- Published: June 8, 2015
The concept of morality is as old as human civilization. It is the ability to choose between right and wrong that we have, until very recently, ascribed as the distinguishing factor between humans and animals. This idea is easily summed up in Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange, in which the main character is told that “goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” Burgess believes that good behavior is meaningless if one does not willingly choose it. His argument can be extended to the idea that, and our current judicial system commonly utilizes this view, that a criminal is exculpable if he does not willingly choose to commit the harmful act.
Neuroscientists believe that as we delve deeper into the mechanics of the mind, we will see that most of what drives us to action is inaccessible to consciousness, and that free will is close to non-existence. This line of thinking suggests that our actions are not dependent upon free will, but are predetermined by a multitude of biochemical inputs within our brain. It suggests that we are, in actuality, biochemical “robots” that have no free will and our decisions are based on the program and machinery of our DNA and our nervous system.
This seems like an extremely bleak way to view the world we live in. How will this newfound scientific knowledge sit with centuries of human thinking that has revolved around the concept of free choice? Is there any way of reconciling these two vastly different ways of perception about humanity? What will happen to religion, the belief in a soul, and other firmly held beliefs?