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To what extent does free will play a part in our decisions?

To write this essay, I am supposed to choose to describe a small and a major decision that were made recently. Moreover, try to find an explanation to the knowledge question “To what extent did free will play a part in your decision?” I will try to focus on the matter of nature vs nurture therefore, natural and human sciences as areas of knowledge; and multiple ways of knowing.

After great dwelling with my brain and the use of reason, and my emotions; choosing to describe the process of decision-making, is my example of the small decision for this essay. I chose that free willingly. But what does free will means? I could have chosen describing my decision of making spaghetti instead of rice; or choosing what to wear in a school day. That is the definition of freedom of will, taken from a libertarian point of view; it allows us to say “I could have chosen (and done) otherwise.” 1 Thus, making me morally responsible for my own actions.

When exploring the matter of free will when making choices; scientist Benjamin Libet conducted experiments to find out how much free will played a part in our actions. The experiment 2  showed that the brain already made the decision before the participants acted on it. Free will therefore plays no part in the process of decision-making; this claim goes against the libertarian concept of freedom of will.

How do I know if it was free will, which played a part in my decision? When nature contradicts my intuition of believing I have free will, intuition that was influenced by the way I was brought up; knowing that I always have a choice. How do I choose what to believe? Does free will play a part in choosing what to believe in? In some cases, it does.

Choosing the IB program was a major decision for me. However, it did not take too much thinking about it, or any process of decision-making really. From the moment, I heard about it from Mr Sjöholm, the decision was made. Nevertheless, when looking for what influenced this choice different justifications come up. Being at ease with what my school life could look like was the strongest way of knowing that what I was about to act upon was the right choice. Seeing that the IB would be a challenge compared to normal school system in Norway, reminded me of my prior experiences attending private schools in my home country. My memories played an important role ­in this decision.

At that point, it was not certain that the IB program would be available this school year. Though, I believed in Mr Sjöholm when he said it could. Faith does not rely on proof; it relies solemnly on who you are as person, and what you choose to believe in. Free will does play a part when it comes to choosing in what to believe or not. Some people will free willingly choose to believe in something without any proof, sometimes just because of how they feel about it, other times because they were told to. This goes both ways, some people will choose not believe in something even though there is proof. Faith not relying on proof makes it reasonable for people to believe, or not, in whatever they want; to a certain degree.

Just because our brain decided it first, does it mean that we do not have free will? When this argument is made, does the mind exists as something separated from the brain? If so, which one is the real us? Alternatively, are we another external something, a soul? On the other hand, are the brain and mind one and the same? Are we the combination of the two? If so, does nature determine the extent of free will in our actions or the lack of it? It is the environment around us and the adjustments our brain and/or mind made from past experiences?

I believe that free will plays a huge part in my decisions. The fact that I am responsible for what I choose to do and that it will have impacts on who I am as person, and what my future will be like, is reassuring and at the same time terrifying. Being the egocentric being that I am, everything is about me. That is why when choosing and making decisions, free will, will always play a part in my decision-making process. I will always choose what I find will fit me better. Although, of course, this does not apply to every human being in the planet; since psychology is not a precise science when referring to individuals, the degrees to which free will plays a role in people’s decisions will vary.

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Grade: 8/10

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The Stanford Prison Experiment was a psychological experiment on how prisoners and prison guards react to being put into an evil place. The experiment was conducted in the basement of Stanford University in 1971. The prisoners were college students, and they were picked, surprisingly, at their own houses by the police.

The participants of the experiment, played their role well, the guards were acted powerful and authoritarian; and some of them even abused the power they had. And the prisoners obeyed the guards until they started to break. Some wanted to leave before the experiment was finished, and they eventually did.

The experiment was interrupted before it got completed. A lot of variables played a part in this unexpected stop. The prisoners that quit, the superintendent not having an impartial supervisor, and the guards stepping over boundaries.

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

I think what Isaac Asimov tries to say with this quote is how science is always a step in front of ethics and moral reasoning. We have all this technology, but we still have to figure out if it is morally acceptable to make use of it or a ethical way of using it. For example, stem cells are a great resource but the ethical way of getting them is not on the same level as how much it is needed.

Also, how some people make use of the technology (science) in an unethical way, i.e. atomic weapons.

The thing is that people, having different opinions and thoughts on what is “good” and “bad”, make the process of scientific progress slower. Scientist can, mostly, agree on a scientific theory or on scientific knowledge; but when non-scientists (“normal people”? whatever) want to make use of the scientific knowledge acquired it takes time and a lot of discussion about whether it is “right” or “wrong”.

KQ: In what way does disagreement promote scientific progress?

I think disagreement is a key element in scientific progress. It helps scientists to reach further and look at things differently. But when the disagreement happens between scientists and “civilians” things might get a little tricky. There’s ethics involved, and that on one side can stop progress or slow it down. Although on the other side, again, it can make scientists look at things differently and hopefully find better ways of making progress.

KQ: What is it about theories in the human and natural sciences that makes them convincing?

In natural sciences there this thing called the scientific method, that I just learned about. And I think of myself as a rational person, and natural science seems to be more rational because there’s a way to prove all the theories.

This is not how this is supposed to go.

There was a time when I believed in a god, the Christian god in my case, the primary reason was because I was told to. Anyway, I stopped believing in it/him/her. But I understand why a lot of people do.

The thing with human, natural and pseudo sciences is that they are all different forms of beliefs. Human and pseudo sciences go somehow together, because they are both about people and groups of people and how the human mind works and behaves. And even though, most pseudo sciences, if not all, were based on or have some natural science in it, they don’t really relate much. Because (some) pseudo sciences lack the scientific method.

I’m missing the point.

I’m not sure about human sciences, but in natural sciences there’s the scientific method. Where you observe, then develop a hypothesis and then experiment on it, and mostly likely get results and then make a theory. What makes these theories convincing is that there is a way to test it, and not just right there and then but over a longer period of time. Also, if the theory in the future turns out to be wrong or not quite right, scientist change it and learn from it.

What makes theories convincing is more about what people choose to believe in than the theory itself, I guess. Because even though, theories in natural sciences are provable and ‘real’, there are still some people who don’t believe in it.

15 minutes’ up.