Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Knee Jerk reaction to Free Will.

The Knee Jerk reaction to Free Will.

Throughout neuroscience history, scientists have been consistently wrestling with the concept of free will. What's more, is that this concept is not restricted to Neuroscience, and has previously (and currently) being tackled by philosphers, sociologists, theologists and others. It's a concept that each of us ask ourselves: "Do we have Free Will?".

Naturally, the knee jerk reaction is "of course we do, my actions are my own". But such a statement becomes sullied by experiments which seemingly show this to be false. However, from a philosophical standpoint, the whole question and need for experimentation becomes irrelevant, experimentation merely goes on to show how localized decision making is. But as I have stated before, determinism in regards to our thought-process is self-evident, our thoughts are predicted by our brain's biology and external stimuli, neither of which are within our control, because we have no control of anything. The decision we make is a reaction based on the introduction of a stimulus, which yields a certain result based on the resultant cascade of events within the brain. So if our reactions are so set in stone (or biology) where is there room for free will? There are multiple pathways which a stimulus may result in, but the path it takes is no more free will than a river flowing down a particular route because there is less resistance. We use the word decision to represent the choice of which pathway to follow, but in reality, the decision is the act of passing through a particular pathway, the difference being that there never was any real chance of the alternative occurring. For the alternative pathways to be stimulated, a different stimulus would have to be introduced, or the pathway requirements would need to change, thus nullifying the entire concept.

So why do we insist of clinging to these concepts? Because it feels as if these events are our own, and this is important in the way our brain processes the world around it. Although our minds cannot effect our minds directly, we can effect our minds indirectly by introducing new stimuli: the thoughts themselves. We predict alternative options, which help our minds reorganize to allow a more favorable result to occur from the same stimulus. In other words, we only effect our 'choices' after we have made them, for future use.


  1. Hmm. That's really interesting stuff.

    I do love how you said, "we only effect our "choices" after we have made them"; that's rather reminiscent of Libet's Experiments and the Matrix too, I daresay.

    I maintain Free Will, myself, however, out of necessity for Morality and Purpose. Though, I try to reconcile this with the Physics of it all, as best I can. There is much more to be read and thought of.

    As beautiful and incredible as the mechanics of decision-making are, would you or wouldn't you hazard that your life suddenly just becomes a puppet show, subservient to circumstances and laws outside your control?

    1. As far as morality goes, I don't think free will in the traditional sense is needed. Blame is important, as it allows us to recognize we were the cause of a particular event. But the concept of a lack of Free Will leads me to part of my morality: Forgiveness.

      And I don't really see my live as a subservient puppet show, I aliken it to watching a movie, or play. I find that so much in the world is beautiful, and way beyond our control. I see our lives as just an extension of that.