Do we have free will, or are all our thoughts and actions a result of the physical forces in our universe?
After having taken part in a discussion about consciousness on Furiku's blog I decided to learn a little bit more about the philosophy of the mind which discusses such things as the nature of the mind, consciousness, and free will versus determinism. The audio-course, which I warmly recommend, is from the teaching company (see my previous post about the the teaching company here), and it is called "philosophy of the mind". Teacher is John Searle (see picture) from the University of California, Berkeley.
My experience is that the question of free will versus determinism is a question that many people ask themselves occasionally. Are we free agents in the world or does everything, and I mean everything have a preceding cause. I cannot speak for anyone else of course, but for me it sure feels like I have free will. When I write these words I feel as if I am deciding to write these words, and I can even erase them again if I want to! On the other hand, dwelling further into this I can think of situations in which I have felt as if I had no free will, where I acted contrary to the way I wanted to act. One of my stepchildren exemplifies this point well. In the process of doing something violent to her younger sibling she sometimes says "I just could not control myself", which effectively eliminates the possibility of telling her that "that was wrong!".
I should state here what I believe; I believe that we live in a determined universe, that free will is an illusion (that we are determined to have), and I will now explain why.
We have physical laws which can, with some small exceptions, explain more or less everything that goes on around us. In most chemical and physical systems we can, if we know the current state of the molecules in the system, predict how the same system will look in the future. Our brain is a chemical/physical system (a very complex one), and therefore it should be theoretically possible to predict what our brain will look like in the future, and if we had more knowledge about the relation between the physical and mental state of the brain we would be able to predict exactly, the mental states and behaviors of the individual.
Some people will object to my view by saying that, if I don't have free will, then everything is determined and it doesn't matter what I do. I could go out and rape and kill people and that would have been inevitable. However, if the deterministic hypothesis is true, then you could obviously not decide to go out and kill and rape. If you did go out to kill and rape, it would be because of something, maybe these words (caused by processes in my brain) have had an influence of your brain which makes you go and do this, or maybe you have gotten a tumor in your amygdala, messing up your emotions. A similar objection that I sometimes hear is the following. "How can you (referring to me), believe in such a depressing thing?" Life is meaningless without free will! Of course the answer is the same, if the deterministic hypothesis is true I cannot decide to believe or not believe in free will, my beliefs were determined by the state of the universe when it began. Besides, I don't really feel sad when I think that I have no free will, rather, I think, I am a little bit amused by this thought.
Another objection is that research in quantum mechanics have shown that there is uncertainty in the universe. We cannot tell the exact location of the electron when it is orbiting the nucleus of the atom, hence free will. To me this argument sounds rather far fetched and desperate. There is no plausible reason to suggest that we would be able to control, through our mental activity, where the electron is located, and there is also no good reason (as I see it), why the location of an electron in the orbital cloud should give rise to different actions.
Summing up, I just cannot see anyway around the conclusion that there is no such thing as free will. It free will did exist it would be a big problem for science which rests on the assumption that every process in the universe have a cause. I would love to hear comments on this post, especially from people who do believe in free will...