“Did I do that on purpose?” An important question. Regardless of whether it is true however, a yes or no answer will change your outlook on life and therefore your behaviour. That’s hard to make sense of.
There are times in life when we are confronted by an uncomfortable truth, the possibility that our free-will is an illusion. We are merely watching the movie of life play out as it always would have. A complex dance of billiard balls.
This is by now, no great shock. We get on with life and forget about uncomfortable facts. If it seems like we are free, then sometimes that’s good enough. But there’s something fundamental we’re forgetting about the question, and a helpful fact that provides a more satisfying answer.
Am I free? Of course not!
Number one: Nothing, no thing is free.
How can any one thing in our world be truly free? The question it turns out, is ridiculous. Every thing in our world is actually interconnected and dependent on something else, there is no true ‘independence’. So granting this obvious fact of existence, what were we expecting reality to look like if there were something truly free, such as our will?
Number two: complex systems exist.
Take a moment to really acknowledge the vastness and complexity of the world, and the possibility of the emergence of extremely complex structures, from which emerge new phenomena—i.e. our brains, and consciousness: the ability to reflect on our own existence, or in quite a round about way, the ability of the universe itself to reflect on its own existence.
Number three: there is a spectrum.
There are subatomic particles, and then there are global societies of interconnected human beings—and quite a few things in between. What makes a quark less complicated than a society? Fewer possible configurations. Fewer dependencies, but never zero.
Now consider the human brain. A complex system has emerged that is able to simulate possible courses of action and their assumed consequences. A single path of action is then taken towards desired result, based on a system of values and beliefs. The accuracy of these simulations, and the effectiveness of the resulting action depends on the complexity of the system, or how smart the system is, we could say how experienced the system is. There is a spectrum.
The brain of the average mature adult will be able to simulate more accurately and decide more effectively on a winning strategy than the average brain of a five-year-old. A five year-old might not consider the long-term consequences of a diet consisting solely of fruit loops, whereas I’d hope I could formulate a few imaginary no-go paths, and choose a different action based on what I believe to be valuable.
The conclusion then, is that no you do not have free will, and such a thing actually makes no sense. But you certainly have free-er will than say, an earthworm. Importantly, it seems that the more aware you are of your actions and their consequences, and about how well considered your values, the free-er your will is. This is an imperative therefore to live an examined life, and train awareness.