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Free Will

Science and Philosophy have a strange relationship, it can throw you down the existential darkness or it can show you the meaning of life. So come with me as I try to find the light at the end of the tunnel of Free Will. As of now, we know on a molecular level how our bodies work, and we know what happens when things go wrong and how to fix them. In brief, our bodies are a complex cascade of controlled chemical compensations that keep us conscious. But the chemicals are inanimate, just like how you can determine the trajectory of a thrown ball based on the force and direction of it, you can determine a chemical’s fate based on their environment and other chemicals they interact with. Therein lies the question, how can a bunch of inanimate things make something that’s alive? How can true free will emerge out of a deterministic universe?

First, let’s define free will shall we, the common understanding of free will is very narrow, you are bound by the need to eat, drink and sleep. You literally can’t break the fundamental laws of the universe and you shouldn’t break the laws set upon you by your governing body. You probably won’t do something that’s against your morals, ambitions and responsibilities. But you would think, within these constraints, you are free to do whatever you want right?

Going back to the question at hand, a collection of chemicals suddenly becoming alive. At the most fundamental level, a single celled organism is said to have life because it has an internal environment that it can maintain, if given enough resources. In a way, just being alive means you have to actively try to keep your internal environment steady, you are bound by this rule. So does a single celled organism have free will? Well, it can do whatever it wants, but the only thing it wants is to survive and procreate. It's a very simple demand but you could also say that an electron wants to go towards a proton but away from another electron does the electron have free will? Maybe the lines are too blurred at this level, so let’s move up the evolutionary ladder. Even though things get more complex for multi cellular organisms, sustenance, survival and sex are the only things that most animals seem to be seeking. But as the brains evolve, they want more and more things, and at the level of humans, our ability to want is greater than our ability to do. This is what makes us question whether we even have free will.

The fallacy with our free will is that we possess an infinite imagination, which facilitates our increased wants and needs, but ever since your were born you learned from your family, your society and your culture to be a certain way, your experiences made you what you are right now and they will determine what you do in the future, which narrows the scope of your free will even further. So is that it? Are you nothing but a slave to your past, Fated to follow the trajectory that is already determined? So what if the choices you will make are predictable based on your past experiences, it doesn’t matter, because you made the choice so even though you were predictable, the goal isn’t to be chaotic, it’s to be able to do whatever you want, if I forced you to do what you didn’t want, you would be upset. On the other hand an electron wouldn’t be upset if I ripped it away from a proton.

So in a way, the feeling of control is the ‘free will’ that we possess. But there’s more to it, remember how I said your trajectory in life is set based on the things you learned? Well guess what, the superpower that every human has is that everyone can still keep learning and change the course of their future. But as we get older, our beliefs become more and more consolidated and we feel more comfortable in echo chambers and the bubbles of ideas that we form unknowingly. On top of that, learning new things is difficult and sometimes challenges our pre-existing beliefs which isn’t always a pleasant experience. So if you see yourself heading down a path that you don’t like, believe me, you can change things, because you can learn. You can learn new skills, and new concepts but you can also learn how to be a better person, you can learn to care about other things, other people, it’s never too late. Now I’m not going to tell you to turn your life around or make that change, that is for you to decide, you do have free will after all.


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