In Brief— In an effort to expand on the author’s views on the mythology of free will, this piece looks at the issue from a different angle. [Written in February 2017.]
Nature and Nurture Shape Us, But…
Okay! This article is a bit of a pause from the turmoil swirling around us, but it’ll take only a few minutes of your time and give you something to think about before you wade into the mucky waters that threaten to drown us. Thinking is always good.
Nature, or more accurately, our genetic makeup is a significant part of who we are, but our environment, or nurture, becomes dominant the moment we are conceived. Our parents endow us with the genes that shape us, but then the environment becomes the boss. Since it’s impossible to see the future waiting around the corner, I won’t speculate on scientists manipulating those genes and will instead discuss those environmental nudges that make us who we are.
So what does this have to do with free will? Indeed, what is free will?
Free will is basically defined as an individual’s ability to decide for him-or-herself what action s/he will take.
That developing embryo in the womb finds itself subject to assorted environmental influences. What if the pregnant female smokes, drinks alcohol, uses drugs? What if the pregnant female eats only healthful foods and experiences no anxiety-producing situations? What if the pregnant female is beaten or flees falling bombs? What if the pregnant female has lead in her system from a deprived childhood or survives a self-induced abortion? All of these scenarios and countless others affect the unborn child.
The Baby is Born and Grows Up—
Baby Adam or Brittany is raised by loving, informed parents who read to her/him and help the child grow into a healthy independent adult in an orderly, peaceful and democratic society. Alternatively, Adam or Brittany grows up in a dismal, dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society where s/he eats flaking lead window paint, can be shot at any time and where there are no inducements to learn anything but survival. Yet another alternative is Adam or Brittany flees dying at the hands of the enemy or seeks a life free of grinding poverty, slow starvation and rampant corruption. There are, of course, numerous other options not touched on here.
These few examples illustrate the possibilities a person faces depending on the circumstances of that person’s life. Good fortune or bad can determine how that person reacts to forks in the road that face each of us.
Previously, I have pointed out that free will is a concept that survives mainly in religion and the law. In religion, free will is a cornerstone that allows religionists to believe that their deity gave humans the ability to freely decide whether their actions are right or wrong, good or evil.
The law — which originally grew out of religion — is largely lazy in refusing to recognize that humans are creatures shaped by their environment. The law, though it is beginning to change, too frequently turns a blind eye on scientific research that shows an undeniable link between a person’s environment and his/her actions.
In sum, free will is a myth. These few examples reveal how our genes and our environment influence our decision-making. Depending on the environment that a person is exposed to, whether pre-natal or after birth, a person is inexorably influenced in his/her decision-making. In short, free will is yet another myth that influences our lives. Failing to acknowledge that reality is indicative of an inability to acknowledge reality.
Okay, now you can return to the turmoil that threatens us…but you’ll have something to think about in your spare moments.
The Weekly Sampler—
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