An Argument for Free Will
Posted on March 15, 2019
Has neurobiology and science killed free will altogether?
I yell, NO!
First, my concessions from what I see in the science. We operate on automatic pilot and habitual behavior much of our days. Those struggling to survive will unconsciously rely more on habits that keep them alive often not seeing the negative consequences of their behaviors.
Second, much of our behavior is a reaction to variables in the environment and past learning. Unless we consciously contemplate our situations, choices, and possible consequences, we react. Unfortunately, the parts of the brain that supports our ability to contemplate, the pre-frontal cortex, is underdeveloped in those with repeated, untreated trauma and the reactive areas, amygdala, is overdeveloped.
I do believe there is room in the science for free will to emerge. Here is a list of some of the variables that allow someone to make choices that counteract ingrained habits, past learning and behavioral patterns.
- Safety – Without safety, we will rely heavily on past behaviors and emotional responses.
- Relationships – Someone’s support and ability to help us contemplate is critical for major life changes.
- Choice – There are always choices. The question is whether the individual can identify them in the moment. Many need someone’s assistance to see how future choices might deviate from past habits.
- Hope – Related to choice, hope is that sense that if one chooses an alternative path that their future will improve.
- Self-confidence – Rarely will someone choose a different path if they lack the confidence that they can achieve the desired outcome.
- Motivation – With a desire, reason, or need to change there is little energy to contemplate change or deviate from past habits.
Think about how many of these variables are present in our life. I’m lucky enough that my safety is rarely threatened; I have numerous people in my life who love and support me; I have the time to identify and contemplate choices that might improve my life; I possess a track record of overcoming hardship and making difficult life change; most days it isn’t hard for me to find emotion. In other words, I’m fortunate enough to possess a great deal of free will in my life. I’m lucky!
One of the reasons free will seems elusive in science is that most study individuals in isolation, in settings where they have limited choices and little social support. I believe we stand as proof that providing people who are most likely to rely on habits and past learning (due to their neurobiology caused by untreated trauma) with safety, support, choice proves free will. We bare witness every day to people choosing different paths even after years of suffering, addiction, survival, and hardship.
I love seeing our work and helping people break the chains of their pasts and finding pathways to better futures. In many ways we might provide the best argument that free will does exist!