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Do You Really Have Free Will?

You probably believe that you are in control of all of your thoughts and actions, right? It seems obvious that we do. That decision to go to the gym today? My decision. That decision to eat that second chocolate chip cookie? Also my decision.

Not so fast.

If you think about it, we (humans) are just a bunch of atoms and energy working together to form what we call “consciousness”. Our brains are full of billions of biological processes (most being chemical reactions) that allow us to do…well…everything. Chemical reactions are definite: mix vinegar and baking soda and you’ll get carbon dioxide every time. So wouldn’t all of our actions just be a result of those biological processes that make our brain work?

Maybe. But because life is so complex, all of these “chemical reactions” (aka our decisions) are greatly influenced by external factors (other people, environment) just as much as internal factors (feelings, beliefs, genetics). But in the end they are still biological, meaning physical, processes–just like a tornado forming when all of the right conditions are met.

Or are they?

Free Will

Think of the last decision you made. It was most likely to click on this article. You probably feel like you chose to click on this article (meaning that you don’t think your mind is being controlled). You could have also chosen not to read this article, if you had wanted. Because you had the ability to do otherwise, the choice was yours, right?

I mean, this is true. You, theoretically, could have chosen otherwise. Therefore, you made a choice. There is actually some degree of randomness in biology that many free-will supporters argue allows us to have true freedom. It is called the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and has something to do with quantum physics. The principle explains that their natural law holds some degree of randomness. This means that biological processes, unlike vinegar and baking soda, don’t necessarily happen the same way every time. Arguably, this is why we have free will.


Determinists argue that is is theoretically possible to predict any human action with 100% certainty if you knew all of the information that went into that decision. Additionally, all present and future actions are predetermined by past events.

If a dog decides to bite you, did the dog do so of its own volition? Or was it a snap reaction caused by a chemical reaction in the dog’s brain caused by an evolutionary trait? Most would agree with the latter. But then why are they so much different than other animals? Where do we draw the line? At what point in evolution did we become “intelligent enough to choose?”

After all mental states = brain states = biological states = physical states. So the comparison of decisions and tornadoes isn’t so dissimilar. If all of the conditions are there, a specific outcome will happen.

Just something to think about.

But there are some problems with determinism too. Our social structure is written on the belief that we should be held responsible for our actions. However, hard determinism basically states that criminals are only victims of their circumstances. It can even be argued that it wouldn’t be fair to punish criminals because of this. Hard determinism tends to undermine the rules and morals surrounding justice. Also, humans generally don’t like to believe that they don’t have free will, because that kind of sucks.


So far, there is no correct answer to this question. Both sides are backed by solid evidence and reasoning. Because life is so complex, we still do not completely understand the human brain. To quote scientist Emerson M Pugh, “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”

In the end, it’s your choice what to believe….or is it?

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