I choose to muse on free will this morning. The ultimate cause? I’m obsessed with free will, as any sentient creature should be. Proximate causes? First, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop drinking. Alcohol. One night and counting!
Second, I just read an essay on free will in today’s New York Times by one of my favorite writers, Dennis Overbye. Overbye confesses to being disturbed by a “bevy of experiments” which “suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.” I know the feeling. I fretted over some of these same experiments—by Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner, among others--in a Times essay published on New Year’s Eve, 2002.
But my faith in free will is stronger now. First, I reject
the notion that psychological deliberations have no real impact on our actions.
Should I marry this woman? Should I take this job? Should I have one last beer?
To be sure, sometimes we deliberate insincerely, toward a foregone conclusion,
or fail to act upon our resolution. But not always. Sometimes, psychology determines physics, chemistry and genetics, not the other way around.
Moreover, free will must exist, if some creatures have more of it than others. My daughter and son have more free will—more choices to consider and select from--than they did when they were infants. They also have more than our dog Merlin does. As a mature adult (hope my wife doesn't see this), I have more free will than Merlin and my kids do. I also have more than adults my age suffering from schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder--or severe, compulsive alcoholism.
I haven’t converted many people into free-will believers with this argument, but it works for me.