Friday, 21 March 2014

What is Free Will?

What is free will? Before reading any further, let me get one thing straight- this piece is by no means religious, nor does it have any religious teachings as a pre-cursor. This is solely me pondering over this one question on the basis of fact, logic, and science. I do not mean any offence to anyone and I do not mean to disrespect anyone’s religious beliefs by means of this piece.

That being said 
let us explore the depths of what we would call free will. Have you really thought about how much ‘free will’ you actually possess?

There are certain things, however, which are imperative to acknowledge and understand before even asking ourselves the question.
First, the human gene pool, however it may evolve (or devolve), is the human gene pool; nothing less, nothing more. There can be no evolution/devolution/mutation beyond the ambit of what genes are already within this closed-system we call mankind.
Second, when we are born, our DNA defines who we are for the most part: appearance-wise, personality-wise and preferentially.
Third, the experiences we undergo in our developmental stages, together with our surroundings, institution, home, family, friends and countless other factors define who we are going to become.

There is quite a bit of interplay between the 2nd

and 3rd things. To put it simply (or actually really complicating it further, so if you are brave, continue reading), our DNA coupled with our experiences and all external and internal influences essentially mould who we grow up to be. What we prefer eating, drinking, which colour we like, what genre of songs we enjoy, what our past-times are, etc. (You kept reading. You brave thing, you. I like you). Essentially it defines who we are, so to speak.

Now, our choices and preferences are such that we tend to ‘choose’ something which is to our liking and discard something which is not.
Think about this: how many of these ‘preferences’ are really your choice? You are predisposed towards thing ‘X’. Why? It is based on your DNA, experiences and essentially all intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Where do you fit in? What part of it was really your choice?
You did not choose which parents you will be born to. You did not choose your 48 chromosomes. You did not choose how those 48 chromosomes would- with interplay- result in making you... you. (Interplay. Love that word. Interplay. Hehe). You didn’t choose what group of people would be your peers, you did not choose which of your peers would be inclined to be your friend; you did not choose which ones (out of whom were already inclined towards you) you would become friends with. You’re probably thinking that the last thing I said is utter hogwash- of course you chose your friends. Sadly, no you did not. Your personality (repeating: dictated by your DNA+ all other factors) and preferences make you feel more inclined towards certain people than others. Your compatibility, interplay of intellects (haha, gets me every time), and preferences attract you to that person, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. There is also nothing you can do about what you like to see in a person to consider being friends with them. All these ‘preferences’ that you possess are a result of all the factors discussed earlier.

This is pretty bizarre, isn't it? Well I won’t lie: it is. But think about it. What control did you actually have in the factors that surrounded you when you were born and grew up? You are simply moulded by whatever was handed to you. Later on, when you actually can (or think you can) choose your extrinsic factors, those ‘choices’ are dictated by the preferences you developed during your childhood. No matter which way you turn, you’re inevitably being dictated by who you are. That is who you are. That is your personality. That is you. But did you really have any control over how you became you?

You simply took in all the extrinsic factors and moulded yourself in accordance with your genetic predispositions.

It is not your choice what extrinsic factors will affect you in what way. Let us consider an example:
A and B are the only two passengers in a taxi driven by C. Same age, same gender, same school, same family background. They get into an accident. A and B are unharmed, but C is badly injured.
A gets out of the taxi and has a breakdown, sobbing hysterically at the sight of the blood and unable to be of any use. (Incoherent blabbing may or may not have been a part of his spaz attack).
B, on the other hand, whips out his cell phone, calls an ambulance, and tries to figure out the best possible way to tackle the situation.

Let us analyze what just happened. A was nowhere near composed, while B was the very definition of the word. Why? They went through the same ordeal. My point is: different situations have different effects on people. The effects are a result of the peoples’ personalities, tolerance, and composure. My point relating back to the topic: the experiences you had in your early developmental stages indubitably had an effect on you- an effect that you did not choose.

Anyway, I’m getting sort of tired of explaining the same thing in different ways. We can move on. We have now come to the conclusion that we are who we are by no real choice of our own. What is ‘our’ choice? Is it really just a word given to what our preferences dictate to us? The ‘people’ we become by no choice of our own- is that who we are? Where is the free will in our actions when everything is essentially just bound to happen, by our own ‘conscious’ choices which are already defined?

We have examined this phenomenon on a macro level. It is now time to examine an isolated occurrence of a demonstration of ‘choice’. Everything we do, say, think, choose, has a cause. Something or the other sparks it. On any normal day, I would wake up and have orange juice. Some random day I would not ‘feel’ like having orange juice but ‘feel’ like having apple juice instead. Isn’t that really my personal choice, and is definitely NOT dictated by my genetics and personality like I keep asserting?  Well, the answer is... not really. It still isn’t my choice. How
can this possibly be anything other than my own personal free choice? Well, it is- so to speak. It is the way you want it. But it is not necessarily coming from anywhere other than your mind. There is something or the other going through my mind that resulted in this anomalous choice of having apple juice instead of orange. Maybe I reached my neurological limit of having the same thing every day and now on this particular day my threshold for tolerating the same thing every morning has been crossed. Maybe I had a dream after which I woke up feeling not the usual way I would feel. Maybe I just wanted to taste apple juice. MAYBE I JUST WANTED TO TASTE APPLE JUICE. It seems like as though my hypothesis has a major flaw. It doesn’t. Not in this case, at least. Try to apply this here:
You do things because you want to do them. Your preferences make you ‘want’ to do those things. Anomalous preferences are always inevitably the product of a thought process- conscious or subconscious. Your preferences have already been defined in your development.

The core question is: how can you choose to want something that has already been added to your preferences without any intervention on your part from the very outset of your development?

Exceptions may be when you do something you would generally not prefer doing. You would ‘choose’ to do them. But, these exceptions are not really exceptions. They are governed by external or internal factors. Something, someone or a simple thought process will make you choose whatever it is you would not have normally chosen. There will always be a thought process involved. If you choose to do something against your preferences because, say, your best friend will look favourably upon it, it is really you bending under that social pressure of acceptance, desirability, or- on a less pessimistic note- just for the sole reason of making your best friend happy (which again is not really selfless; read my piece “Are we all Selfish?”). It is your personality that allows you to go against your preferences for so-and-so reason and that again, does not make it a ‘choice’.

I hope I have confused you sufficiently. Where is the ‘free’ part of free-will? Or is it just a name 
we call it for “all intents and purposes”, with its true meaning really not being satisfied? We call it free-will because this is just the way it has been, and this control of factors over who we become is conveniently disregarded in the context of free will.

What we have, is a controlled systematic algorithm that is flexible to accommodate all types of experiences and respond in its own unique way based on your DNA and personality. It cannot- by any means whatsoever- be called free will in the true sense of the phrase.

P.S: This has been bothering me for a really long time, and any answers I have received have not been able to make me see anything differently. Based on deductive reasoning and a bit of science, this seems quite probable. If, however, you have an explanation which will disregard this whole hypothesis, I would love to be made privy to it. I want to believe it. Convince me.

P.P.S: Interplay. Hehehe. Thanks for reading. Ciao!