Free Will

Does Free Will Exist?

Do humans have the ability to make their own choices and determine their own fates—a concept more commonly known as free will? Or our people's futures determined solely by powers outside of their control, like the physics and biology of the brain? The question of free will has long challenged philosophers and religious thinkers, and scientists have examined the problem from psychological, biological, and genetic perspectives.

It’s still not clear whether or not humans actually have free will, and it has been determined that certain behaviors are heavily influenced by genetics, brain chemistry, and environment. Psychological research, however, has tended to find that believing in free will can be beneficial for mental health, and that reducing feelings of self-determination can make people more aggressive and less helpful. As long as individuals remain aware that many factors can influence behavior subconsciously, it may be more healthy to think they have control over their destinies.

Free Will and the Brain

The free will debate has long been the domain of philosophers, but in recent years, neuroscientists and psychologists have entered the fray to try to understand the brain’s role in free will. Several seminal neurological studies, for instance, have concluded that the brain lights up with activity several seconds before a person becomes consciously aware of a decision, which some argue is an indication that people don’t have free will and that human actions are just the product of internal electrical activity. Others argue, however, that a freely-made choice simply triggers the brain’s activity before an individual is consciously aware of it.

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