Sunday, September 12, 2010

Free Will and Determinism


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The existence of free will always goes hand in hand with determinism. Free will is defined as a choice that is free and independent thereby makes it a voluntary decision. From a philosophical aspect, it is a personal choice which is expressed by human that is not merely determined by physical or divine factors. Stimulated by rain, a frog croaks, or a rooster crows at dawn. We know that the frog and the rooster have no choice in the matter as their behaviors are environmentally determined. Thus, their actions are instinctive and they act according to the environmental cues. Humans, on the other hand, have much greater behavioral flexibility and thus are able to adapt to the environment. The key word here is 'adaptation', as humans are always engaged in it to avoid extinction.

The presence of genes does not by itself promise that a certain trait will be manifested, but coupled with the combination of the right and proper environment is crucial for the innate tendencies to be fully expressed. These environmental factors take into account of not only of natural surroundings but also of the individuals' social and culture.

In behaviorism or behavioral psychology, the key element is that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Through the interaction with environment, the conditioning occurs. Therefore, behaviorism places no consideration of internal mental states but focuses on the study of behavior in a systematic and observable manner. Free will is the ability to choose and it implies that it is something that occurs within a person besides the influences of deterministic elements such as heredity and environment.

A person may choose to behave in one way or the other by his free will despite inheritance and all environmental effects. Free will thus places choice as something that is real, not just an illusion and each of us can cause a certain behavior. The reconciliation between free will and determinism brings 'soft determinism' and 'compatibilist.' According to Donald Hebb, soft determinism holds that free will comprises of behaviors that are also dependent on inheritance and past environmental history. This contradicts the conventional idea of free will that is thinks of a choice made is free from the influence of past events.

Based on John Broadus Watson, an American psychologist who believed strongly that psychology should involve the study of the visible behavior, he basically left the part where the mental processes that occur within a person that is also important in the study of free will. His views on behaviorism are at its most extreme. Human behavior is always influenced by factors evidently which include biological and environmental. A creative decision which is made that is free of the influences from these factors is called free will.

To exclusively separate free will and determinism in two groups help us understand what each is defined against the other. But to understand life and the interaction of humans with each other and the choices that are brought about, free will and determinism must be assessed both at the same time. For as long as a person is unaware that he or she is controlled by the biological and environmental, the more that he or she is controlled or constricted by these elements. And thus every choice and decision that is made comes thus from a determined pasts or experiences. For example, an 18 year-old female who has a controlling father may act in subtle ways that show her rebellion to go against her father, when he does not allow her to go out with her friends at night. Her actions can be rooted in free will or determinism or a combination of both.

The idea of a certain action comes from either free will or determinism exclusively is naive as she can act for that sole purpose to go against the father, as most adolescent do. Or she can act in a more adult way by showing that she can be trusted or held responsible by her actions and thus making the relationship with the father a more effective one. The environmental factor in this case, which is the father's controlling nature triggers a respond to the daughter.

To include a biological factor now we use the same situation except for the personality of the daughter, who is very sensitive in nature and has been diagnosed with depression. Research has shown that some people are born with a certain chemical imbalance in the brain that causes them to be more easily depressed than others. So, when this person acts in the same situation as the example above to go out at night with her friends, she may feel that her controlling father does not understand her or he is set on his decisions that she is no to be trusted.

Thereby, his reactions of not allowing her to go out may cause her to react in ways that are unique to her and her predisposition. She may just decide to abandon the idea of going out, and miserably stay in her room and get depressed. She may feel that her father's actions are justified as he is being protective of her or that he does not trust her enough. So, free will is in question as she is constrained by a biological factor which is the imbalance in the brain chemicals, causing her behavior. But to a certain point, the environment too influences her nature to become more depress such as the father constant anger or mistrusting attitudes which will exacerbate the depression. Thus, the environment works together with the biological aspects to induce a certain outcome in the behavior of the person.

In both examples, by looking at the behaviorist point of view, we don't see the internal conflicts that go on in the individual as we focus on the physical aspects of the daughter's reaction to the same controlling father. Psychodynamic approach which is based of Sigmund Freud tells us that the reactions of the daughter to the controlling father are influenced by id, ego and superego. This perspective focuses on the role of unconscious mind, experiences of early childhood and interpersonal relationships to explain the behavior of a person. Free will can't be applied when there are the factors in the past that work to produce a certain kind of behavior. But if the person realizes that these factors are at work, then at least, in this frame of mind, she can transcend the experience by making a new decision with respect to the reaction of a controlling father. This way, at the background of so many deterministic factors, her awareness will take her to a new position in her response to her father.

Free will and determinism, looked upon from the angle of behaviorism, psychodynamical and biological perspectives, brings us to notice that free will; acts in conscious choice that is not determined by compulsion of heredity, circumstance or environment, is not possible if there is no awareness of the controlling deterministic factors in the first place. To transcend the influences of the past, the biological make-up, and all the cultural and social impacts on a person, the awareness that these things are working to influence the choices a person makes, is important, for determinism to be broken down. And thus, allowing a creative choice to be made creatively, the closest the experience to free will anyone can have.



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