by Alexandre Couto de Andrade
Recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest that free will might be an illusion. If it is indeed so, the ethical, religious and scientific implications could hardly be overestimated. No individual could be held responsible (and, therefore, morally accountable) for his (her) own decisions, actions and choices anymore. At least not fully.
Data published last year suggest that our brain takes decisions up to seven seconds before we are aware of them. Some scientists and philosophers argue that this implies that our behavior is not self-generated and freedom is an illusion.
It does not mean that we simply respond to external stimuli. However, human behavior would totally depend on our internal states (unconscious neural processes), the product of genes and environment in mutual interaction (“nature” and “nurture”).
“Does this tell us anything about freedom in human behaviour? Before I answer that, let's establish what I mean by freedom. One acknowledged definition comes from Immanuel Kant, who resolved that a person acts freely if he does of his own accord what must be done. Thus, my actions are not free if they are determined by something or someone else. As stated above, self-initiated action is not in conflict with physics and can be demonstrated in animals. So, humans can be considered free in their behaviour, in as much as their behaviour is self-initiated and adaptive”.
It does not seem to be much of a comfort. We cannot change the facts by giving them other names. Our behavior would be deterministic anyway.