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Free Will Doesn’t Exist

Free will is predetermined by our genetic makeup and our relationship with society

How do these constituents manifest themselves? To be more specific, I’m alluding to the old ‘nature’ vs ‘nurture’ debate. Of course, this is presented as a dichotomy; we accept that both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ contribute to the making of a person. ‘Nature’ refers to traits inherited from parents. Physiologically, they include height, life expectancy, body build, proclivity to experience a heart condition or type 2 diabetes, etc. Psychologically, the traits will include one’s personality, which we can measure psychometrically: agreeableness, extraversion, openness, neuroticism and conscientiousness; intelligence adds to this list of natural traits. ‘Nurture’ includes that which socialises us, commonly referred to as the agents of socialisation: family, religion, media and peers. These are the components that make us who we are. These components (‘nature’ and ‘nurture’) are solely responsible for every decision we make – they leave no room for free will.

“One’s choices can be predicted significantly before one is aware of making them. And if that is the case, there is no free will because freedom of will implies that there is not chain a reaction of events; it implies unconstrained authenticity.”

In any given action, a domino effect of prior events have taken place over a course of time. The butterfly effect hypotheses that were a butterfly to flap its wings, the potential for a tornado becomes possible. The air displaced conducts a line of ever-increasing air particles that displace slightly larger volumes, until a catastrophic event occurs. Decisions in life are of a similar fashion. That is to say, all actions are already predetermined to occur. If one had a sophisticated enough device, one would be able to predict anything – through the understanding of chain reactions. John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, conducted a decision-making experiment in which 14 volunteers were asked to press a button they felt the most urge to press. As they pressed the button, they memorised the letter on the screen that appeared at half-second intervals. A few seconds before the participants identified making the decision to press the button, researchers could predict their choice. The frontopolar cortex, responsible for complex reasoning, showed activity up to seven seconds before the volunteers were aware. That is to say one’s choices can be predicted significantly before one is aware of making them. And if that is the case, there is no free will because freedom of will implies that there is not chain a reaction of events; it implies unconstrained authenticity.

Suppose a scenario:

On a day of blistering sunshine, melting ice cream and excruciating sunburn, you are a young lady, walking your pug through a bustling city centre. Regardless of others’ misfortunes with dripping ice creams and the relentlessness of the British summer (as mythical as that may sound), you and your dog are enjoying the July weather until your merriment is disturbed by a surprisingly well-dressed salesman. Despite his admittedly immaculate loafers, your bliss is abruptly ruined. “Wow, I loooove your dog madam! My name is Jasper, by the way, and I’m representing NDCS, the National Deaf Children’s Society”, he declares, whilst hesitantly petting your dog. “How are you two doing, on this amazing day?” You’re an extrovert, in other words, socially fluent to a larger degree than the median. You’re also agreeable, which means you’d prefer to keep discourse friendly, and conflict suppressed. You’re also a sufficiently intelligent (poor) student who has expended her spare change on a Netflix subscription. “On this quote-on-quote amazing day, Jasper, we’re very well thank you, and I hope you are of a similar fashion,” you say. “My dog and I are in a rush… to the…vet’s. We really have no time. Sorry.”

“One doesn’t choose how intelligent they are; one doesn’t choose how agreeable they are and one certainly doesn’t choose their proclivity to be extroverted.”

In that interaction, and indeed other similar social interactions, one is likely convinced that every decision, word or action authored, is subject to one’s discretion. I believe the truth to be quite the contrary. Allow me to perform an autopsy of this scenario. Firstly, both Jasper’s and your language are English. Both of you were born here. You were born in an English-speaking country, to English-speaking parents: both variables you did not have free will over. Being an agreeable extrovert and exhibiting sufficient intelligence, you charismatically responded to what you rightly interpreted as an attempt to have your money displaced with: “My dog and I are in a rush.” One doesn’t choose how intelligent they are; one doesn’t choose how agreeable they are and one certainly doesn’t choose their proclivity to be extroverted. To quantify, using Eysenck’s The Biological Basis of Personality, one may be extroverted, or rather, energised by social interactions and exhibiting a more regulated level of arousal in the cortex. At other times introverted: taxed by social interactions through the over-arousal of the cortex. It ought to be said that this isn’t categorical. However, one has the tendency to lean more to one side or the other. If you were sufficiently introverted in this scenario, you might be shy. You would be more likely to simply respond with, “sorry sir, I don’t have time”. as opposed to making jokes and about the not so “quote-on-quote amazing weather” and there’d be less charisma that you exert. You cannot regulate the degree to which the cortex is aroused. You do not have free will.

Jasper’s decision to spend his summer days chasing young women with dogs, and whoever else, is not simply because he chooses to. Jasper is earning a living, so he can buy more loafers. Jasper is one participant in the economy. He will earn commission on the number of people that agree to set up direct debits with the NDCS. On such an ‘amazing day’, Jasper could’ve otherwise spent it sippin’ Henny in the sun. But no, Jasper has been trained to be a salesman, so he can earn money to support himself; Jasper has been socialised to participate in capitalism. Were Jasper a poorly socialised feral man, he would for sure have other interests and most certainly would not be able to participate in the everyday occurrences of society. Jasper didn’t choose to be born to this society, nor any society.

Jasper’s ability to dress well is also subject to determinism, as well as openness (which encompasses the appreciation of art and aesthetics). It is almost certain that his sense of style would be shaped by a campaign for which he identifies with the most. If not, campaigns who have his digital footprint would be sure to chase him everywhere he goes online. The digital marketing industry is worth $600 billion worldwide. If that fact alone doesn’t represent the degree to which we are successfully driven by both internal and external factors (nature and nurture) for which we have no control over, I really am convinced nothing will. Were Jasper to refuse the convention of cloth wearing, society would have him punished. He would not get away with walking around a city in his birthday suit. Jasper would most likely face a fine and feature on the local spotted page.

This content is one individual's opinion and does not represent the opinion of The Galleon. If you disagree with this article or have any further comment to make please email

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