The free will vs determinism debate has been a long–running controversy. The matter of free will is key to how we view ourselves and others. Could I have done better in life? Can people change themselves? Can we choose our destiny, or is everything that happens predetermined?
And the notion of determinism is relevant for the criminal justice system. How can we hold people accountable for their (criminal) actions if free will doesn’t exist?
I think determinism does exist, but that it is directly proportional to scale. When things are less determined, there is more opportunity for what we call ‘free will’ to manifest.
On a big scale, like that of our known universe, things are highly determined. It would be no mean feat to distort spacetime substantially or make whole galaxy clusters disappear by an act of free will. They are quite determined fixtures.
But if we zoom in further, to the scale of our everyday lives as individuals on this earth, there is a lot that could well be interpreted as free will. I can choose to have either a glass of water or a cup of tea. We make choices like that all day and we can manipulate such small events easily. So there is less determinism on the level of everyday human life.
If we go down to the smallest scale, that of subatomic particles, determinism even completely disappears. You cannot so much as pinpoint a subatomic particle in space and time. There’s only a probablity distribution of where and when the particle may exist.
So if we look at our personal lives from this perspective of scale, determinism plays a bigger or smaller role depending on what dimension of life you look at. If I want to raise my right hand by using my free will, I can. But if I want to become an astronaut or the president of the United States by using my free will, it’s a different ball game.
Your life chances are largely determined by factors like genes, upbringing and social class. Looks, personality, intelligence, talents and the presence or absence of physical disabilities and mental disorders are very likely to have a major impact on your life’s trajectory, but are very hard to change by using your free will.
So does free will exist? Yes, it probably does. Can it have an impact on your life? Yes it can. But for a lot of us that impact will not be as great as many ‘life coaches’ will have you believe...