It’s not your conscious mind that makes allegedly ‘free will’ decisions but rather some structure or something far more basic and primitive that all creatures great and small with what could reasonably be called a ‘brain’ share – a pleasure seeking; pain avoidance mechanism – the brain’s ‘pleasure centre’. Faced with either/or choices this pleasure centre will make you involuntarily or at least subconsciously choose that option which gives it maximum pleasure and minimum pain or discomfort or angst. Thus, faced with a choice of sitting down to a meal of a freshly cooked juicy steak or rotting raw meat complete with maggots, your pleasure centre says what you will choose, not what your will free will choose – the steak.
There is no such thing as free will because free will almost always implies making a choice between equals and in reality that never happens. Free will is like saying you have a choice between having a seventh innings stretch hot dog and beer at the ballgame or a seventh innings stretch hot dog and beer at the ballgame. Closer to reality, there’s usually a clear enough cut distinction between choosing this and choosing that, that the ultimate choice is a no-brainer.
There is no such thing as a neural pathway that leads to a “T”-junction where the neural bits and pieces are forced to go decision-left or decision-right. Rather, there are two (or more) parallel neural pathways that arise in many cases out of the memory data-bank that holds your options. All of those options are unique and different and aren’t equal in possible value to you, or rather your brain. All decisions arising between these options are relative because the options are relative in terms of degrees of goodness or badness. You may have a choice between wine, women or song; a choice between a harem, riches or political power; a choice between hanging, the electric chair or the firing squad.
What does your brain always try to maximize? The brain tries to maximize pleasure and good times and comfort. The brain tries to minimize unpleasant things, bad times, pain, discomfort, and so on. In your choice between wine, women and song, one of the three will seem to be the best of all possible choices and one of the three will be the worst of all of the three options. The same applies to a choice between a harem, riches or political power. Ditto to a choice between hanging, the electric chair or the firing squad.
Your brain has a ‘pleasure centre’ which always opts for the most pleasant option when faced with a range of options. When you consider an option, often based on a previous experience, a certain rush of neural transmitters – pleasure chemicals or other chemicals that block out pain – goes to your brain’s pleasure centre. Another option provides yet another rush of pleasure chemicals or particles or whatever. Whatever option provides the greatest amount of pleasure particles to your brain’s pleasure centre wins. You ‘choose’ that option. It might look like free will but it’s the brain’s primitive pleasure centre calling the shots. This applies even if the cosmos is a deterministic cosmos.
Likewise, your brain has a repulsion centre that acts to push you away from repulsive things and towards pleasurable things. You might be innately responsive to avoiding repulsive things but in comparing any two things, one thing is going to be relatively more repulsive relative to the other. Choices are all relative; never equal. Consider the five senses:
Sight: You’re faced with a choice (if male) of dating a Playboy pin-up or an 80 year old woman. If a female, your choice is between a 20 year old male model or an 80 year old pot-bellied, bald, codger / dirty old man. Or perhaps you have a choice between watching optical illusions or images of decomposing corpses.
Sound: You’re faced with a choice between an hour of listening to a jack-hammer, fingernails scraping against a blackboard, a human screaming, an album of Beatles’ songs or a Mozart symphony.
Smell: You’re faced with a choice between enduring an hour smelling rotting garbage, classic rotten egg odour, ammonia, a rose or salty sea spray.
Taste: You have to taste either vinegar, a cockroach, maggot filled meat, beer or pepperoni.
Touch: You have a choice: one hour of a heating pad, one hour of acupuncture, one hour of tickling, or one hour of a very cold shower.
Now consider some of the following examples of alleged aspects of free will that might really be best explained by deferring to your brain’s pleasure centre: self-control; planning; rational choice; changing your behaviour; initiative and a catch-all ‘just for the hell of it’.
# You might decide to become a politician because the idea of getting your snout in the trough really appeals to your pleasure centre.
# You might decide to do something you’d rather not do now, because your reward will be as a consequence greater later on down the track for your current sacrifice.
# Whatever you decide you decide because that choice maximizes your pleasure even though that might mean doing something you don’t really want to do just because your status will be elevated if you do it.
# Some people might do bad things like rape, robbing a bank, murder, etc. because that activity rewards their brain’s pleasure centre more than not doing that bad activity.
# You might decide to raise your right arm since the very act proves to you that you’re in control and proves to yourself that you can do it if you want to. That control over your own body gives you pleasure.
# Why do women love to go shopping nearly all the time for clothes and especially for shoes even if they don’t need more clothes and more shoes. Because the shopping experience positively stimulates their brain’s pleasure centre.
# If a $500 dress brings more pleasure than a $50 dress, you’ll buy the $500 dress. Although, if buying the $500 dress will cause a lot of strife at home you might not buy the $500 dress if avoiding strife gives greater pleasure than the $500 dress. So you might then opt for the $50 dress or no dress at all.
# Why do addicts of any kind – drugs, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, etc. – always seek another fix? They do it to stroke their brain’s pleasure centre.
# How hot do you like your shower? Probably just as hot as what brings you maximum pleasure given feedback to you from your brain’s pleasure centre.
# Do you get greater satisfaction or pleasure if you strike out on purpose or try (but fail) to hit a home run? No doubt the later.
# Buying a house is a Big decision so you really want to maximize stroking your brain’s pleasure centre.
# Taking the short, direct route is more pleasurable than the long, winding convoluted way around because it is faster and cheaper – unless sightseeing is the objective of course.
# Sexual fantasies stimulate the pleasure centre in the way that mental stimulation in filling out your tax return doesn’t – but you still do your tax return since going to jail for tax avoidance/evasion is even a more unpleasant alternative.
Now say you have a choice between wearing a red tie or a blue tie to work. Are the ties equal? No, not if the red tie was a present by your mother who you like and the blue tie a present from your aunt who you don’t like as much. Further, the red tie might tend to go better with your wardrobe than the other and the red tie might have attracted a complement from an attractive woman at work whereas the blue tie never has. So, which tie are you going to wear? Which tie has the potential to give maximum pleasure to your brain’s pleasure centre?
What about Unknown/Untried Choices?
Even when making a choice between two things you’ve never experienced before, there will still be enough of a distinction, of distinctive clues, to decide the outcome. For example, consider two never before tried holiday spots. One never before tried potential holiday destination is in a country that strikes you as slightly less desirable compared to untried and potential holiday destination number two in another country that you identify a bit more with. Or perhaps holiday number one choice costs more than holiday number two choice for the same set of experiences. Your pleasure centre rewards getting more holiday bang for your vacation buck. As another example, take two untried food dishes. Perhaps one just sounds more appealing or maybe one has ingredients you’re slightly less partial to or are unknown compared to the competing dish of choice. [This reminds me of our local restaurant/food reviewer/critic where you (or at least I) need a gastronomic dictionary in order to understand the nature of the food dish she’s endorsing.] You’re adventurous but not that adventurous and your pleasure centre tells you that discretion is the better part of valour.
What about Animal ‘Free Will’?
Lab animals are known to keep pressing a lever in order to provide a constant flow of pleasurable stimulations to their own brain’s pleasure centre.
Now I have two cats who are faced every day with a choice between three bowls of different cat food. How do the cats decide? Do they have free will choice? No, I suspect not because they opt for whatever food bowl provides maximum enjoyment to their brain’s pleasure centre. They, at any given moment, like one bowl over the other two.
In wintertime my cats will seek out the warmest place they can find, be it a sunny spot, under the quilt, on the lap, even lying on directly on top of the gas duct when the heat is on. Why? Yep, it’s all about stimulating their brain’s pleasure centre.
Even if you disagree with all of the above, you can’t resolve the free will issue on the grounds that you can’t go back in time to make your alternate choice. You get one go, one decision and you can never be absolutely certain it wasn’t your brain’s pleasure centre calling the shots.