Whether or not we have a free will is an age old question in philosophy – whether we are truly in control of our decisions and whether our future is an uncertainty, slowly carved out into a reality by our thoughts and actions today. Whether we have this free will is a question that has a popular appeal for it directly affects they way we see the universe and our place in it. Though what is it that makes us believe we truly are in control of our decisions and whether when you’re faced with chocolate ice cream or vanilla there really is a moment of genuine uncertainty before you choose the vanilla.

Something inside us compels us to believe humans have free will. We probably therefore also believe animals such as dogs, cats and horses also have free will, sometimes your dog will want to go run after that ball you’ve thrown, sometimes he’ll be too lazy. We probably also believe tiny animals such as spiders and flies have free will too, spinning their webs and flying in different directions. But would we say we thought the amoeba (a single-celled animal) has free will…? Instinct tells me no. The amoeba is a single celled organised comprised of a handful of atoms and atoms obey the laws of physics. Now if this line of reasoning leaves you a little uneasy then you really must agree with me that the point at which we believe free will comes into play is very very vague indeed. Is there a clear point when free will emerges, equally as consciousness does, or is it just an illusion we like to accept to provide meaning and purpose to our human lives.

Physics, the old and the new, biology and neuroscience all like to have a weigh in on this question. When one tries to pinpoint the centre of the human decision making process it is usually the brain that comes to mind. However if our biological shells and our brains are nothing more than a very large agglomeration of atoms and molecules (and who can provide evidence that they are not?!) then surely their complex processes can be reducible to the laws of physics.  In the classical view of physics the behaviour and movement of  atoms and molecules can be determined by whatever the set of initial conditions was in the system. Take the motion of billiard balls on a pool table, the initial conditions are like the configuration of the balls on the table, the position and direction of the queue and its momentum. From these initial conditions the subsequent movement of the balls can be perfectly mapped out. Without taking Quantum Mechanics into account, which we will do soon, if the atoms are thought to behave classically then their behaviour is predetermined from way back long ago when the atoms first came into existence i.e. the big bang. These initial conditions caused them to fly out in a predetermined trajectory at time zero and collide with other particles. Their combined momenta then acted as subsequent conditions which caused further collision. The process continues until life comes about as we know and the conditions for the next step of behaviour for these particles is always determined from what happened in the stage prior – there is never a genuine moment of instantaneous uncertainty of what will happen next.

TO BE CONTINUED ON via Is Free Will an Illusion? — Rationalising The Universe