Do humans have free will?
If I have to choose between a piece of dark chocolate and a piece of milk chocolate and I opt for the former, I’ve made a deliberate decision. Did I exercise free will? I don’t think so. I did consider the two options carefully. But our minds are made of a very special sort of material that is intricately molded by the world around us.
Based on a confluence of previous experiences with chocolate and perhaps an inherited trait that affects my taste preferences, I prefer dark chocolate. Was there a soul or conscience that steered me to the dark chocolate? Figuratively perhaps, but I’m pretty sure scientists will never be able to isolate a soul or conscience that is fundamentally distinct from our neural anatomy in the lab.
When I’ve discussed this topic with people, I’ve encountered a surprising degree of resistance and even indignation for daring to question the idea that humans possess free will. I suppose people feel that without free will, they are merely leaves in the wind. Nevertheless, we all know that humans are far more interesting specimens than leaves. Even without free will, the fact that we even have preferences between two types of chocolate makes us relatively remarkable compared to most living things.
The brain is finite. It has a limited amount of matter and can perform a limited number of functions. We tend to assign the word “infinite” to things that we are not close to understanding. As we fight the seemingly never-ending campaign to understand the intricacies of the human mind, many have thrown up their hands and argued that the mind is simply impossible to fully understand. I disagree. We’re talking about a vast multitude of chemical interactions, but a finite number.
Confounding these investigations are the infinite series of events that shape our lives. Nevertheless, once we firmly establish that the mind is finite, it will only be a matter of time before we can interpret the causal relationships between these exogenous stimuli and the chemical interactions that take place in our noggins.
Josh Kornfield is a junior majoring in international studies and political science. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.