Today we will begin with an ethical dilemma-like question. Starting from our previous content on habits, let’s take two people. On the one hand, a person who has a habit of sleepwalking and commits murder unknowingly because of this habit, on the other hand, a person who is a gambler for purely psychological and social reasons and believes that it relaxes her, so turns gambling into a habit and becomes addicted, and on top of that, a person who has lost everything and is in debt. Looking at these two people, which one is the victim or which one is the criminal? This is where the ethical dilemma begins. While our conscientious feelings understand the sleepwalker and turn her into a victim, we cannot empathize with the gambler by labeling her guilty. Moreover, both of them are unaware of what they are doing when considered from different angles.
So, what is the real answer to our question?
Of course, it is that both are guilty. Because we learned that habits can be changed. In this case, no matter how unconsciously there are events, these two people are equally guilty and innocent. Is this ability to change, proof of the existence of free will?
Free will is the ability of a person to make decisions according to his/her desires, shaped according to his/her wishes. Interestingly, we have assigned a definition to a notion whose existence that we even suspect and we are not sure of.
Existence of Free Will
Frankly, I do not know the answer to the question of whether there is free will or not. However, I have subjective comments in line with what I have read and learned. I thought I would share the information I learned to spread the questioning in a wide framework.
According to Karl Popper’s method of falsification, a person who has not committed any crime despite all his difficulties and problems in life proves the existence of the free will. According to neuroscience, genes are known to cause some aggressive behavior. However, since man is a social being, sociological factors can suppress biological processes. Free will exists within the scope of Karl Popper’s falsification, but it is not known exactly where it stands in the social and biological process.
Another approach is our mental functions that undermine the idea of free will. These include our instincts and habits. Do these functions that are independent of free will, but make up most of our daily actions, prove the presence or absence of free will? We have said that the ability to change our Brain researcher Gerhard Roth once said “Free will is an illusion.” The main experiment that proved Roth’s claim was carried out by the neuropsychologist Benjamin Libet. Oddly enough, Libet conducted this experiment not to prove Roth’s argument, but rather to prove the existence of the free will.
In the experiment, a group of people is told to raise their hands whenever they want. While doing this, they are asked to look at the clock in the room they are in and be aware of when they want to raise their hands. Meanwhile, Libet records the brain activity of the participants in the experiment.
The result of the experiment was surprising for everyone. The activity was detected in the hand command region of the brain about 400 milliseconds before people decided to raise their hands. As a result, even this 400-millisecond difference proved Roth’s argument. In other words, our brain designs our actions about half a millisecond first and then takes action. As psychologist Wolfgang Prinz said, “We don’t do what we want, we want what we do.” It’s a huge experiment to prove whether free will exist or not. However, still, we cannot know.
Free will is not free (2020) by Antonio Bagia
Free Will According to Philosophers
Claiming that life consists of will and it is an experience of pain, Schopenhauer described will as something visible. He mentioned that as the person’s knowledge, intelligence level, and awareness increase, his suffering increases in that direction. In this case, can we call the will the state of awareness during actions?
A sleepwalker is unaware of his actions. So is someone guilty of killing someone while sleepwalking? Or can we say that he is innocent even though he murdered because he could not take responsibility for his actions?
Not being able to find the perpetrator of the murder; when the perpetrator is both in our hands and not…
According to Plato, we never learn anything new. We are just refreshing our memory. We live life to remember what we know before. In other words, our life is a chain of events that occur outside of our control to remind us of what we have learned. Of course, this interpretation does not mean that Plato argues that there is no free will. On the contrary, Plato said there is free will.
Boethius will also agree with Plato, saying that the most important thing is our attitude towards the events that take place. Because he argued that we can choose it. Because he believed in this ability to choose, Boethius is trying to say that free will exists. Because he believed that there was a God involved and that this God would judge people according to the choices they made.
Leibniz also theorized that although he believed in God, there was no free will. He defended the view that all our actions have a cause and effect. A similar view was put forward by the atheist Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes thought that people are entirely slaves to their pleasures.
If there is free will, then it becomes easier for us to make sense of our experiences, ethical concepts, and choices. Well, what if? Then it means that the ethical understandings, legal systems, and mentalities that have been going on for centuries must be restructured. I have long had similar thoughts to Plato and Leibniz about free will. After learning about Libet’s experiment, my thoughts about the lack of free will became stronger. A part of me also wants to believe in the existence of the free will, to believe in what is written to prove its existence. After all, I think we can all agree that being able to make our own decisions is very tempting.
If there is no free will, what determines our decisions?
According to Darwin, our genetics have features that shape our behavior. Since the structure of our brain is still unknown, our genetic characteristics may also determine our decisions. So, in a way, Plato might be right when he says we are refreshing our memory.
So, do you think there is free will?