Does free will exist ?

This question has been a subject of numerous philosophical, scientific and religious studies, yet it still raises many arguments as to whether we are free when it comes to determining our own actions. And if we are not, then what makes our actions predetermined ? Likewise, if we do have free will, what is the source of it, or, in other words, if the free will is a consequence, then what is the cause ?

Free will-deniers support the determinist theory, according to which any action of human-beings (as well as other known living beings) is a product of chemical reactions and electromagnetic impulses that occur in their brains. That theory practically views a human as a bio-machine, whose behavior is completely pre-programmed by the nature. Supporters of this theory mainly substantiate it by the results of neuroscientific experiments, such as the experiment conducted by Benjamin Lebet, which, basically, measured brain activity of volunteers in the process of decision making (something as simple as moving a wrist). The results showed that decision awareness and the action of moving a wrist itself are always preceded by the brain activity (he called it the readiness potential) by a several hundreds milliseconds.

And, thus, scientists, who advocate that free will does not exist, usually use the results of this experiment to show that they are absolutely right. However, Benjamin Lebet himself didn’t deem his experiment as a proof of the absence of free-will. On the contrary, he saw the results as a confirmation of the existence of free-will, since volunteers despite incoming brain impulses were able to suppress the urge to act after becoming aware of it. Lebet said that “Human subjects became aware of intention to act 350-400 ms after RP (readiness potential) starts, but 200 ms. before the motor act. The volitional process is therefore initiated unconsciously. But the conscious function could still control the outcome; it can veto the act… The role of conscious free will would be, then, not to initiate a voluntary act, but rather to control whether the act takes place.”

I would, however, argue about the letter part of the statement because this experiment, like many others similar scientific experiments, measured human behavior only on a quite primitive level. Therefore, its results can not be extrapolated to the decision-making process in complex life situations, which would demand performance of many logical operations, as well as compliance with moral categories. In other words, free will includes, but not limited to, the ability to consciously refrain from an act, initiated by the brain impulse.

If we are to come to the right conclusion eventually, it would be a vain attempt to try to comprehend such category as free will by mere scientific experiment. Therefore, we must seek philosophical explanation of this phenomenon rather than merely material one. After all, in a general sense, science is supposed to serve only as a tool for confirmation or refutation of philosophical concepts.

If we assume that will is a power to act, and liberty is a state, in which we are not compelled to act in a certain way, neither we are restrained in our actions, then is it actually possible to have free will ? In fact it is possible, but the capacity to be free is different for every individual. Here I agree with a French philosopher Voltaire, who wrote in his “Dictionnaire philosophique” (1764) that “The word «liberty», «free-will»,” is therefore an abstract word, a general word, like beauty, goodness, justice. These terms do not state that all men are always beautiful, good and just; similarly, they are not always free.”

In that case human’s own actions serve as a criteria that defines the capacity for freedom. On a more esoteric level it means that when one’s actions do not violate the laws of the Universe, that capacity naturally increases. However, more often than not ignorance and other vices lead to wrong actions, hence preventing the growth of free will. Another citation of Voltaire from “Dictionnaire philosophique” agrees with that statement: “In what sense then must one utter the phrase-” Man is free “? in the same sense that one utters the words, health, strength, happiness. Man is not always strong, always healthy, always happy. A great passion, a great obstacle, deprive him of his liberty, his power of action.”

Therefore the amount of free will that a person has at a given moment depends on the nature of his/her previous actions, and the amount of freedom a person will have in the future is defined according to the present actions of that person.

Music For A Cold Autumn Night

  • Sometimes it’s easy to fall prey to late autumn depression during its short days and cold long nights. But it also can be a good time to focus on yourself, your inner world, and to become more meditative. Just as trees shed their leaves, you can shed whatever is burdening you by going on your inner journey, and who knows what treasure you might find there. One of the things that can help you in that is music that was created specifically to help us achieve inner peace. Here are the five albums that you may find helpful on your internal quest.
  • 1. Band: Carbon Based LifeformsAlbum: twentythree [2011]This is an ambient album produced by the masters of the genre from Sweden. It comprises a light airy, yet at times very deep, atmosphere. The overall feeling ranges from cosmic, mysterious contemplation (Arecibo, VLA) and melancholy (held together by gravity) to the light atmosphere of “Kensington gardens”, with other tracks somewhere in between. Great music for daydreaming, abstract thinking and going within yourself. All tracks do exceptionally good in conveying the feeling of the album, but my personal favorite track is “Terpene”.

    2. Band: Mystical Sun

    Album: Primordial atmospheres [1994]

    Primordial Atmospheres from the now far distant mid 90’s is one of those albums I keep returning to over and over again. If I were to choose one word to describe this album, It would be “other-worldly”. Every track has unique sounds that will echo in your subconscious mind and combine to create soothing an imaginary world, where you can stay to heal yourself. It is very good for meditation (especially the long track, Journey to Samadhi) or just relaxation and daydreaming. My personal favorite track here is “Akasha

    3. Band: Between Interval

    Album: Autumn Continent [2006]

    Starting from the first track Autumn Continent slowly submerges you in the atmosphere of fading, as if you have seen numerous cycles of life and death to become transcendental and just contemplate everything in silence. Most tracks have little or no beats to focus on creating ethereal atmosphere, in which beautiful soundscapes emerge from the depths of your mind. Although it may seem at times that some tracks sound somewhat gloomy, in fact they are not. Every track, as well as the whole album, carries a light of hope within itself. I’d personally pick out “Early Life Remainings” and “This Dominion” as my favorite tracks.

    4. Band: Biosphere

    Album: Substrata [1997]

    One of the hallmarks of electronic music of all time (at least in my opinion) that has been reissued more than a dozen times is very good to listen in autumn. It is hard to describe this album, because it is very experimental and abstract by nature. It’s like a journey to the unknown, which can transform you. “Sphere of no-form” is a very transcendental track, which I do not expect everyone to understand; “hyperborea” and “silene” are two other tracks that hold special place in my memory.

    5. Band: Adrian Von Ziegler

    Album: Vagabond (song: Autumn Forest) [2013]

    For those who aren’t very much into abstract music and are more of romantic nature, this song written by a talented Swiss composer should be perfect. It is quite emotional and has a distinct medieval flavor. What I like about it the most, is the way the sound flows, never becoming repetitive, and how different instruments complement each other, creating a warm and harmonious river amid cold and gloomy autumn.