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Thoughts: Cause and Effect Or Free Will

Updated on January 14, 2013
WVitanyi profile image

William has written five books, on topics ranging from technological fiction to office humor, and is the owner of Bayla Publishing.

Free Will Versus Cause and Effect

The scientist in all of us makes us want to understand how things work. This need to know how presupposes that for everything there is a cause and an effect; for each action an equal and opposite reaction; for every rhyme a reason.

The fluttering of leaves on a tree appears chaotic, but in fact the individual movements can be explained by wind velocity, humidity, stem rigidity, leaf surface or thickness, and perhaps a billion other factors which we cannot measure, but exist nonetheless. In short, there is a reason why the leaves move as they do, even if we do not have a complete understanding or awareness of all of the reasons.

Cause and effect.

In this light, consider the human brain, and the mechanism by which a thought occurs. We know many of the underlying processes that direct neurological activity, so we can diagram certain events that happen in the course of a thought. The presence or absence of certain chemicals, electrical charges, structures, and many processes, substances, and other causes that result in a thought are known to science.

Ice cream. Now.

We do not know all of the processes or how they operate, but we presume that they exist, meaning that we believe cause and effect to be responsible even for something as complex as a thought. The cause consists of all the physical parts of the brain and their states immediately prior to the emergence of the thought, and the effect is the thought itself. If we were able to catalog all of the causes, we could predict with certainty the effect: the thought itself.

Consider this: if the brain functions within the confines of the physical universe as we accept it, meaning cause and effect, then every human thought could not have happened any other way. Since a thought is determined by cause and effect, and is subject to the laws of the physical universe, every thought must occur as a result of the state of inputs, however complex, as they existed at the time immediately prior to the thought.

Such a model describes predetermination, and free will cannot exist in this environment. Thus, in order for free will to exist, there must be some human component of thought that operates outside the confines of cause and effect as we know it. Such a component by its very nature would probably not be measurable or detectable. One must either accept its existence, or concede that one is little more than a robot.

Organic, but a robot nonetheless.

Are you all chemicals, electrons, and synapses, or do you have an original thought in your head?

You decide.

I think...?


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    • WVitanyi profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Edinboro, Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the feedback!

    • carlajbehr profile image

      Carla J Swick 

      5 years ago from NW PA

      I'm going with a little bit of both... interesting hub. Voted up!


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