Many of the basic principles that guide human behavior rest on the idea of free will, like the concept of individual responsibility and choices.

Free will is an important concept that affects a variety of serious thought. Legally it is assumed criminals have a choice in committing a crime, but science shows that may not be the case. Research shows that most individuals, despite what they think, have no idea of what motivates them or what makes them who they are.

Science shows human beings can access only 10% of their thought process leaving 90% unavailable to the individual. The salient factor is that most of human processes are unavailable to the individual, meaning that more often than not, we are unaware of what transpires in the mind except for that 10% we use to determine our immediate state of mind, at least as far as we can see.

The fact that 90% of the processes of the mind are not available to the individual casts doubt on the theory of free will at least as far as testable center of activity. A hundred years ago, several scientist called into question the free will concept after discovering that thought processes are slower than originally imagined, which many believed to be at the speed of light, but found out the timing was in nanoseconds, significantly slower.

Confounding the issue, tests showed that the mind actually formulated decisions before the individual was aware. To make the point, researchers tested reaction times for simple commands to activate a body part, such as telling a person to clench their fist. Scientists found a significant delay in the mental registration of the command and the performance of the command, indicating that instructions to perform an act arrived before the participant was aware of them making it nearly impossible for an act of free will to determine such a response.

The questions comes when determining how much of what we do is freethought and how much is predetermined. When science of the mind accesses the situation the answers tend to be muddy, but the implications are serious. If human beings don’t have free will, then life on this planet is primarily robotic and there is only the illusion of choice. Recidivism rates in criminals tend to show once a criminal starts a life of crime, they will continue in it despite a true desire to leave.

Parts of a our legal system already operate as if there is no free will by making laws that punish for future behavior such as in the cases of rapists and pedophiles. Punishment for pedophiles and rapists generally contain an element to protect the public against future attacks, but if free will was real, these people as much as anyone else have the capability to change their behavior. Or, do they? Do we?

In life people make good decisions and bad decisions. Interestingly, these choices are predictable even to people who don’t know them. We all know individuals who consistently make poor choices in mate selection. Are they biologically pre-wired to do this? Surely, no one purposely chooses a bad mate to make their life miserable, but people make these decisions consistently and constantly suggesting they may be hardwired to do so.

Lack of free will opens a potentially complex issue for the legal profession if decisions are made before the individual is even conscious of them. Suddenly, intent conceivably could occur before the individual ever had a chance to exercise free will. Because of these discrepancies scientists search daily for the site or locations of free will within the mind. As with most systems, the mind’s operation is sophisticated, complicated and only now understood to some degree albeit small. The answer to this question is still under investigation and this is just a brief overview of its importance. If there is no free will, we are all humanoid robots living with the illusion of self-determination, a thought that turns the very essence of humanity on its head. Still, it is a question that must be answered.

Views: 351


You need to be a member of Atheist Nexus to add comments!

Join Atheist Nexus

Comment by Clarence Dember on September 5, 2013 at 7:19am
It seems that the only people with free will must be articulators of their direction(s). To claim such a status requires an individual to possess sufficient command of analogue models and metaphores within a mature useage of language. Impressionary consciousness, that is to say personal awareness of that which is in one's own head requires the analogue "i" or 1st person singular pronoun to provide a vantage point where introspection can exist in the individual in the first place. For instance, Pharaohs in ancient Egyptian society had such a pronoun while their subjects did not. So workings of those respective mentalities differed markedly from one another due to mere concepts being present or not . Over many successive reorganizations of society the idea of 1st person singular became more widely distributed in the human population. This point was raised by Julian Jaynes in his book "The Origins of consciousness: in the breakdown of the bicameral mind."
Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on September 4, 2013 at 8:02am

I prefer VS Ramachandran's concept of Free Will.  According to his writing in "The Tell-Tale-Brain" Freedom of Will, is truly just Freedom of Won't.  All choices are presented, the brain simply cancels out all but one, for various excuses. Many of these excuses may actually be reasonable, but, some may also related to childhood responses, irrational fear, apathy, eny-meny, etc... ad nauseum.

We aren't really given a freedom of choice, our brain makes these choices for us, often without giving any reason or purpose.

The brain is an incredibly deceptive organ, 24/7.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on September 1, 2013 at 3:08pm
Obviously, appearances can be deceiving. It is tempting to "cubby hole" thinking into what is known and what is believed to be known. That is why I am a science fan--it is open to being wrong, but theory reigns until proven otherwise. Theologically speaking, David mentioned the "contortions" theologians go through trying to make god omniscient and keep free will relevant. They are in a logic "Catch-22" but will never admit just as those accepting such dogma are in a state of denial or self delusion.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on September 1, 2013 at 2:56pm
There is an old axiom saying that "perception is everything," or is it?
Comment by Donald R Barbera on September 1, 2013 at 9:03am
I read Sam Harris' book and enjoyed it. I've asking this question since it was first put before me in Catholic School. It was framed a little differently, but my question was "if God already knows what I am going to to do, how can I have free will." Conversely, it also produced a conflict regarding omniscience. Either he knew or he didn't. That was the 2nd grade when I decided it was all bunk.
Comment by jay H on September 1, 2013 at 8:22am

Free will is not necessary for the concept of crime and punishment. All sorts of animals learn from positive and negative reinforcement: where food is or isn't available, hot surfaces, presence or absence of predators etc.

You can program a completely deterministic robot to learn (and modify) its behavior based on positive (reward) and negative (punishment) results.

On the broader concept, we don't even have a true definition of free will. How would you distinguish a fully deterministic brain with a built in randomizing function from a brain which actually has 'free will'?

As a side point (not that I would ever suggest not getting knowledge just because it's uncomfortable), work of a number of cutting edge neuroscientists  tying behavior to brain state is moving us gradually closer to a 'Minority Report' world where people's measurable brain states can be possibly used to demonstrate likelihood of crime. The traditional concept of 'free will' at least provides a degree of legal protection from that outcome.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on September 1, 2013 at 8:13am
Some great comments! While traveling this weekend I bought a copy of Scientific American and lo and behold--an article on free will. It raised many of the same questions and even listed some intriguing fMRI studies exhibiting how the brain registered impulses before the test subject became aware of them. However, the article stopped short of any definitive answer as technologically speaking this type of research has barely learned to crawl much less walk. Meanwhile, it makes for interesting discussion and varied insights. Philosophically, the question will remain as a topic that is sure to continue more research.
Comment by Mojo on August 31, 2013 at 4:30pm

Sorry for some gross typos  - - - gotta prep dinner and in too big a hurry. Did I choose to make the typos ;-)

Comment by Mojo on August 31, 2013 at 4:27pm

Sam Harris (perhaps my favorite atheist thinker) has again done a fabulous job of shedding light on the fallacy of Free Will. His book of the same title is excellent. I encourage any and all readers of this thread to get a copy.  By the way, I have no problem with any of your arguments in your posts on this matter.

Looking at this whole thing from the purely ethical one I am trying to see exactly where the Bible states in no uncertain terms that God has granted us the ability to know what is right and wrong and/or good and evil and so the whole thing is up to the individual. Well, like so many convenient ways of dealing with the illogical nature of God the whole thing had to be invented to explain why a loving God would allow all the evil that man perpetrates against man.

Enter early Christian theologian Augustus (long after many Greek philosophers had kicked this concept of free will around) who states that God granted man to do evil because he turn away from goodness. So, without this privilege we would have not ability to choose good or evil and we would be essentially robots. Exactly how there can be a heaven populated by free willed souls who never choose to turn away from goodness remains a mystery, but hey that's another story.

In any case I grew weary of arguing Free Will because the whole thing is framed on what God did. Why must I accept anything about God that does not exist?

 Yesterday in Miami a security guard was shot to death. Two guys have been arrested and charged.  My question is exactly what lesson did God teach the security guard about Free Will? Are we to believe that the two assailants had no clue that killing another human is bad, especially in the perpetration of a crime?  Did they care? Were they turning away from good that day? Did they plan this outcome or did things just get out of hand?

As I see it the questions of good vs. evil have zip to do with God. Maybe when the idiots who killed the the security guard meat up in heaven they can all have a nice talk with God.

Comment by Michael Penn on August 30, 2013 at 9:38am

This is an intriguing question. Do we really have free will? I watch true crime shows on TV where a person claims they killed someone "because he had it coming." Another says he loved his wife, but he killed her while he was drunk. I'm numb. Neither explanation is acceptable here and the perpetrator is unable to further explain.

Now let's go into any activity where you have multiple choices on what to do. The less educated (or the ones who cannot grasp things easily) might not be able to list as many choices of action as some of us. That may appear to limit their "free will." It's like asking someone to name 25 things they really love, but finding they who can only name 11. This lack of ability has to be caused by the many, many things that have influenced your entire life. What you accept and deny, what you believe and do not believe, etc. is all a factor here. In our minds we all have "windows of choice" formed throughout our lifetimes, but these windows all vary. The more adjusted person has large windows of choice while the person who becomes reduced to thoughts of suicide has very few.

Is it all about education or lifes experiences? Perhaps both, and how the mind picks up on it. Your life experiences are your real education, and it appears that "free will" is a process that starts at your birth.

On the small scale you can chose whether you read or not. Things on the grand scale would seem to suggest whether you read at all!



Update Your Membership :



Nexus on Social Media:

© 2020   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: The Nexus Group.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service