Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Truth in Free Will

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Determinism and free will are viewed through different disciplinary lenses, each interpreting empirical evidence as truth differently. Free will was initially considered though a philosophical lens, using phenomenology and constructionism to determine truth. However with the advent of genetics and neuroscience, amongst other disciplines, in the 19th and 20th centuries empirical evidence and a positivist approach to truth has added new perspectives to the debate. Often there are tensions within these disciplines, interpreting evidence differently.[1]

Sociology[edit | edit source]

Social determinism, first introduced by Emile Durkheim (1858–1917), theorises that an individual’s social interactions and constructs determine their behaviour. Social factors in this context refer to interpersonal interactions, education, culture and other experiences encountered through the course of one’s life. Social determinism implies a sense of hegemonic control of the society and its constraints over an individual. Determinants such as acceptance, taboos, culture, gender, education, stigmas etc. largely restrain one’s decisions throughout their life. This is as there is a specific thought process that society creates through the means of education, interactions, familial relations etc. As these experiences are vital to an individual’s decision making behaviour in the future, sociologists argue that society is dominantly deterministic. This leads to the conclusion that free will does not exist as all behaviour is ultimately a consequence of societal supremacy on the human mind.

Psychology[edit | edit source]

The psychological approach to Determinism, and the question of “free will”, is grounded on a dualistic assumption that will is either determined, and so contingent to the laws of causation, or free of any prior conditionnement by past events, and therefore undetermined.[2] The law of causation dictates that earlier events have a direct influence on the present behaviour of an individual, thus causality allows for the prediction of future behavioural responses.[3]

Psychological Determinism finds a correlation between childhood events (circumstances of one’s upbringings) and present mental state. Children are heavily conditioned by their exterior environment, and more dramatically impacted by their experiences as they do not have any to compare them with.

It is therefore conceivable that one individual's relationship with their caregiver has a direct impact on later relationships formed in the future. John Bowlby’s theory of attachment offers a model constructed on four attachment patterns, which are determined by childhood causality, and dictate an individual's response to affection, dismissal and trust, as well as ideas of love and self-worth.[4] The four patterns are the following:

- Secure attachment (indicates caring, responsive and sensitive caregivers)

- Ambivalent attachment (indicates unpredictable, uncertain and sometimes insensitive caregivers)

- Disorganised attachment ( indicates rejecting, unpredictable and fearful caregivers, and therefore lack of affection and distrust)

- Avoidant attachment (indicates dismissive and insensitive caregivers, leading to a fear of affectionate/emotional responses)[5]

These attachment patterns during childhood, lead to the formation of 4 attachment styles in adulthood: Secure, Anxious-attachment/preoccupied, Fearful-avoidant and Dismissive/avoidant.[6] These attachment styles predict an individual’s response to affection and intimacy, its emotional availability, view of self and others, fears of abandonment and rejection, as well as choice of partners based on these styles.

Physics and Mathematics[edit | edit source]

The physics or mathematical approach towards determinism explains that any ordinary act occurs as a result of a series of initial actions that ultimately set it in motion.[7] This is often referred to as the mathematical phenomenon 'the butterfly effect', an idea first introduced by Edward Norton Lorenz (1917–2008) as part of his Chaos Theory, which again aims to prove that deterministic laws govern the outcome of all actions. It is also believed that predetermination of outcomes may be possible by the use of accurate statistical calculation of the chemical, biological as well as environmental changes of an individual. This implies that there is a calculated and practical reasoning behind every decision and action an individual makes, thus invalidating the possibility of human agency, and reinforcing the truth that free will is illusionary. However, there are several arguments against such practical theories of determinism. For example, the way in which learning, memory, emotions and experiences play a role in an individual’s actions and reactions.[8]

A contrasting theory is that humans are complex systems which use stochasticity[9] to choose responses.[10] In studies of other species the adaptive, stochastic abilities of organisms to choose a behaviour in response to internal and external information supports an interpretation that choices are a complex probability, influenced by genes and environment, but not pre-determined.[11] As this theory accounts for the external and internal factors that can influence the random probability of decisions, stochasticity promotes the possibility of free will.[12]

Biology and Genetics[edit | edit source]

Strict biological determinism believes lives are pre-determined by genes.[13] This can be controversial.[14] Many accept that, although positivist, biological determinism is influenced by constructionism. Genetic facts and objective evidence are combined with qualitative data on behaviour from sociology to reach the truth. The DRD4 gene has been linked to personality and political views, previously thought to be determined by social environment.[15][16] There is also evidence that genetics influence social grouping; friendships often form between people with similar genotypes.[17] This shows that genes contribute to individuals' personalities and behaviour.

This pluralist approach to truth is continued in epigenetics, the study of how gene expression is altered. Experiencing trauma has heritable epigenetic effects.[18] From studying Holocaust survivors it was found that FKBP5 gene expression was affected by the trauma experienced, which was passed down to children.[19] This gene is involved in stress responses and is associated with depression.[20][21] Depression, also linked to several other genes, affects behaviour.[22] As depression is an illness, not controlled by the patient, this suggests that behaviour is influenced by genes. Epigenetics demonstrate that initial genetic conditions can change in response to external factors, and that a genome and gene expression affect psychology and ergo free will. Therefore it considers the truth to be that behaviour is determined by genetics and society.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Both biologists and physicists consider truth to be derived from objective laws, although how the evidence is gathered and interpreted varies. The empirical evidence from Physics is not considered applicable in complex human behaviour by sociologists and psychologists.[23]Also, it conflicts with constructionist and phenomenological approaches which consider truth to be from experiences and interactions. To approach free will from any single disciplinary perspective is to exclude valuable insights from other aspects of it. The effect of genetics on behaviour is difficult to distinguish from that of the environment.[24] Additionally, the study of epigenetics is in contrast with physical determinism as it demonstrates that initial conditions do not predict outcomes. Biology also incorporates stochastic theories about choices, but concludes that there is an unpredictable interplay between the environment and initial conditions which ultimately gives rise to free will. Evidently, there are multiple interdisciplinary clashes within the debate of determinism and free will. Through their own lenses, the varying disciplines come to suggest the truth that to an extent, free will is illusionistic.

References[edit | edit source]

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