Good post Khethil !
With all these influences upon us, I think it safe to say that although our actions may indeed be the mind's end-result of an equation taking into account all influences and simply reacting, there is still the inner individual who says 'yes' or 'no'. We may not use this trump authority very often, but I believe it exists.
Is this "inner individual" the human rational intellect ?
whether you believe in the will of the individual, principles of chaos, the rebel mind that decides to go against all he knows 'just because he feels like it' or the young mind who wants to assert against all she knows, etc., I think it reasonable to assert that yes, there is free will - despite all the taskmasters at work in our minds and our environment.
I think this free will is not as free as we like to think it is. I'll take a somewhat more materialistic and rationalistic approach to the matter.
A host of influences bombard our minds, prodding, pushing us towards <this> or <that>. There are preferences, values, insecurities, physical needs, physical wants, ideals of good or bad, senses of obligations, bias and prejudice, circumstances that suggest or insist; there are events to react to, compassion, selfishness, influences of faulty perception, miscommunication, perceived importance, goals, fears, reels of tape running in our heads from childhood and many, many more influences.
Let's imagine two human beings and subject them to one of these influences, a sort of imaginary experiment. Let's pick "influences of faulty perceptions" which I'd like to rename to "false beliefs based on direct perception". On to our lab rats ! Two human subjects, regular Joes, both as ordinary as you can find, from different families also as ordinary as you can find, from different countries. They have nothing in common but their age and their capacity to engage in rational and abstract thought, like any 'normal' human being. Let's name them S1 and S2. Too impersonal ? OK let's name them ... Jack and Jill :a-ok:
Time to apply the influence to our subjects! One day at school, during lunch break, our subjects trip and fall down, spreading the contents of their food trays all over the floor. An outburst of laughter follows from the other present children, along with a lot of finger pointing and name calling, all directed at our subjects. Kids can be very mean! Repeat the experiment for a few years, multiple times per year, using the same subjects, but each time modify the source of the influence. Have their trusted peers, maybe parents, siblings, teachers, close friends, call them not so nice things like useless, worthless, stupid, retard and the like.
What are the outcomes ? Let's see. Years have passed. Jack has a stable job, a wife he gets along with nicely :poke-eye:, well, as nicely as possible, he keeps in touch with his parents. A normal life by society's definition. On the other side Jill, can't hold her job or maintain long social relationships, she is depressed, crying herself to sleep at night, she is paranoid, maybe suicidal, she keeps telling herself she is stupid, worthless, that her life has no meaning, and so on. People will think Jill had a hard life. A life of constant struggle, filled with emotional frustrations, that she was in some way abused in her childhood or something along these lines, a life that has led Jill to her current "mental condition". In the past, people with this kind of suicidal "mental condition" got locked away in "mental institutions" in order to keep themselves safe from self induced harm.
So what's the deal ? We have two individuals capable of rational thought (i.e. Khethil's "inner man" who says yes or no). One of them, Jack, rationalised all those insults and got over them but the other, Jill, took them as personal beliefs. Where is the 'yes' or 'no' in Jill's case ? I'm pretty sure deep down she yearns for, she wills
for a "normal" life. So where's the free will ? Along all these years of experimenting, what is it exactly that has pushed our test subject's mind (in other aspects capable of rational and coherent thought) to its condition ? And more so why can't rationalizing all those false beliefs it holds lead to a cure ? (e.g. Someone says to Jill `- You are a kitchen knife because I say so !` And Jill's "inner (wo)man" says ` - Yes I am! Oh wait...:sarcastic:` or some other kind of therapy or some Freudian crap). So what's the deal ?
Until this point I've only talked about mental, abstract concepts (which Khethil listed above as "influences"), minds, rational thought, intellect, etc. All that stuff that's "in your head". But what is it that's truly there ? Waaait for it ... Waaaaait for iiit ! It's... the... ...braaaain (ta-daaa!) :whoa-dude: In all seriousness now, it is clear that our test subject is afflicted by a disease, and diseases affect organs, not abstract concepts such as "minds", and this is exactly why rationalizing the problem does not work. Wishing cancer to disappear doesn't really do anything.
So what we have here is a brain
disease imposing, at critical times, on someone's free will. Malfuctioning neurotransmitters, blocked transmitter pathways, lack or abundance of a transmitter substance, these alterations of a human brain's inner workings are responsible for affecting mood, perception, cognition, emotion, etc. If you treat Jill's depression with ionized lithium molecules her brain resumes its normal functionality. She now can exercise her free will and rational intellect !
What I'm saying is, neurochemistry is pretty naughty. It can control a lot of things which you are inclined to call your "personality" or "self". Ever grabbed your chin while recalling a past event, asking yourself something like "Hmm, now why did I do that ?" or saying "I wasn't myself back then." You were
exercising your 'free will' right ? But you are still wondering. Neurochemistry is an evil beast, i tell you!
Do you have a sense of humour ? Do you laugh at jokes ? What if I modify just the exact bit in the structure of your brain's right frontal lobe. Goodbye jokes, you won't laugh at a joke ever again. You will hear them, you will understand them but you won't see the 'funny' part. Are you a generally upbeat and joyous person ? How about a modification of the serotonin levels that will turn you into a 24/7 aggressive PMS-ing machine. How about pleasure ? You know, when you look at a beautiful painting or listening to beautiful music. Lower the dopamine levels and now everything feels like a rainy Monday morning in London. People will hate you at parties. Changing sexual orientation ? Yep ! If I remember correctly it was an experiment, done in England I believe, which consisted of applying shocks to the pleasure center in a homosexual's man brain while he was watching heterosexual pornographic material. How about tolerance to authority or respecting society's rules of good conduct ? A touch here and there in your brain's frontal lobe and you'll be beating on policemen in no time.
Bottom line is, it's free will in its TRUE sense ONLY if you have a perfectly working brain, both structurally intact and neurochemically balanced. And there are a lot of things that can upset the balance, stuff in the air, in your diet, most of them in your brain itself. And I don't even want to mention undetectable growths or hereditary issues.
Thanks for reading