Can I Keep My Free Will Now?

An interesting study from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute indicates that many of our decisions are influenced by past experiences (which is the leading cause for determinism) but also points out that random choices (or what I might perceive as a bit of free will, otherwise touted as compatibilism) might be benefecial at times.

A couple of notable quotes from the article: “Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus have shown that the brain can temporarily disconnect information about past experience from decision-making circuits, thereby triggering random behavior.” and : “in certain circumstances, random behavior may be preferable. An animal might have the best chance of avoiding a predator if it moves unpredictably, for example. And in a new environment, unrestricted exploration might make more sense than relying on an internal model developed elsewhere.”

The article here:

http://www.hhmi.org/news/strategic-or-random-how-brain-chooses

Shows how rats were able to switch between these modes of thought, predictably, by using different ways of presenting food/reward scenarios. There was noted an interesting side effect, notably the possibility of being stuck in the random mode of thought once it was initiated. They did figure out how to reverse that behavior by suppressing a stress hormone in the study animals, which I thought was pretty cool.

Now, admittedly I am extrapolating a bit here, moving this new information to the free will argument realm. But this study seems to show that having the ability to randomize our actions can be beneficial. What is free will if it is not the ability to make a random decision? I contend that yes our past experiences influence our decisions greatly, but that we do have the ability to occaisionally make a random choice if we want to. I don’t feel like EVERY decision we make has to be influenced by our past, and that yes, we do have a modicum of free will. Although it may be a small part of our makeup.

I just cannot buy into the determinist camp as of yet, and yes I’m probably grasping at straws here. But I remain a compatibilist for now. I know it’s not feasable just yet to be doing a happy dance for free will, but in this article I’ll take what I can get. 🙂

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