What is free will? By Eduardo Angulo

This post is also available in: Spanish, Catalan

You ask me about free will. Answering is easy, but justifying my answer is not. I believe, with increasing conviction and based on recent studies in neurobiology, that we are, despite our pride and conceit, little more than a “hormone soup”. Well, maybe something more complex: I would accept a “hormone and neurotransmitter soup” or, summarizing, a “messenger soup”, where the messengers run through our body, from the cell which synthesizes them to their target cells, telling them which ones have to work or stop doing it, or divide themselves, or differentiate themselves, or even kill themselves. So said, it seems that their’s very little leeway left for our free will to decide which path to take in the multiple and paradigmatic crossroads in our life. However, this paragraph holds an enigma which is strongly related with free will: who is this “us”, this identity which, seemingly, loves to choose freely. On top of that, we can also ask ourselves why it is so important to choose freely, when it is most comfortable to follow the trends and live in a “brave new world”.

To the first question, the “us”, we can glimpse the answer that this identity is the final result of the knowledge of that “hormone and neurotransmirtter soup”. It’s the sum of smells and flavours which it makes it so special, differentiable and unpredictable to each individual of our species.
In second place, the answer to why we care so much about deciding freely, or believing that we do, which is the same for our purposes, is in the aforementioned “soup”. Every time we make a choice, our organism leaves us satisfied and happy with a good endorphin kick, these messengers our organism synthesizes and which are very similar to vegetable drugs (opium, cannabis, etc.) which gives us so much pleasure, precisely because they resemble the molecules with which our body rewards us.

One last question remains (if there is such a thing as a “las question”), and it is why our organism rewards us when we believe to choose freely, that is, where the evolutionary advantadge in thinking freely, or believing to do so, lies. Maybe this happens because free choices give each individual more flexibility in their behaviour, a wider range of solutions to different problems, a longer life and a better reproduction and, thus, more offspring which, with those genes, will keep using free will.

In conclusion, we are free because our organism, from the evolutionary point of view, rewards us for it, because freely made choices are essential in the evolutionary history of our species.


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