In a recent conversation with a college student I was informed that we have no free will. That conclusion by a college professor was based on the fact that neurons in the brain had fired prior to the conscious action of the individual being studied. It was these neurons that had made the decision for us. I hope the professor was talking about instinctive actions and not those involving decision making of moral actions or other life choices. However, the question comes to my mind of what made those neurons fire when they did. A computer makes choices and those choices are based on the program implanted within it. If this is true then do this but if that is true, do that. A computer has no free will. (science has yet to perfect artificial Intelligence.) When I was in grade school the nuns taught us that we must work to “form a good conscience”. That meant that a certain mode of thinking had to be repeated and reinforced so that when we were faced with a decision to act either in a good or bad way we would, by habit, choose the good. Have we trained our neurons … or whatever controls their actions? Is that not a choice we have made at a much deeper level than we may think? An athlete or musician trains by repetition so that he reacts by habit to certain exterior events and performs instinctively. Has he not trained (by choice) his neurons to react in a predetermined way? The term “brainwashing” has a negative connotation and yet we use it all the time both for good and evil. The power of positive thinking is brainwashing. Negative thinking has the opposite effect and is also brainwashing. We can condition our brains ourselves and this is, I believe, an aspect of free choice. Or, we can allow others to condition our thoughts for us but if we do, we should be very careful to know their motives and understand the beliefs that govern those motives. In any case, we must make a “free” choice. Is the professor driven by atheism and a belief that all creation is an accident? Or, does he hold to a belief in a god that is simply a puppet-master controlling our every move through the manipulation of neurons? Or, is he a true scientist who is honestly trying to discover what makes the neurons do what they do? These are questions to ponder. I may not understand how it works but I find that I strongly believe in freedom of choice. I also know that I don’t understand everything I know about it and that’s all right.
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