Do We Have Free Will?

While briefly pondering the abject misery of the world in which we reside, one does not hesitate to be appalled by its malevolence and constant demonstration of injustice, tyranny, and sadness. Religious fanatics are equipped and ready to chop off heads of those who happen to have a different religion or a vociferous criticism; civil wars erupted and still erupt for the mere reason of ethnic or religious differences; an average of 25,000 children under the age of five are perishing in front of their helpless mothers each day, chiefly from causes preventable with low-cost, proven interventions. With all of this religious barbarism, utter inhumanity, and prevalent primitiveness, we incessantly and rather clichely are offered an effective yet a widely misunderstood elixir for this inhumanity that we never cease to witness: being more sympathetic. Nevertheless, as much nobility and gravity this word no doubt holds, its utilization and practicality are in deep trouble. If we truly, genuinely, and unequivocally sympathize with one another, why has hate become the norm? I am going to attempt to advance the unusual, abhorrent idea that it is because we think we are in total control of our decisions and our lives that we become less sympathetic. In other words, because of our strong attachment to our sense of free will.

Do we have free will? Or is it an utter illusion as Sam Harris and other neuroscientists contend? If I were to go to a restaurant and order a burrito with guacamole, in spite of all the available, eclectic options, did I choose the preference of having a burrito? Needless to say, I did not. I, as the conscious agent witnessing my preferences and my choices, was subject to prior causes and experiences-- mostly uncontrollable like genes, environment, and upbringing-- that influenced my decisions. While reading this, your mind will undoubtedly be roaming in a variety of realms; you will, on average, possess more than 2,500 thoughts per day. Are you the author of those thoughts? One derives pleasure and pride from answering yes to this question. However, Sam Harris argues that those thoughts have not originated in the conscious mind-- but merely appeared in it. Meaning that we are utterly oblivious to and unaware of the causes and mechanisms of our thought processes and decisions. We might feel that we crafted them, but in a point of actual fact, that feeling is unjustified. As much as we are out of control of the pace and rhythms of our heart beats, we are totally incapable of choosing or creating the emerging neural impulses in our prefrontal cortex that dictate our behavior, choices, preferences, biases, and so forth.

Abandoning our sense of free will wouldn't be trouble-free-- it will have implications on how we view and regard our morality, politics, justice system, and most significantly, ourselves. Therefore, as soon as we acquiesce with the uncomfortable idea of abandoning our sense of free will, then, we will-- surprisingly-- become freer and more independent.

Freer in the sense that we won’t attach ourselves to the roles, ideas, and choices that originated in our mind without our conscious effort and deliberation. That’s why, when a religious zealot falls in a skirmish against the perplexing idea of the illusionment of free will, then he will be gradually forced to question his beliefs, how he came to identify with and fight for them. We will-- after the painful realization that we are merely the products of our genes, upbringings and environment-- be more understanding to and sympathetic towards the diverse, wide differences across all behaviors, beliefs, and lifestyles. Precisely because we know that we can be innocent victims to certain ideological, religious, or behavioral indoctrination and inculcation. In a utopía, a freer, more sympathetic individual will be a more detached consciousness from the sense of free will and its far-reaching implications. He or she, after all, will be aware that the ‘different,’ ‘ weird,’ ‘bad’ man did not choose to be as such-- and then we will treat them accordingly, and dare I say, with more sympathy.

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