Perhaps one of the most asked questions in the metaphysical realm is whether or not we as humans have free will. It would be nice to imagine that the answer is a simple yes or no. However, metaphysics has taken to answering this question from as early as the times of Plato, though no one has been able to answer it with a definite, solid answer. This branch of study, metaphysics, combines science and philosophy together into one cohesive school of thought. Given its equal footing in both the realms of science and philosophy, Metaphysics may have an answer to this question.

While this question has boggled the minds of many a philosopher and scientist, there are a group of neuroscientists who managed to crack the code. While the majority of people in the past placed much of their intellectual trust into the minds of the philosophers, the dynamic seems to have shifted in the present age to the empirical deductions of the scientific world. Due to their strict adherence to producing testable results, the scientific community has earned more trust in the mainstream. Consequently, a team of neuroscientists that decided to answer this age-old question have produced results that most people would more than likely be content with. However, let us glimpse back to philosophy in order to define free will classically.  

A Philosophical Question For the Ages

Many ages ago, philosophers were the first to discover the phenomenon of free will and thus their definition will be used. Philosophers maintain that in order to have free will, one must meet two criteria. The first one seems pretty simple. The person needs the ability or opportunity to have a choice in action. For example, there must be more than one action this person can take in order for the first criteria can be met. The second criteria, which is really quite interesting, is that this person themselves must be where their action comes from or its source. This second criterion seems obvious, but as most philosophers know, the waters of free will can be muddied easily. 

Nature’s Free Will Versus Our Own

There are many theories that conjoin with the above ideas, intertwining. Indeterminism shows up in the litany of these ideas, asserting that we are outside the laws of nature and that the laws of nature and our own free will can’t be used to determine the will of the other. For example, the fact that there is a hurricane that somebody didn’t wish for means that the “will of the hurricane” and the human free will are simply not the same thing. These ideas merge into the realm of compatibility. In a sense, is free will compatible with the forces of nature? This is what the minds of neuroscientists and metaphysicists alike ponder. 

The Compatibilist Argument

Most compatibilists argue that there is way free will and the forces of nature such as gravity or severe air pressure creating gale force winds is possible. In the inverse form, our minds can’t force nature to our will. We can’t bend a tree or change the spots on a cheetah, for example. Not with a simple thought, at least. However, this is only an intuitive answer. Suppose we looked into this further. A lot of compatibilists argue that there is the issue of morality that needs to be addressed in regards to free will. Not only them, but religions of the past have dealt with this issue as well. We will dive further into this latter part of the discussion. 

There is the idea that our actions affect others and vice-versa. The idea that the world is connected is not a new one. How someone behaves in front of us, whether on purpose or on accident incites a sort of reaction in us. Philosopher P.F. Strawson wrote a paper on such a topic in 1963, essentially stating that for the actions of others we get an action out of ourselves. He called it “reactive attitudes.” An example is someone bumping you in the street. Your response? Usually, some sort of annoyed outburst whether out loud or in your head. That’s what Strawson would have labeled as one of many “reactive attitudes”. An attitude like this doesn’t stop to consider why someone has done the action that leads to you. 

How Science Weighs In This Debate

So, where in this mess does science fall? We’ve had philosophy, and now science must show us that perhaps it’s more simple than we’ve been led to believe in the earlier cases. As recent as 2016, a scientific study was published to test what counts as free will and whether or not it has anything to do with morality. What was their consensus on this study? The study showed results that indicated that free will was an illusion using various different situations with a large pool of test subjects. It simply advocated, or showed, that the actions we take aren’t our own but have influences from some other source. Even though we may think we have complete free will, there are a lot of factors in our lives that influence our choices every day. 

The concept of free will is no stranger to the human race than the larger questions of life and death. However, answering it has proven to be one of life’s greatest mysteries. It’s interesting to know that you aren’t in total control of your actions. There are many factors that prove this in ordinary life. You don’t need to take a metaphysics class to realize that there is no stopping the forces of nature. One may will it away, but it will come whether they wish for it or not. However, there seems to be a lot that the human can control. The debate continues on between philosophers and scientists alike. Perhaps we will never truly know, but for now, it’s fun to let the mind tinker with the idea.