What does it mean to decide? De is used “to indicate privation, removal, separation, negation, decency, reversal and intensity”. Cide means “a killer of”. Additional words that end with “cide” are homicide, genocide, suicide, and pesticide. By definition, “decide” means to “come to a resolution in the mind as a result of consideration”. Our capability to consider and decide, as human beings, is possible through the assumption that we have free will. To have free will means to be able to choose between different courses of action and to explore as well as expand their capabilities. Free will is one of the few things the everyday individual doesn’t doubt, and why would he? Free will has always seemed to be there, the idea doesn’t sound absurd, and it’s been around just as long as the perception we have of ourselves. Do people have a choice on whether or not they believe in free will? What is our commitment in relation to free will and should the idea be protected? Perhaps so, but I’d like to argue that in order for us to believe in free will we must first question its existence, in doing so, we temporally reject part of our humanity. Meaning that we are risking the possible realization that we are less than what we thought we were. However, with this comes the possible reward of extending the capacity of human intuition, allowing us to be more then what we ever thought we could be.
The question of free will has been around since philosophy began to settle itself onto the minds that inhabited 19th and 20th century Europe. Specifically, a pair of philosophers named Friedrich Nietzsche and Paul Ree. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his book “Human, all too human” “Even to-day we think that all our feeling and doings are, at bottom, acts of the free will” (Ch 18, “the fundamental problems of Metaphysics”). Nietzsche wrote this after he claimed that the “first step towards the logical is the notion of causation”. Immediately after his claim, he went on to say that free will, or the belief in free will was the “primordial error of everything organic as old as the very earliest inward prompting of the logical faculty”. Both Nietzsche and Ree were concerned with the law of causality regarding the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. This law of causality led Nietzsche and Ree to question the validity of the idea that “the will” could possibly be free. Ree wrote that “To say will is free would mean that it is not a subject to the law of causality. In that case every act of the will would be an absolute beginning [a first cause] and not a link [in a chain of events]: it would not be the effect of proceeding causes” (Determinism and the illusion of moral responsibility). So there’s this idea of living in a world of cause and effect which must mean that our actions of today were determined by our actions of yesterday and the day before that, and even though we cannot retrace this chain of events for very long it acts as a home were our future decisions dwell and lay determined as an infinite series of occurrences to which we are as much a factor as the people we regularly encounter. The products of their decisions create either opportunity or limitation for us in the result that we have come to know as, chance.
Recent studies in neuroscience have brought light to the notion of free will, exposing not only its flaws but the danger of a worldwide rejection of it. Philosopher and Neurologist Sam Harris gave an example of a generic serial killer who decided to kill his last victim. The decision to kill or to feel the impulse of killing was determined prior by neurophysiological events in his brain, amongst other things, caused by bad genes, or an unhappy childhood. “To say he could have done otherwise is simply to say he would have lived in a different universe had he been in a different universe”. Daniel Do (Tedx speaker) talked about choice being a product of the brain, brain function being a product of the neuron which is then a product of cellular activity and cells being complex molecules are products of molecular activity and molecules being complex atoms a product of atomic and subatomic activity and the atom is governed by the laws of physics which can be predicted according to Einstein and Newton. Thus, physics has “a monopoly over control in a universe made of molecules that follow their laws.” Both speakers then gave the example of Neuroscientists being able to use brain activity to predict basic decisions such as raising your left or right hand or flexing your wrist while on a timer. This type of neuro-scientific technology can predict whether you will raise your left or right hand seconds before you make the conscious decision. The argument is that these decisions are coming from the unconscious mind and if we aren’t consciously making our decisions then we have no control over them and thus no possibility of free will. Now what does this mean for moral responsibility? Is that too an illusion? Robert Speth (Neuroscientist) gave a talk, where he said “the law is based on accountability, not responsibility” “You do the crime, you pay the time” but what is accountability without responsibility? Also an illusion? Robert Speth’s solution was to hold on to the illusion of free will. “When it comes to perception verses reality, perception always wins”, but to deny the evidence that’s been put right in front of us would be foolish of us as scientific thinkers. To accept it means that we are breaking down our character and dehumanizing ourselves. The question of the freedom of the will should not be ignored. A present-day philosopher (professor of philosophy at Tufts university) named Daniel Dennett said that the reasons neuroscientists have for saying free will doesn’t exist are ill considered and are causing real harm. Daniel Dennett conducted a thought experiment that talked about a neuro-surgeon who is treating a patient with obsessive compulsive disorder by inserting a Nano chip in his brain that controls the OCD. There is such a chip, that’s been developed in the Netherlands, “that’s science fact” he says “now comes science fiction”. After the surgery, the surgeon tells the patient the OCD is under control but they will be monitoring and controlling his actions from now on. The surgeon also tells the patient that he will feel like he still has free will but he really wont. “Free will is an illusion that they will maintain.” Thinking he doesn’t have free will, the patient becomes aggressive, self-indulgent, and negligent when he’s deciding what to do. He eventually gets in trouble with the law. At the trial he says “You’re honor, I don’t have free will. I’m under the control of the team at the neuro-surgery clinic.” They call the surgeon to the stand and ask her if she told her patient that he has no free will, and she says “Yeah, I did. But I was just messing with him; I didn’t think he’d actually believe me.” At this point, Dennett says we can recognize that she really harmed that man. “Her little joke accomplished, in a non-surgical way, pretty much what she claimed to accomplish surgically.” “She disabled him. By telling him that he didn’t have fee will, she turned his free will off and turned him into a morally incompetent person.” If we can agree that the neuro-surgeon in Dennett’s thought experiment was irresponsible by telling her patient that he has no free will then what are we to say of the actual nuero-scientists who are saying we don’t have free will? Dennett also talked about an experiment where college students were given two texts to read, both from the “astonishing hypothesis” (by Francis Crick) but one was not about free will, and the other pretty much said that we don’t have free will and that free will is an illusion. The students were then given an opportunity to make money by solving a puzzle, which the experimenters made slightly defective so there would be a way of cheating. The students who read the passage of free will being an illusion cheated at a much higher rate than the students who didn’t. Reading the passage made the students feel less concerned with the moral responsibility of their actions. However Dennett also says that, even if free will was really an illusion, we would still be responsible for our actions because we don’t just act for reasons, we represent our reasons to ourselves and to others. To be able to ask someone why they did something and for them to be able to respond is why we have responsibility. “Responsibility wears it’s meaning on its sleeve”. So could life really have the same components of a coin flip? Or is its meaning just another illusion to satisfy our need to feel essential in a universe were we could be easily over looked. Even with moral responsibility, are we really just theoretically predictable patterns of behavior? Perhaps we are arrogant to think otherwise.
Arguments born from the ideas of neuro-scientific machines are possible through a concept in philosophy called Physicalism, which states that everything in this world can be described in terms of the physical. In 17th century France, there lived a philosopher named Rene Descartes. Descartes believed that he could doubt the existence of his body but not the existence of his mind because, to be able to think, he needed a mind. This is the origin of the very famous phrase, “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore, I am). Descartes extended his idea and came up with the concept of Dualism which states that the world is made of physical things and mental things. As Dualism expanded throughout Europe, people began to question the interaction between the mind and the body. The question of how the mind and body meet each other is now known as the mind body problem. People who see no solution to the mind body problem decided to abandon Dualism and take up the belief in Physicalism instead. So what is the mind body problem? Well, as people began to question Dualism, asking how and why the mind is tethered to the body or what type of science should be applied to the interaction of the mind and body, Descartes began to write further on the topic and attempted to find solutions to questions that Dualism created. But it seemed that the more he answered, the more opportunity people had to question his work. Philosopher Joe Cruz (professor of Philosophy at Williams College) Gave a TED talk where he spoke about why there is no mind body problem but before he talked about the solution to the mind body problem he said that there was something about the “Cartesian refusal to give up on dualism and it has to do with the conception of ourselves in this modern world. We want to understand ourselves in terms of the self. We want to understand ourselves in terms the capacity for will and rational action. We want to grasp the certainty of our own emotions and sensations, as we look inside ourselves they seem essential private, they seem unique to the person having those sensations.” There’s this commitment to dualism that we can all recognize, “We think of ourselves as ‘moving into the west’, solitary individuals, pressing ourselves against the world, hoping maybe against hope, that we can be resilient against the forces that come against us”. Cruz described the problem as what seemed to be an asymmetry between “my understanding of your mind and your understanding of your mind”. The sensations and emotions you feel inside of you seem like they can’t be described by anyone other than you. If I were to attempt to describe your love for your family or your hatred towards spilling your coffee , or the passion you have for your profession it would be no surprise that there would be a fairly big chance that my words would not be the same as the actual feeling or your love, or hate, or passion. This idea of an asymmetrical understanding between my knowledge of your mind and your knowledge of your mind is what, as Joe Cruz would put it, “seems to be at the root of the mind body problem and it seems like it has considerable cultural importance for us”. Cruz then spoke about a team of neuro-scientists in Italy that are studying the monkey premotor cortex. The team placed electrodes in the monkey premotor cortex and they began to read how the monkey’s neurons fired as it interacted with different items in its environment. As the team was setting the apparatus up they discovered that there was a part of the monkey nervous system that was responsive not just to the thing they were acting on but also to other individual’s actions. Say that a member of the research team was grasping a coffee cup and suddenly they get a reading on the device. What was happening was that the monkey, already hooked up to the apparatus, witnessed the team of researchers interact with things in their environment and registered their actions as his own actions. In his talk, Cruz said “it starts to look like there is a part of the monkey’s nervous system that is designed to be in a kind of sympathy or resonance with the actions of beings that are shaped like them when those beings perform actions themselves.” This ability that monkeys have is possible because monkeys have something called mirror neurons and whether human beings have mirror neurons is still in question but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if we did. Cruz says “consider other evidence from psychology or cognitive neruo-science. Consider evidence having to do with emotional contagion or the imitations that infants perform when they are facing their mother. Consider the way their faces change in light of the facial changes that they see and how they might take on some of the internal states, some of the consciousness of their mother. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a part of our nervous system that is responsible for being in tune with one another”. Cruz’s claim is that we should view the mind body problem not as needing a description of someone’s feelings, emotions, or sensations but that we can advance on the mind body problem knowing that we are in a kind of sympathy with one another, knowing that our consciousness is shared with one another and that our emotions are beyond any type of scientific description that could be given to them which is the very reason why physicalism cannot be proven. It requires descriptions that will always fall short of what they were meant to represent. And as for Cruz’s idea of being in a resonance with each other, I think that it enhances our ability to view each other with empathy, which we all know can be very difficult in situations where our optimism fails. It could improve a relationship between a therapist and patient and prevent any attempts to be the superior one. It makes death less tragic and grants us a sort of everlasting existence, to know that your consciousness will live on in the people who you influenced both consciously, and unconsciously. When we adapt to this humanistic view, we can expect it to be the first step in putting up our most heroic fight against our prejudice. And as we contribute to our lives, and the lives of others, we should always keep in mind how we understand one another and know that we are never alone when it comes to the problems of being human.
Considering all the arguments made about free will, it’s become very difficult to hold on to the belief we were once so sure of. Apart from the law of causation and the neuro-scientific arguments, there are other simpler ways that free will can be doubted. Knowing that there is a fairly large portion of us that is simply driven by our physiology or instinct has been accepted for the most part because our physiology is not where someone would hold their character. But think about how much of our character can be traced back to our influences (both conscious and unconscious). For the majority of the population, there was a time (mostly associated with adolescence) where I’m sure we can all recognize our great efforts to be recognized by following a trend or by “hopping on the bandwagon”. It seems like there is something wrong with the traditional definition of free will. And there can even be a possibility of psychologically damaging ourselves in our struggle to break loose from the chains of reality. Well I refuse to continue with any further struggle with the truth. In an interview, Daniel Dennett said that it’s always been free will versus determinism and that our future is determined, but just because our future is determined doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. We will always live in a deterministic world because we want our actions to be determined but we don’t want to be determined in the determining of our actions. So what if we knew the outcome of our decision prior to making it? If our decisions are made in the unconscious part of the mind then how could we possibly know the outcome? It seems like our best bet is simply to consider the outcome of a decision and either stay consistent with how you are doing things, or prevent things from happening (depending on how it pleases you) Consider a game of pool, similar to life, you can’t doubt pool is a game of cause and effect. Once you start the game, break, and all the colored balls set up, they will inevitably change they’re positioning throughout the game. Now think about hitting the cue ball as making a decision in life. If you consider enough, you can predict what the cue ball will hit, where it can end up, the velocity, and direction. The same principals apply to life, all that is required form you is to have enough self-knowledge to predict the outcome of your situations, to make the unconscious conscious, and that’s basis of psychoanalysis. Unfortunately, it is a lot easier said than done. In Carl Jung’s book, “Modern Man in search of a soul” he talked about having patients who had unconscious suicidal urges which put them in very dangerous positions such as “having faintness or hesitation” while faced with an advancing car, or ingesting “corrosive sublimate in belief that is was a cough mixture” or even a sudden interest in acrobatics. Jung then said “when it was possible to make the suicidal leaning conscious, common-sense could helpfully intervene; the patient could then recognize and avoid those situations that tempered them to self-destruction.” So I’d urge anybody reading this to seek as much self-knowledge as possible so that you can give your greatest effort when it comes to recognizing, than either preventing or allowing. I call this method of consideration, Triumphant Humanism. It’s consistent with the basis of psychoanalysis; it’s about making the unconscious conscious. So why didn’t I just lead with that? Well the point of disproving free will (in all ways I’ve come across) was to make people consciously aware of their true freedom. For those who the idea of no free will was locked away in the unconscious mind, it’s important to recognize that similar to basis of psychoanalysis, you are now conscious of the impossibility of free will which gives you the ability to humanize triumphantly. In other words, the moment you realized that you had no free will, was the very moment that you gained freedom and the ability to make free decisions. “To have free will means to be able to choose between different courses of action and to explore as well as expand their capabilities.” Well to humanize triumphantly is means to explore, as well as expand your consideration. Regardless of any limited capabilities. In the end, it’s the knowledge you have of yourself that is going to save you from the inevitably dull grasp of determinism, and so humanity can focus on what lies within us, rather than what is beyond us.