--Original published at Alex's Thoughts
B.F. Skinner is a respected psychologist in his own right, and asserted that there is truly no thing as free will. However he came to conclude this, I disagree with his assumption for several reasons. My evidence is that of human expression, ingenuity, and scientific logic.
Expression of emotions has always been an integral part of human culture and the fabric of society itself. While other lower beings such as dogs and cats are capable of expressing emotion, nothing comes close to the means by which humans have been able to portray it. Media, literature, and even language itself have given humans the means to describe and record the way they are feeling about a particular topic at a given time, theoretically to the point where anyone can read it thousands of years after their death. No other creature has come anywhere near that kind of power, especially if it is not recorded in their genes. So while Skinner asserts that free will can merely be attributed to genes and reactions to the environment, I would argue that free will is what drives people to develop forms of expression and art such that they may convey their individual experience to others. If individuals go to the lengths required just to convey the uniqueness of their own experience, is there really no such thing as free will and a sense of individuality that accompanies it?
As for human ingenuity, I would point to the Industrial Revolution. No other creature had the cleverness to invent machines to do work for them, perfect mathematical and chemical sciences, construct manufacturing facilities, and work together to create shining cities from metals and wood. While many organisms create communities and rely on natural materials they can either scavenge or create themselves, no creature had the ingenuity to create the machine lathe, or the steam engine. Why would a creature that has no free will bother to create such oddities when their personal energy would be much more suited to finding or growing food and constructing a shelter out of local materials? Why would our world be so complex today with its interwoven economies and technological marvels when everyone would theoretically be better off if they merely looked out for themselves? In the argument for free will, I say look no further than the plethora of manufactured goods that would not be available to you if humans had no free will like Skinner claimed.
As for the scientific logic portion of my argument, I would like to quote Rene Descartes in saying, “I think, therefore, I am”. If free will can be broken down into basic life functions, what other expressions of free will can be attributed to life functions? Do works of art and cultural significance have anything to do with basic life functions? Does the concept of calculus and abstract mathematics fall under the purview of having no free will? I can personally attest that it takes a lot of willpower and determination to willingly learn the concepts and apply them. If I can think about myself as an individual, distinguish myself from others, and hold abstract ideas in my mind with no basis in the absolute reality that I experience, then apply those concepts to change my reality, how can I not have free will? The basic idea behind Skinner’s claims were that animals without free will learn to survive and sustain themselves. If that were the case with humans, why do we spend so much energy conveying ourselves, creating machines when our energy would be better suited to sustaining basic life functions, and dreaming of abstract concepts that have little basis in reality? One could claim that our end goal would ultimately be to increase physical comfort with all these innovations, but where does the creativity for such ideas come from if not a being with free will? Especially a being with the will to create their surroundings out of an initially inhospitable and dangerous environment. As such, I would argue that free will is the purest expression of human ingenuity and creativity.