How Free is Free Will?

The idea of free will has been widely debated and remains to this very day extremely controversial. The Economist put into the spotlight a case in the 1990s when an American began collecting child pornography. On the day before he was to be sent to jail, medical examinations found that he had a brain tumour. When this tumour was removed, the soon to be jailed individual lost his paedophilic tendencies.

Coincidentally, the tumour started growing back and our unlucky American finds himself a criminal again. But who then was the criminal? The tumour? Phineas Gage another unlucky individual who after a railway incident transformed from a sober, well respected individual into a foul-mouthed drunkard and drifter also shows us a similar situation. Both cases pose a strong attack against the concept of free will.

Anger and violence have recently been discovered to have their own unique genetic variations signalling that some of these traits may be hereditary by nature. Worst still is  the fact that modern science may be able to predict these patterns and neutralise them before they truly develop. Should this happen, where does free will come into the picture?

Free will with all its flaws is nevertheless crucial for modern civilization and society. Without it, the idea of being responsible for your own actions no longer holds true which threatens to tear the entire social fabric apart. Imagine a world where criminals would no longer be responsible for their crimes?

However, one should also observe the level and magnitude of freedom in free will. Should there be absolutely  free will, we should be able to choose our parents, our level of wealth, and when we die. Furthermore, scarcity and opportunity cost (the sacrifice of the best available alternative of any choice we make) should no longer be a limitation to human freedom. We should be ‘free’ to choose everything at once.

Obviously, human have limitations and this should apply to free will as well. As science pose more and more challenges to the freeness of free will, many people will only get more confuse. The judicial notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ may come under heavy attack as it may become possible to catch criminals even before they commit a crime.

When morality comes into the picture, the entire situation looks even more grim. Is it fair to convict a criminal before he commits a crime? If we do not prevent crime before it happens, how are we going to protect the innocent? Even as scientists, theologians, philosophers, historians, and lawyers go head to head in their arguments, one thing remains for certain; we only have a limited free will.

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