APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Does Free Will Truly Exist? It’s an Ongoing Debate

By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics

Free will is a debatable topic that has seen a resurgence in recent years. The subject of regulating someone’s ability to think and do as they please is ripe for discussion, considering recent decisions by social media platforms, major television networks, and other communication hubs to limit or discourage our choices and restrict our free will.

What Is Free Will?

Free will is the ability to make decisions, determine a course of action and ultimately chart your future. It also involves controlling your actions through mindfulness and deliberate ideas. Free will means that every human being is an agent who can make decisions.

However, there are questions regarding free will, such as:

  • What are the limits of free will?
  • How much of free will is biological?
  • How much of free will is based on life experiences?

These questions have been discussed by multiple people. But our brains remain a mystery in terms of how we make decisions or ethical choices and how we develop new ideas. There must be an internal way to determine that one choice is superior to another. Free will can include all probabilities, including the likelihood that some positive or negative event will happen to us.

Can You Chart Your Own Future?

Free will believers support the concept that determinism breeds creativity. As you look into the future, the more options you will have to make choices.

However, in the here and now, your choices are bound by rules and regulations. If you make certain choices, you can assign rewards and consequences based on the choices you make.

This concept implies that there are immediate consequences to making good and bad choices. Making choices also involves teaching yourself to make winning choices and correcting your thought processes with awareness training.

Related link: Developing a Functional Moral Compass in Online Courses

Free Will Has Been a Debate for Centuries

Scholars have debated the issue of free will for centuries. Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Anaximander discussed the laws of nature as they pertained to free will in 500 B.C.

Similarly, the philosopher Albrecht Dihle hypothesized that thoughts determine the future and can be shaped by others. British poet William Earnest Henley stated in his poem Invictus, “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.”

These views of free will imply that there is an element of chance, and people can make choices that can lead to a variety of outcomes. Likewise, these theories imply that we decide the reality we want to bring into being.

Are Your Choices Limited?

So much of what we face in life on a daily basis can be traced to some aspect of randomness. From a human perspective, this viewpoint is counterintuitive because people can think and make decisions. We think that we are responsible for our choices and can determine a course of action in the moment, but science suggests otherwise.

Scientists have expressed another viewpoint that free will does not exist, based on neuroscience, religious beliefs, axioms in logic and even Einstein’s theory of relativity. According to Psychology Today, “Science shows that your brain is a machine, subject to the laws of nature just like any other machine. Your neurons obey the laws of cause and effect – determinism – whereas they’d need to act in defiance of such laws if you truly had a will of your own.”

This concept stems from the philosophy of compatibilism, which states that people are made of atoms and particles that obey the laws of physics. From this concept, you can extrapolate that there is always a solution to every question.

The Law of Physics

The law of physics suggests that there is no free will and the future is predetermined. In other words, there is a cause and effect for all of the events in our lives.

This view involves determinism, which means the events in our lives are bound to happen. Our brains can’t predict in advance what someone is going to do, which means that free will is an illusion. As a result, we cannot change time and we cannot change what is meant to be. The future is preordained.

According to the Big Bang theory, all events can be traced to the beginning of time and therefore all possible events are the effect of a single cause. If your choices are already predetermined, then we have the illusion that we have free will.

If you believe in pre-ordained events and karma, then it’s a logical conclusion that we don’t have infinite free will. Our choices are constrained in multiple ways. There are things that you can and can’t do, according to legal, social, and moral rules.

If you follow the rules, you can make an infinite number of decisions. As a result, our consciousness leads to voluntary choices. If you behave as if you can chart your life’s course, you are happier and are better able to function in society.

Free Will: A Faculty Debate

Free speech and its restrictions will be the topic of an upcoming 75-minute faculty debate, “Does Free Will Exist?” The debate is sponsored by the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

This virtual debate will be held on December 8, 2021, at 12 pm ET. It is open to all University students, faculty and staff, as well as the general public. This quarterly debate will feature four University faculty debaters: 

  • Dr. Gary Deel
  • Dr. Steven Wyre
  • Dr. Christopher Myers
  • Dr. Lynn Mardon

This debate will focus on several topics, including:

  1. Does free will exist?
  2. The ability of agents to make choices
  3. Compatibilism vs. soft determinism
  4. 21st-century ideologies

The debate will cover consciousness and the ability to determine if something is real. The discussion will also include if someone can plan, program and execute choices.

In addition, the debate will focus on the ways we punish people for the crimes they commit. For instance, the criminal justice system assumes people possess free will to make decisions and are accountable for their choices.

Others argue that thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes and we are passengers, not drivers, in our own minds. But is this logic skewed? You be the judge.

I will serve as the moderator for this debate. The debate format will include:

  • Opening statements from each debater
  • Questions from the moderator
  • Questions from the audience
  • Closing statements
  • A friendly poll for fun to see which team debated the topic the best

So which team do you think will be the most persuasive in arguing for or against free will? You’ll have to tune in on December 8 to find out! We look forward to you joining us!

Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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