The Universe is Absurd: does free will exist?
Of course it does, what are you some kind of dumb guy?
Upon reading this title, the majority of us will experience a fervent desire to answer the question bluntly: "Of course we have free will, I can choose to do anything I want to do. See look, I'm choosing to slap your body in the face region. Nobody made me do that, I chose to inflict bodily harm upon you because of your stupid questions."
The truth is, the answer to this query is significantly more complicated than as outlined by our theoretical friend here. If you paid attention, he even falsified his own claim to autonomy. Let's find out why.
What are you talking about friend?
Let me explain. The use of the word "because" in the statement above implies causality. If I wasn't here asking stupid questions, our theoretical pal would not have reacted. He probably would have just continued blissfully obliviously watching animals fall down on the internet. He might even have been better off, since this topic is a potential source of innumerable blown minds.
The decision to slap was a direct result of input information and synaptic responses. It was decided, at least in part, by his perception of a threat and his evolutionarily preconditioned system of responding to threats. In this case, it took the form of casual violence. So what portion of this action was decided by the slapper, and how much by the slapped?
What's the answer? Tell it to me now.
The very thought of free will is apparently a paradox. If it exists, it violates causality. To the best of our knowledge, nothing else does. Everything is caused by something else. Just try to think of something that wasn't caused. You can't do it because we can always ask why. There is always an answer, even if we don't know what it is.
Alternatively, if free will does not exist, why the shit are we even here? Are we really not responsible for any of our actions? This certainly is not how we experience life. If this were true, we would have to rethink everything about our society and ourselves. Essentially, this concept reduces us to fleshy computers. Beep bop boop.
Several factors that play a role in this discussion
There are a few components that could potentially contribute to answering this question. I will introduce these briefly and then explain them in more depth below: The existence of a deity that predefined our fate, thereby invalidating free will. The idea of fate without the aforementioned deity, also negating free will. Finally, the theory of mandatory direct causality, which I find to be the most realistic nail in the coffin of free will.
These are the three main configurations of this idea that I have chosen to examine, although I believe there to be many more. If you have a reasonable addition, let me know about it in the comments.
An omnipotent deity in charge of your fate
This is the basic argument that god is all powerful, and therefore controls every aspect of everyone's lives. We see examples of this every day when people claim that god told them to do it, it usually being an otherwise preposterous life choice. I find this explanation to be inherently flawed, as well as reasonably objectionable by means of empirical evidence. Allow me to attempt to explain why.
If someone is pulling the strings, he/she/it is doing so in a way that is statistically indifferent from random chance. Some people get lucky, some don't. It has been the disposition of humanity to attribute this phenomenon to an omnipotent being. The problem with this subscription is that these variables always follow a normal distribution. In short, if something is defining our fate, it is doing so in a way that is insignificant enough to be undetectable. Thus, we can reject this premise.
Fate exists without the presence of a deity
The next theory comes into questioning for a similar reason as its predecessor. There is no evidence to suggest anything is pushing the scales in one direction or another. The variables of our existence always follow a normal distribution that can be attributed to random chance. If fate exists, it seems to just happen.
Now, this says nothing about the ability of an individual to change his/her fate, only that if they are doing so, they must be going about it in a random fashion. This reasoning makes the whole concept of meaningfully vigilant fate seem unlikely. What we do know is that if it exists, fate follows the rules that already define the rest of the reasonably understandable universe. This makes it definitively arbitrary.
The obligatory direct causality of our actions
So we still haven't answered the question at hand, do we have control over our fate, or is it predefined? We know that every event that we observe had another event that caused it. We call this system causality. If we work backwards, we can uncover what caused essentially everything. That is, of course, until we use this system to analyze our own brains. Neurologists are hard at work in an attempt for an explanation. So far, the agreeable consensus is that we still do not know.
Our brains are made up of matter and energy, just like everything else in the universe. This being the case, shouldn't our brains follow the same causality that everything else adheres to? The truth is, we really haven't the slightest idea. Nobody knows. Fortunately, there is a bit of gray area here. There is an extremely microscopic scale, called Planck Length, where the effects of Quantum Mechanics take over, muddying the waters considerably. At this scale, the principles of modern physics break down and we can't really analyze anything. Our inability to define reality at this scale is called the Uncertainty Principle.
If free will has a home, this is the best candidate. The unfortunate thing here is that because there is no evidence for fate or free will, and we may literally never be able to empirically delve past the Uncertainty Principle, our answer to this question may always be just that, uncertain.