Free Will – do we have it? That has been the subject of many lofty dissertations by theists, philosophers, and yes, atheists like me. The consensus of most nonbelievers, one that I share, is probably not. Decisions made by the brain are based on genetic predisposition, life experiences, and sometimes one or more random inputs determined by the current environment. I shorten it to Nature, Nurture and Random (NNR).
Before we tackle The Donald, let me give an example so that we are all on the same page. A fourteen-year-old boy walks by an outdoor fruit market in the poor section of a large city. He sees some gorgeous peaches. No customers or shopkeepers are around. Does he steal a peach?
If we are right that the decision to steal or not to steal is based on NNR, how does it work? Is there such a thing as a genetic predisposition to larceny? Nobody really knows. Growing up in a poor neighborhood, our young fellow has probably seen plenty of petty crime, and most of the perps got away with it. Still, there is risk. If he just finished a dinner that his mom bought with food stamps, he probably isn’t hungry, and might pass up the opportunity, but if she ran out of food stamps and he is hungry, the decision might go the other way. Or if he has inherited genes that cause him to enjoy “risk taking,” he might steal just for the adventure. Lots of variables for the most complex computer we can imagine to process. None of it requires an exercise of Free Will, but the possibility that Free Will contributes to the final decision cannot be ruled out. Some part of the processing may have been “uncaused.” Philosophers call it “self-caused.” This is the basis for theistic belief in Free Will and miracles. Like the existence of the Almighty, Free Will can neither be proven nor disproven with our current understanding of the brain.
With all of that in mind, let us turn to Trump. After observing his antics over the last year or so, I have to admit that my conclusion that Free Will does not exist has been shaken. The steady stream of lies, contradictions, denials, denials of denials, reiteration of lies and attacks on people who have the temerity to point these things out…what cognitive process could be the cause of all that? It’s as if his whole brain is engaged in Brownian Motion and what comes out of his oral orifice is…well…whatever random bits happen to be there at the time. Here is a list of 141 of his mental meanderings compiled by some hard working NBC News journalists:
Now this randomness is not the random events of NNR. Those are external events that contribute to the brain’s decision-making process. When I say “external” I mean external to the brain. Hunger is an input to the brain from the body caused by a need for food. But what about randomness that appears to have been generated by the brain itself, “uncaused?” That sounds like Free Will.
Offhand, I cannot think of another human being who exhibits this ability. Either I am wrong about Free Will, or Mr. Trump is the first of a new species.
What a truly awful thought! Is Evolution the cause of this? If so, let’s hope that the process of natural selection relegates this experiment to the dustbin of extinction.
There is another possibility. Maybe God decided to have a little fun at our expense.