Does free will exist? On the surface, the answer may seem obvious free will exists. If you are hungry, you can choose to go grab a bag of potato chips or a yogurt. Do we have the ability to make conscious decisions in our lives or do we? If you dig a little deeper, the idea that free will doesn’t exist doesn’t sound so absurd. If all of our decisions are based on some combination of our genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and preceding events, then there isn’t much room for free will.
In opposition to free will is determinism, where all events are the result of a preceding event. In this context, it is hard to argue against determinism because all future events simply could not occur without preceding events. There is a logical sequence of events where if a chainlink goes missing, then a future event that is represented by the next chainlink could not occur. Even some rather small and mundane decisions that we make still fall into this category.
A decision to look at the wall next to you is preceded by whatever thought process that led you to peer at the wall. It could be due to reading this last sentence and there is certainly a long chain of events that led you to read this that goes all to the day you were born. For free will to exist, there would have to be a broken link somewhere, but that is the illusion of free will since that event placed at the location of the broken link would still be preceded whichever events that came before it.
It is difficult to argue that the decision to break the link was not in some way influenced by events that occurred before it.
Decision-making and behavior are largely dictated by our beliefs about the world, which is a product of our environment and possibly our hard-wired genetics. If all of our decisions are made with the aforementioned factors in mind, then it is difficult to insert free will into the equation of decision-making. There is always a multitude of external factors that go into every decision that we make. Even if you were to suffer amnesia, the circumstance in which you exist with amnesia would influence your decision-making. Any decision being made would come from the context of a person with amnesia. Additionally, your hard-wired genetics would still play a role in your decision-making under those conditions. For free will to exist, each decision would have to be made with a clean slate, which is impossible to do.
In a scientific experiment conducted by Paul Blood and Adam Bear, the results provide evidence to suggest that the brain alters our memory and tricks us into thinking that we make decisions based on our own free will. Participants were repeatedly shown five white dots randomly placed on a screen and were asked to select one of the white dots before one of the dots was randomly lit up. One of the dots would randomly light up after the participants were given a chance to select a white dot, therefore statistically the predicted rate of a correct choice should have been 20 percent. In the instances where one of the white dots lit up quickly, the correct dot was selected over 30 percent of the time. In the other instances where one of the white dots lit up after a delay, the lit-up choice was selected by participants close to the expected rate of 20 percent. This leads the researchers to conclude that there is a revising of history in the brain where the action is articulated before the choice.
We know that the decisions that we make in our daily lives are the result of past events. Additionally, there are likely to be genetic factors that play a role in the decisions that we make. Every future event is a function of the events that occurred beforehand. Experiments have shown that we sometimes perceive choices to have been made before an action that may be contributing to the illusion of free will. For free will to exist, we would have to somehow discount all of history and all of our innate dispositions.