Compatabilists! Authors of your own lives—living in a world of partial free will. Wiggling around in your wiggle room—I wish to converse. This will be a look at the problem of free will.
We begin with things that no one can choose. Some facts about the universe offer no room to “wiggle” about in. When an individual walks off a cliff, he cannot “choose” to rise into the air. Only one thing happens; this individual falls. He had no choice in the matter. Gravity yelled “down!” and the individual obeyed.
“Of course there are things like gravity that are beyond your control” replies the compatibilist, “But some things are within your control.” So the laws of nature are simply being followed when one obeys gravity, but other physical processes are more than the laws of nature being followed? They are somehow supernatural?
Stephen Hawking describes the following situation as an example of free will. A man wakes up late one night and walks to the refrigerator to get a drink. He opens the fridge and looks at its contents. He thinks about which drink he wants, picks orange juice, and closes the refrigerator door. Hawking calls this situation an instance of free will, and this is the scenario in which compatabilists claim the “wiggle room” for free will is evident.
But, this man had an inclination to pick the orange juice. If his taste buds didn’t agree with the taste of the juice, it would not even be up for consideration. The man will only pick a drink he is physically inclined to consider. The wiggle room gets smaller. “But which drink he likes more is ultimately his decision!” they say.
Is it? The man upon opening the fridge is faced with an assortment of drinks, and he picks the orange juice. When he saw the orange juice, the man’s brain responded, “I want that one!” Did the man choose how the various assortment of drinks would be weighed in his mind? Did he choose to have an inclination to one over any of the others?
If certain choices are weighted differently in our minds when we are presented with them, how is it us that chooses them. Our mind will pick whichever choice weighs more. In that instance the man thought to himself, “Pick the orange juice.” He did not think about every choice he had. Only a few things popped into his mind. He acted upon whichever one his brain felt most inclined to pick.
When free will is attacked, people often feel it necessary to demonstrate their possession of it in front of you. Many will do so by waving an arm in the air and saying, “Look I can do this whenever I want.” This is like watching a blindfolded puppet say, “See? I have no strings!” as its strings are pulled to make him wave his arms and say such a thing.
Ignoring the fact that waving the arm in the air is an impulse—and that one does not choose when an impulse arises—I ask them, “Why didn’t you stomp your foot?” They will reply with, “I didn’t think about it.” As we just saw, you only act upon the thoughts that arise in your brain in that particular moment. You do not dictate impulse. The wiggle room gets smaller.
Nature tells us that everything is made up of atoms. These atoms are wonderful and follow natural laws we can observe. Compatabilism says no! Compatibilism says some atoms are more wonderful than others, and some of them don’t have to obey the same laws! It says everything in the universe is made up of atoms, but you are a special case, your atoms are special. Narcissism!
You authors of your own life, did you choose to begin writing this book? Did you choose to be made up of the instincts and experiences that will dictate your next choice? Every choice has an antecedent, and all antecedents can be traced back to before your existence. If someone were to travel back in time and change important parts of your life, you would be a different person. You are the effect of causes, and your choices are dependent on these causes.
Free will adherents claim this; if you were put into that exact situation again, as you were the first time—with the same knowledge and same arrangement of atoms—you might choose differently. That if we were to replay the instance of you waving your arm in the air, that somehow—despite the same exact impulses—a different choice would arise.
We all want happiness, but some of us do not have the willpower to make the journey. You say you could choose to practice self-discipline and strengthen your willpower, but I ask at one point do you choose to have the willpower to practice self-discipline? Why doesn’t everyone choose to be happy if it’s simply a matter of choice and not beyond our control? You authors of your own lives say you do what you want, and yet you still have dreams.