Free Will - do you have it?
Did you answer in the affirmative?
If you did, you're mistaken. Sorry.
Traditionally, debates first ask whether or not Determinism is true and then whether or not Free Will exists. For the uninitiated, Determinism is "the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, exist conditions that could cause no other event." It's pure cause and effect, in much the same way that when the cue ball on a snooker table is struck, from the moment it begins accelerating, there is only one formation in which the balls can come to rest. Were the same shot to be played with every single variable (ball mass, cue speed, cue angle etc) exactly the same, then the same ball formation would happen every time. Indeed, it is precisely due to determinism that top snooker players are so good, as they can factor in all these variables to sink shot after shot.
If Determinism is true, and every event has a cause, then there is no freedom.
If Determinism is not true, and events are uncaused, then they are random.
Whichever way you cut it, there's no freedom.
But even the term 'Free Will' is a red herring. It's an oxymoron, as a caused act is not free and an uncaused act is not willed.
Free: not affected or restricted by a given condition or circumstance.
Will: the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action.
Random: having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective.
Free Will, if it existed, would be more correctly be called Random Will, where one's choices were not affected or restricted by a given condition or circumstance. And even if Free Will, in the traditional, loosely defined sense were shown to exist (in the universe, that is, not just with us pesky humans), the debate on whether or not we have it can be settled by simply looking at how our brains work.
But first we must clear up the confusion.
If we can agree that a reasonable notion of Free Will concerns whether or not we can exercise control over our actions and decisions, then this is simply a matter of Will. It should be noted that, by definition, Will has to be a conscious experience, as one cannot unconsciously will anything. So, then, can we Will? No. We only 'think' we do. Will is an illusion, as our conscious experience of choosing occurs only after unconscious, unwilled, processes have output what we subsequently experience as a decision.
More succinctly: Will is an illusion as we do not choose our thoughts.
Proof of this lies in seminal experiments in the 1980s, which took a look at how the brain's decision-making machinery works.
Benjamin Libet asked subjects to choose a random moment to flick their wrists, while he measured the associated activity in their brains in particular, the build-up of an electrical signal called the readiness
potential. Although it was well known that the readiness potential preceded the physical action, Libet asked whether the readiness potential corresponded to the felt intention to move. Somewhat counter-intuitively, he found the unconscious brain activity leading up to the conscious decision to flick the wrist began approximately half-a-second before the subject consciously felt they had decided to move. The findings suggest that decisions are first being made on an unconscious level and only afterwards are translated into an apparently conscious decision, and that the subject's belief it occurred through their will was due only to the retrospective perspective on the event. Subsequent studies have confirmed this, with only the value of delay varying, depending on attention.
Still not convinced?
Well, here's an experiment to try for yourself.
The next time you are talking, when you've finished the sentence, ask yourself if the words that spilled from your lips were due to an act of volition? I'll wager that the words just flowed out all by themselves. You didn't even have to think about them. Literally. Being able to talk is such a given, something that most folks would say they had control over, but I think it brilliantly underscores how unconscious processes are in fact responsible for what we say (and do, for that matter).
The next time a friend is talking, count the number of words they have said and ask them this: That last sentence, did you pre-script it beforehand, choosing the words, word order, grammar and syntax etc prior to uttering it, or did the words just come out by themselves, without any conscious effort and still somehow managed to represent what you would have said had you been able to script the sentence beforehand? Also, try listening to yourself talking and wondering 'where are these words coming from?'