IS FREE WILL FREE?
Thieves, rapists and murderers may eventually wind up in prison, prompting spectators to exclaim ‘well, he chose to do these acts with his free will, let him get what he deserves’. Although modern discoveries prove that these claims are not 100% correct, it might be wise to take another look at the subject.
Most any neuroscientist, particularly followers of physiologist, Benjamin Libet, will agree that measurements of human brain signals on the level of neurons and synapses have long shown that acts of will are preceded by a buildup of neural activity in the brain. These signals can begin up to seconds before a person is consciously aware of the exercise of volition causing a person to act upon these signals, easily predetermining the action and de-bunking the theory of free will.
In contrast, Peter Tse an associate professor of psychological and brain studies, and author of an book on the subject, has identified a neurological basis for free will the human brain, challenging these opinions. A synapse is a structure that permits a neuron (nerve cell) to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another cell. Mr. Tse argues that rapid synaptic re-weighting (the ability of neurons to ‘rewire’ other neuron’s synapses) is the physical mechanism that gives humans the power to exercise free will.
Yet, no one, including Mr. Tse, can insure that we are exercising our free will. Most of us on a daily basis determine all our actions through a filter of previous decisions or actions that may have produced beneficial results in the past. Likewise, we may decide not to do something because of a negative response in the past. This often forms the basis of our daily actions. This is not freedom. We unconsciously act mechanically through most of our day rendering our will, but not free will. The eastern concept of samskaras align with modern neuroscience with regard to this assertion.
Samskara literally means that every throught leaves one impression on our astral and physical body. Our thought and emotional process is the by-product of these samskaras. They, samskaras, are constantly influencing us on subconscious level. This process limits our freedom of thought and reveals a very limited thought pattern, restricting our ability to freely act, as it influences our behaviors and the choices that we make in life.
Certainly we have the will to act, but, evidently, that does not necessarily mean we are using it freely. So, the question may lie in not whether we have free will, but are we freely using our free will?
We don’t need to be a neuroscientist to see that most of us react to life. Free will requires clear conscious awareness unhindered by past influences. It requires a kind of peace that renders us reaction free. Only a creative act that is generative and free from the past can be considered free. Surely, it would require wisdom; a spontaneous clarity that formulates this type of clear creative action.
Some spiritual practices have long developed effective ways of addressing these issues. Yoga, meditation, prayer, mantra, yajna, and even Ayurveda are attempts to modify these previous thought patterns (samskaras). Their ultimate purpose is to align our will with the will of God, a power known to create with spontaneous and clear generative action. If the aspirants are successful with these methods, they come closer to the actual practice of free will.
As for Mr. Tse’s book, “The Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation”, — it might be worth a read.