Are We Free?

April 25, 2018
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What is freedom?  Freedom, in terms of this paper that I am writing, is the ability to do whatever you want without being subjected for your actions.  Freedom and the idea of free will is a constantly debated issue between psychologists today.  Do we as individuals truly have a say for how our lives play out?  How does our mind work and how do we make decisions in the first place?  If our society believes that one must go to college and have an education in order to be successful, then that’s what we will do.  If our society believes that the stronger you are, the more successful you are, then everyone will strive to be as strong as possible.  If our society believes that in order to be successful, one must have the most stylish outfit, then everyone will strive to be clothing designers.  This idea of conformity plays a huge role within societies.  That in order to be “successful”, one must conform to what society perceives as “successful”.  In this day and age, we value education.  Therefore, the social norm is to try to be as smart as possible.  In 100 B. C., societies like Sparta valued strength and bravery, therefore, everyone strived to be strong and brave.  In this paper, I will argue that no matter what, nobody is truly “free” to do what they want with their life.


One of the biggest issues of “freedom” is what should one be free to do and what one should not be free to do.  As stated before, freedom is the ability that one may do whatever they like without being accountable for the results.  Yet, the biggest grey area of “freedom” is how does one decide what one shouldn’t be free to do.  For instance, everyone can agree that murder is wrong because of our common sense of morality, but, for example, what about other things such as gay marriage, marijuana use, and gun control.  Let’s just talk about gay marriage for now.  Within the entirety of the 1900’s, homosexuals constantly hid their true lifestyles because nobody accepted them in society.  A homosexual would get fired from their job or discriminated for being gay.  Therefore, society forced homosexuals to conform to what society deemed acceptable, and this lead to homosexuals either living unhappy lives or secretive ones.  Furthermore, why did our American society, the “free world”, have such harsh societal rules?  One main cause for these social rules is that early America was mainly Christian, and Christianity saw homosexuals as a horrible deviation, which lead to the common belief that homosexuals are immoral.  One may even see this point in Christians today when they are out picketing against LGBTQ events like Pride.  Now, the question becomes, were these people who suppress homosexuals naturally born hating gays, or were they forced to conform to the societal rules of their church and family?  If an individual is born into a Christian household and is forced to go to church with their Christian family, then that individual will be pushed down a path to believe whatever the church and family believes.  Therefore, what one should be free to do and what one should not be free to do is completely decided upon society and the environment in which the individual is raised.


Another point that should be discussed in order to understand freedom, is how does our unconscious mind work?  In the article, “Do We Have Free Will?” by developmental, social, and cultural psychologist Seth Schwartz, it is stated, “One of the oldest questions in psychology, and in other fields such as philosophy, is whether humans have free will” (1).  Seth Schwartz then furthers his questioning by discussing the idea of free will through previous neurological experiments.  It is mentioned, that through a set of experiments conducted by neuroscientist Ben Libet, that free will does not exist (Schwartz, 2).  This conclusion was made because Libet scanned individual’s brains and instructed them to simply move their arm.  What he found was that the, “brain activity increased even before participants were aware of their decision to move their arm” (Schwartz, 2).  He then concluded that, “the brain had somehow “decided” to make the movement, and that the person became consciously aware of this decision only after it had already been made” (Schwartz, 2).  Therefore, subconsciously, we make decisions, before we even realize that we made that decision.


Now, this begs the question, is it possible to make your own decision if your mind subconsciously decides what you’re going to do before you even do it?  One may see this question discussed within the article, “The True Meaning of Freedom” by doctor/professor at the University of Chicago, Alex Lickerman.  In this article, Alex Lickerman discusses the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  Kahneman discusses within his book that the human mind is broken into two systems: “the fast, unconscious thinker” and “the part of our minds we identify as "us"” (Lickerman, 2).  The “fast, unconscious thinker” is what we as individuals would call our emotions and sense of survival.  This includes our decisions to eat, sleep, drink water, get angry, get sad, etc.  The second system is what we as individuals would consider normal.  This includes deciding whether things are ok or not, such as picking your nose in public and, as previously discussed, homosexuality.  Unlike the first system which comes from basic human nature, the second system comes from societal influences and previous experiences.  This then ties back to the question, is it possible to make your own decision if your mind subconsciously decides what you’re going to do before you even do it?  Both systems have an equal part in your subconscious mind, however, it is possible to attempt to ignore them, even though you will still find yourself attaching back to both systems.


Overall, nobody truly has free will.  In order to truly be free, one would have to both, live in a society with absolutely zero social expectations and ignore all basic human tendencies.  Yet, that idea is unattainable.  No matter what, societies will be formed, ideas of what’s right and wrong will be made, and we will always be bound to our subconscious mind.  Perhaps, the best way to unleash your freedom, is to try to think for yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.  Do whatever it is that you aspire to do and try not to let societal pressure cloud your judgement. 






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