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.

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Tags: Free, reality, thinking, thought, will

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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!

Comment by Joan Denoo on August 30, 2013 at 12:43am
“Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn't choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime - by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?” 
― Sam HarrisFree Will
Comment by David Layton on August 30, 2013 at 12:19am

Donald is right about the "trick question" nature of free will. The problem is that in the popular imagination, free will is confused with ideas of "rights" that people supposedly have, and takes the form "I have the will to do anything I want." Free will as a philosophical concept is only recently being separated from theology. In standard christian theology, freewill is what Boethius postulated: the ability to choose sin even though omniscient god knows that you will do that but does nothing to prevent it. Thus, theology goes through contortions to get the necessarily coercive aspect of godly omniscience somehow not coercive. In science, there are a couple of ways to go. If the universe is purely causal and material, then every choice and action is a necessary result of prior causes and therefore not "free" despite appearances. However, science also tells us that a purely material universe is not purely causal, but operates much of the time statistically, meaning that there are "degrees" of freedom possible before these possibilities "collapse" into the specific action taken. In philosophy, the debate goes along pretty much the same lines, either purely causal or free within limitations. I think that the "illusion" of free will is too pervasive and persistent to be mere illusion. A systems approach rather than a chain approach to causal factors allows for bi-directional interaction between system levels instead of mono-directional chains of causes. Free will, then, is something like a negative feedback system. Whatever the case, free will is never completely free, but always limited within material constraints.

Comment by Joan Denoo on August 30, 2013 at 12:15am

"Research shows that most individuals, despite what they think, have no idea of what motivates them or what makes them who they are."

Individuals grow up in families, some of whom are dysfunctional and have fallacious ideas of what is good or decent. A child growing in such an environment also incorporates the values, much like plugging in a CD with values printed upon it to transport to a newborn and developing child. 

Some individuals discover their values and attitudes create unnecessary problems and they seek better ways of being. They can learn how to love and forgive themselves, how to express their needs and desires, they can listen to others with compassion, they learn conflict management techniques and problem solving methods that are more productive. These people can change their will and live more productive lives.

Others do not recognize the dysfunction, or declare they know right from wrong even as they do hurtful, foolish things and make irresponsible decisions. Unless and until they recognize the dysfunction in themselves, they will not seek healthier more productive ways to change their learned behaviors.

As to free will, what you write, Donald, fits my experiences. People make choices that cause them hurt and harm and they don't even know they have other options. They don't even doubt their own behaviors. 

“Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic—in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible. There is no telling how much I might change in the future. Just as one wouldn’t draw a lasting conclusion about oneself on the basis of a brief experience of indigestion, one needn’t do so on the basis of how one has thought or behaved for vast stretches of time in the past. A creative change of inputs to the system—learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention—may radically transform one’s life.” 
― Sam HarrisFree Will

Comment by Donald R Barbera on August 29, 2013 at 9:42pm
Discussing free will is a type of "trick question" as what science tells us, while Provocative, does not tell the complete story. What it tells us is that we don't understand the complexities of the human thought process to determine with any true accuracy how our thoughts are formed, processed and delivered. Theologically speaking it turns God into a useless fairy tale if we are nothing more than pre-programmed automatons. Is free will just a perception or a reality? Self determinism is the bedrock of freedom and to even consider the idea of pre determination goes against every concept of liberty we know. Yes, our brains function in ways that scientist are in the "baby steps" stage of understanding. Choice is not an illusion, but a series of brain functions based on experience, knowledge and understanding that happens faster than science can measure at this time. Yet. The discussion is stimulating. I like philosophy because it tends to stretch my brain.
Comment by Sentient Biped on August 29, 2013 at 8:16pm

Don,

As someone who likes to think of himself as practical, discussion of philosophy often leave me feeling, "what do I DO about that?"  

I looked up "free will" on the all-knowing wikipedia.  To be honest, after reading the first paragraph, I had no idea what "free will" is. 

Maybe, in laypersons terms, "free will" can be defined as the opposite of "predetermined"? 

If we decide that the course of life is predetermined, does it absolve us of responsibility?  Does that mean, we can't change the course of our lives? 

To be anecdotal and personal, I changed the course of my life several times.  In major ways.  But, if the ability to change direction was predetermined, then....  the predetermined direction of my life was to be multidirectional.  Maybe.

I think some people are predetermined to discuss free will, while others have a choice in the matter.

Thoughtful post.  Thank you for discussing your ideas, always.

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