Does free will exist?

By Qaisar Sultan

The freedom of thought and ideas find solace in the heart that does what it desires. Is it not true that heart always does what it wishes (except for the slaves); and human beings do what they like and hate to do what they despise? We insist upon, except for the religious outlook, a free will. Our ability to do or not to do something and taking the responsibility falls right in the middle of different views, including religious, moral, ethical and legal framework. What we call the matters of the heart is actually the matter of mind- That this mind somehow is a separate entity independent of body. It took all these years from beginning of the time to develop this mind to a modern machine that is supposed to be its own arbitrator; or is it as primordial as the life itself. Through evolution, we refined the pre-linguistic sense of self. All the intelligence, decision making, deep rooted desire to survive and procreate, recognition, hatred and love are all old human traits that have never been quiescent in sub-sub-conscious; but extreme emotions ooze out as lava or at least exhibits in form of burning volcano. We see that nature manifest itself in form of extreme intelligence, common sense and emotions and passions. All the meanings are driven from a well defined and prearranged framework that draws its essence from experiences, history, and genetics and given circumstances; then what happens to free will? So is nature that provides us the tools, not necessary the biological tools, but the rational view of self that we consider consciousness. The history of consciousness has been with human beings earlier than its written understanding- All the knowledge is stored deep into the archives of our sub-conscious. Something and someone has the ability to reach out the knowledge already available to us; it sounds spooky. To think that all the sciences and knowledge are stored in human sub-conscious is hard to swallow. The evolution has made the job easier. There was time in the history that man took a big leap. That brings us to a sort of understanding that the soul of men carried that knowledge; the body was just to contain the power and revelation of nature. If the bodies perished, the soul and the essence of men survived. That essence is free; it has its own will, independent of the body. Descartes went as far as saying that free will cannot be constrained.

Descartes thought that mind is discernable from the body; and proposed the Dualism of mind and body. The body gives all the power and energy to the mind that independently makes choices for us. Our body has the spatial space whereas the mind does not. Our body would decay while our soul would survive; so there is this divisibility. There is almost a universal belief that after death, soul will be separated from the body. It seems to us that somehow there is some sort of Dualism exists, at least on religious and philosophical basis. But is it not true that a weak body usually affects the mind. Do we have to replenish our mind by consuming food and exercise? If the indescribability has to be found, subsequently all parts of the body seems to have independent functions. What we call mind is the function of brain that receives blood and nutrient from the body- So how about that soul that we believe in? How do we find the meanings of all of this? Is finding the meanings itself describes the consciousness? We have the capacity to direct our attention to what we feel is necessary or important to us. We are conscious of what our physical and intellectual needs are. The meanings are very individual who develops some perception of his self, a conscious that defines the emotions, needs, openness and restraint.

What if someone who is highly respected in the scientific field comes along and declares that there is no free will. Francis Crick who died in 2004 developed the double helix structure of DNA. Crick and Watson were given Nobel Prize for their work to find out the fundamental blocks of life. Today, the genetics has changed the medical science, dating the fossils, finding out the linkage between races and people and criminalogy. Before Crick died, he wrote one of the most profound articles in New York Times about life. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Crick devoted his life working on consciousness. Surprisingly, he felt that we live in a deterministic world, meaning that there is no free will. Crick wrote, “You, your joys and your sorrows, you memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity are all in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”. He believed that the consciousness arises when sets of neuron fire in a coordinated way. To understand the determinism of Crick; first we should appreciate that he truly believed in the science. The determinism is most debated topic within both religious and philosophical positions.  In larger scheme of things, the external will affects the outcome; but when it comes to our free will, our personal worth, dignity and moral decisions are very much based on our choices. Espinoza’s view of limited interference of nature with our moral judgments and outcomes has been rejected by Crick. The scientific and some philosophical views take the subject to reductionism- Something that is so sacred for thousands of years may not be acceptable to a religious mind when the soul and afterlife are being trivialized to neurons firing to some kind of consciousness.  Nobody can deny the fact that we have the power to do or undo; acting and not acting; and we are free to make moral choices.  But what bother me most that we do not have free will to choose our parents, country of birth and the environment thus given to us to think and act in certain productive or unproductive, moral or immoral manners. Then the free will for those who were given a bad start takes them barely a direction presenting flawed character as an instinctive part of their psyche.

We are always confronted with choices. Averroes beautifully gave the explanation that appealed to most thinkers. He felt that the ultimate cause of every phenomenon is God- He also established a secondary cause- Al Ghazali opposed his view on predestination. When Al-Ghazali argued that a man standing and looking at two dates and not eating any of the date because he did not know which one to eat, Averroes countered by saying that it is a matter of not selecting the date but eating it. God is not simply an agent of all divine actions and carries all the decision making and cipher for all natural events which would take place anyway and that are the reflection of the perfect nature of God. It is sort of astonishing that a true secularist, Crick, came to the same conclusion. We have free will to choose from coffee or tea in the morning and God has nothing to do with that event. We have moral choices to make and cannot blame God for our shortcomings. But what happened to our lives; God knows how much was our free will or external will that put us where we are today?

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