why learn? Why bother?
Because this is like a software update for your brain. Exposure to good ideas can change people’s minds and lead to a better society and world for all of us.
- Free will is an illusion that we feel we have
- Free will is incompatible with the laws of physics
- Incompatible with our understanding of biology
- Environmental factors, genes
- Moral implications
credit Daniel Do (TedX), and Sam Harris (Free Will), The dark side of free will | Gregg Caruso (TedX)