Free Will - Determinism Debate, a Scientific Approach

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The Free Will - Determinism Debate discusses two radically different doctrines that attempt to explain how the world functions. In gross terms, determinism argues that all things in the world are the result of previous actions and therefore no event can be manipulated in any way. Conversely, the Free Will doctrine states that human beings are genuinely free to make decisions and determine outcomes in their lives.

Before the twentieth century and the foundation of the theories of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, the scientific community strongly favored Determinism because this doctrine agreed with their view of the world. This view can be simplified as follows. All large structures are made of smaller structures, atoms. All atoms interact with the environment in measurable and, more importantly, predictable ways. This universally accepted understanding of our environment suggested that macro-interactions (day to day interactions) result from many predictable micro-interactions; thus free will is illusory.


The establishment of contemporary physical subjects has radically changed science's view on this debate. We have come to realize that Newtonian Physics does not accurately describe our entire environment; specifically it fails when analyzing the very big and the very small. We have come to realize that, especially when studying subatomic physics, we can only hope to understand many events, not to determine them. This indeterminate characteristic of physical events can be interpreted as the source and existence of our free will.

How can't I apply the belief in free will to my life? My faith in the existence of free will is fundamental to my life, without it I might as well be dead. A belief in determination fosters a complacent and indifferent disposition to all things. After all, how could one genuinely live if they had no power to create change?

I'm no hard science major, but I think that one of physic's greatest goals is to create a Theory of Everything (TOE). A TOE is a theory that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena, and predicts the outcome of any experiment that could be carried out. How would the discovery of such a theory force scientists to reexamine this debate? Would the framework of such a theory leave room for the continued belief in free will or would scientists return to adopting their archaic belief in Determinism?


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Nice post. I know I'm reading something interesting when halfway through I want to interject, "but chaos theory...!"

It's certainly relevant to psychology considering a lot of debates about the molecular level of analysis lead here. I found myself in a similar place while composing a post I've been assigned on nature vs. nurture; either extreme compromises identity.

It's one of the identity crises that comes along with science, I guess.

After all, what constitutes identity if not the choices we make freely? No one wants to identify exclusively and fundamentally as just a complex arrangements of carbon molecules. Even with chaos theory, it can look like we're simply probabilistic systems if not deterministic ones. Where is our special dignity?

Looking forward to your future insights.

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This page contains a single entry by PETE! published on September 26, 2011 1:37 AM.

The Amygdala: Can we change ours? was the previous entry in this blog.

Amygdale- Can I be good friends with snakes, spiders, and ghost...? is the next entry in this blog.

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