On Determinism

“A man can do as he will, but not will as he will.” — Schopenhauer

Do we have free will? Am I am the sole ruler of my destiny or just a puppet? Is reality intrinsically deterministic or indeterministic? This article attempts to give an answer to these questions…

Which road to take when there is only one?

Let's start the discussion with inanimate matter. Our planet orbits around the Sun in accordance to well understood laws of General Relativity as postulated by Einstein. A ball hit by a baseball bat travels through the air in accordance with Newtonian laws. Neither the planet nor baseball(as inanimate objects) have the capacity for free will in a sense that they cannot by own volition change the trajectory of their paths. So inanimate objects don’t really have free will. They simply act based on causes of their environment. We have came to understand many of these causes and can describe them mathematically through Physics, Chemistry or other sciences. Our understanding of these objects is so precise that we can even predict them with 100% accuracy (we can predict solar eclipses 1000 years from now).

Let’s move on to more animate matter. Viruses are often considered to exist on the boundaries between the inanimate and animate matter. They are composed of three parts: self-replicated DNA or RNA, protein coat (capsid) to protect the genetic material, and fatty lipids. Before entering a host cell, viruses are completely dead particles. Upon entering a host cell they exhibit characteristics of living organisms (reproduction by self-replication). The ability to reproduce is not a result of their own volition, but rather the consequence of the conducive host cell. So the virus also acts based on a cause and can not decide on its own not to replicate which is their only characteristics of a living organism.

Sunflowers turn towards the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis. Their roots move toward places with higher water concentration in order to increase they water absorption efficiency. Phototactic organism (moths) move toward light because they have evolved to use light as a way of navigation.

Plants and animals tend to respond to immediate stimuli in their environment. These stimuli are basically a direct cause for their behavior. Plant can not decide not to turn toward the sun, or not move the roots toward water. And most animals (the ones with limited consciousness capacity) live only in the present, without knowledge of the past or anticipation of the future. Their actions are just causes of the environment which satiate their immediate desires for food, water, shelter or reproduction. They have evolved these responses to stimuli since they maximize their survival potential. So since they respond to immediate stimuli which they can not avoid we can say that they also don’t have free will.

Animals with high consciousness capacity (humans being the prime example) tend to exhibit an illusion of free will due to the complexities of causes that guide their actions. We also respond to immediate causes of the environment (move our fingers from the hot stove); respond to environmental stimuli (stay indoors when it's raining) but there is something else which is mediating our actions. Schopenhauer calls it motivation. Motivations are higher causes or higher stimuli because they are mediated by a conscious mind which is able remember the past and conceptualize the future. Motivations are higher causes because they are abstract concepts of values. A human being is able to deliberate the causes and stimuli and based on that deliberation he is able to act. The deliberation is simply a weighing of his motivations or values. For example, if I am libertarian who values freedom above anything else, then the majority of my actions will be guided by the libertarian motive.

Our motivations are simply a hierarchical structure of values in order of importance. These motivations are expression of our character which is inherited. We are simply discovering our character as we go through life by the actions that we take. These actions manifest our will, but we can not change what we will. And since we can not change our will, we don’t have free will.

All events are preordained. You are condemned to watch a movie that is screened exclusively for your benefit and that lasts a lifetime. The director, the laws of physics, is deaf to your pleas to change a single scene. — Christof Koch

Endorphine. Dopamine. Serotonin. Oxytocin. An interplay of hormones regulate our moods and behaviour, and we simply have no control over them.

Love. Success. Freedom. Good. Moral. An interplay of abstract concepts are expressed by our character through deliberation and we simply have no control over them.

Genes. Physical laws. Chemical elements. This is what we are build from and we simply have no control over them.

What then is the source of our freedom to will? It seems that you, dear reader, had no choice but to read this article; I and had no other choice but to write it.

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