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.