Freewill vs. Biology

It is now known that environment affects biology–from parasites to stress, our character is pushed, pulled, and kneaded into form by an insurmountable number of epigenetic factors. In utero, a fetus is going about assessing the outside world, its biology adjusting accordingly. Is it a safe, abundant place, or is it an impoverished, chaotic habitat? Invaders such as parasites like Toxo have the wherewithal to get into your system and drastically affect your moods. Even so, biology and genes are not static, unable to be influenced; rather, they are like toggle switches able to be turned on or off. In other words, if you have a ‘violent’ gene, it must be activated by factors within your environment, such as severe abuse, in order for you to become a violent person. That’s an epigenetic effect.

In the podcast attached to this blog, Joe Rogan interviews Dr. Robert Sapolsky about some of these environmental factors. Dr. Sapolsky states that what we think of as freewill is just undiscovered biology. In the context of the discussion, the statement was quite striking to me. Given that we are so easily shaped by epigenetic factors, most of the time unaware, just how much control of ourselves do we really have? Here is where I fall back on physics/algorithms–as every single thing that exists can be broken down into algorithms,including beliefs, and beliefs affect biology too. The placebo affect is a good example of this, where believing an ailment was treated made it so, when the treatment was actually just a sugar pill. Awareness, too, shapes our biological algorithms.

When we are aware, we can choose to shape our environment to produce desired results, such as a non-violent world, but seeing as choices of that nature cannot produce broad, lasting results when made alone, we must do it together as the one human body that we are. We are often so afraid of losing our individuality that we fall asleep to the reality that our uniqueness simultaneously exists as part of one form, just as a finger is part of the one body, but has its own uses and functionality.

This brings me to the symbiotic nature of our relationships with one another, and with our environment–you cannot talk about human nature and freewill standing alone as one or the other being the end-all, be-all of personality. To fully optimize freewill, it needs to spring from the collective mind–there needs to be enough people aspiring together toward a common goal in order to reach fruition. Who writes the algorithms? I will go so far as to suggest that the mind shapes reality, on an individual and collective scale. So can freewill trump biology? What do you think?

Joe Rogan Interviews Dr. Sapolsky


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