Fractal interactions at microscopic levels are very important for long range outcomes .. whether the growth of algae spirals (1) or lifetime choices. My hand wavered a quarter inch in 1959 in northern Italy, picked a second college catalog from Arnie Goldstein's collection, and I went the Denver University instead of Colorado University as my parents had planned.
Free Will? Nope.
I reacted to what was in front of my face. Goldstein could have easily filed the catalogues differently and I would not have seen DU's publication. I was acting on oral directions from home and deviated because I saw the DU booklet, they promised scholarships, and recalled dimly that Denver was in Colorado, I might as well pick it up.
I've speculated elsewhere about language limitations. The essay up a few inches reviews complexity theory; one chapter is about the all or none characteristics of words. We run into binary limits when we use language; thus, "genetics" implies "only genes." Certainly not true. Genes have a context and provide a context. (They also glue us together. They establish cross talk between potentially independent chemical systems so that there is synchrony and order. None of us would be around without genes. Compare them, if you must, to the notes on a symphonic score. The orchestra would exhibit chaos without them.)
The language problem -- binary descriptions -- is aggravated by our apparent "Us/Them Chip." Our habit of forming alliances immediately for trivial reasons and often for or against a whimsical difference that we magnify while making a "choice."
The language problem in addition to our psych adaptation for Us/Them almost "determines" conflict ... especially about new information. Especially new information that implies demands on our choices and actions.
I have no problem with genetic determinism just as I have none with "gravitic determinism." We obey gravity and we obey genes. The difference is that we have stretch receptors and antigravity muscles to work cooperatively with gravity, gaining us some mobility and even the option to jump out of trees. We have no "gene detectors" except indirectly and inferentially, working by accidental or careful observation of ourselves and our families over decades.
Nature played another trick. Oppositional behavior is adaptive. It prevents helplessness, explores new territories, and yields "creativity" in spite of limits. (How odd (sic!); my own oppositional nature directing that I argue on behalf of principles that limit my oppositional choices! The Us/Them Chip is wondrous!)
However, the limits are still there. We experienced selective pressures to recognize predators, cliffs, and deep rivers. We detect risk and danger and survive (except for a few born without anxiety or without pain perception). There was no selective pressure to notice genes; they work fine without our meddling. (Thus, this whole thing about "Free Will" is probably not about self deception although people who don't act "as if" they had free will may be likely to get into other troubles.)
As noted elsewhere (see material on Barkley and the Executive Functions), MY WAY usually means reacting to whatever is in front of your face for the moment. A more useful "Free Will" is that of imagining outcomes, matching outcomes with personal or group benefit, and implementing a plan to reach the most advantageous option.
Oppositional but impulsive people are usually considered "selfish" in our moral codes. They do momentary things for their own gain without consideration of delayed consequences for other people. I dispute the nature of either their "Freedom" or of the "Will." I don't care for such people despite the interesting ferment they stir. The rest of us have to take up slack when they fail to cooperate and "do their thing" while the rest of us mow, clean diapers, or tend houses and children. (My gosh, an r-selection spirit advocating a K-selection life! weird.)
Eventually, the group engages in a little "tit for tat," reciprocity stops, and the "Do It My Way" has to "Do It All Himself." At such moments, compliance appears, or the free spirit finds new "suckers," or he goes hungry. This last option is functionally identical to the 2nd Law's kicking in for uncooperative molecules ... whether you call it failure, aging, or entropy, the outcome is the same. Organized, coherent behavior ceases.
Morality and religion present ironic, functional similarities to nature. Beating the 2nd Law requires cooperation in the case of organic or inorganic substances. Beating the same Law requires cooperation between people. If we cooperate sufficiently, we attain Eternal Life ... through our group values across generations, through genetic continuity, or through approval from a supernatural power. Once more it appears that morality instantiates survival values as well as replicating inorganic patterns of cooperation.
Meanwhile, "social learning" has obscured many detailed, rich understandings for most of my life. I have been embarrassed to admit my fascination for the intricate structures I see around me, whether I interview a child, sit with my ducks, or keep note of the weeds that grow quickly taking advantage of a fallen trunk. There is an enormous rich meadow in that middle area ...between the pole of "nature" and that of "nurture" and not seen by Free Willers or anxious altruists responding on Sidman Avoidance schedules about moments in our sorry past. I'm going to talk about it with zeal; I'm going to explore it in spite of people who cling to other fears ... those, in John Pearce's words, "with cemeteries to defend."
I recommend again, "Here comes granddad again: Exercises for skeptics," posted above this note. See you at the Cape!
1) Thanks to Howard Bloom for making me aware of Eshel Ben-Jacob's work!
Jim Brody Healing the Moral Animal: Lessons from Evolution July 20-24, 1998