Term Paper: Free Will

Pages: 9 (2614 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Psychology  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] We tend too to have a more optimistic perspective of our future than is warranted, whilst we attribute our shortfalls to luck and the shortfalls of others to their character traits (and the reverse with our fortunes).

Our brain, in other words, makes us act in a certain way that is beyond our comprehension and cognizance of the fact that we are even driven in a certain direction. Many of these heuristics are formed as result of our personal experience and socialization.

Embodied Brains

Our culture makes us act in a certain way. Research, for instance, has discovered that approximately 5% of terrorist act the way they do due to the force of culture (Schor, 2008). There is the crime / violence theory that asserts that crime can occur in an environment where citizens condone its occurrence and existence and see it as a social good (Rafter, 1997). There are some societies -- religious fundamentalism for instance -- where aggression is rewarded by social praise, eternal life in another more glorious world, and the opprobrium of being labeled a 'saint'. Conformance to such behavior is 'normal'. Deviation is penalized, considered abnormal and oftentimes threatened with hell in he next and loss of friends and family in this world. However, one does not need to turn to examples of extreme societies for instances of enculturation. Social constructs of specific era and geography cause us to think in a certain way and direct our actions accordingly. It is no accident, therefore that homosexuality seems to have become more rampant in the contemporary western world when it has become more of a recognized and accepted phenomena nor that women's rights have become more of a pressing issue in the 21st century than they were 50 years ago when domestic abuse was high and women were supposed to be the assistants of their husband and the protectors of the family. Social changes, driven by historical circumstance and by several prominent individuals (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) drive change that, in turn, change social thinking. Whether we realize it or not, we are a product of our time and country (as well as ethnicity) and this drives our mental heuristics, hence our judgments, hence our acts.

There are some who seem to escape this conditioning as * points out with his thesis on 'amazing apostates' (Streib, & Keller, 2004.). It seems to me, however, not so clear whether these apostates (and others like them) who managed to break away from their socialization did so without reacting to the negative experiences that they suffered from their socialization and therefore reacting in turn. Many of these individuals (as see the recent memoir on 'Unorthodox" (Feldman, 2012)) were treated as outcasts. This in turn embittered them and caused them to perceive their culture in a certain manner. Doing so may in itself have inhibited a certain portion of their free will. In other words, although the subject of 'Unorthodox' saw herself as breaking free from her culture, it may in effect be that, whilst breaking free from the ideological constraints of Hassidim, she, however, became rectory and, in this way, became a prisoner of her socializing in another way -- namely of her experiences.


Western dogma asserts the Nietschean approach, namely that it is important and possible to question our conditioning and socialization, to separate ourselves from the herd, and to, thereby, become the superman that Nietzsche posits to be the pinnacle of perfection. Others, on the other hand, such as Wegner (2002) and Chishom (1964) see free will as being an illusion. On the one hand, we believe that we are gifted with the ability to choose happiness and liberty would we so wish and create ourselves into the individuals that we believe is necessary for our life's liberty and contentment. On the other hand, certain aspects seem beyond our control. Some are born handicapped and others in ghetto-like poverty. Still others are born in rigid, fundamentalist type backgrounds where they are indoctrinated and socialized in a certain type of thinking that causes them to perceive aspects in a certain way, to judges, a and act accordingly. The question can be extended to any and all, civilizations without going to the extremes of turning to religious or socialist regimes for illustration. After all, we all live in a hub of geo-historical circumstance that makes us revolve on a certain wheel and turn around with the fads and norms of the time. Some, such as Nietzsche, assume that we can separate ourselves from the herd would we so wish and become the superman -- or Individual - that Western society persuades us to become. Others, such as Wegner (2002), on the other hand, assert that free-will is merely an illusion and that, individuality - ipso facto an inference of that fact- is irrevocably beyond our grasp.

This essay explores each of the options and concludes that we each grow up with limited brain and judgment, and accordingly judge and decide within a constrained way. We consist of both 'embodied and embedded mind: we are on the one hand a repository of mental heuristics that instinctively and unconsciously impel us in a certain direction. On the other hand, we are led by socializing. Only our ability to transcend that can accord us the life we wish and lead us on the mythical route of individualism. The question remains: Is becoming an individual irrevocably beyond our grasp? Or, can we choose to become so would we so wish?


Bargh, JA & Chartrand, TL (1999) The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, Vol 54(7), 462-479

Berger PL & Luckmann, T (1967) The social construction of reality: a treatise in the sociology of knowledge Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,

Feldman, D. (2012)Unorthodox: the scandalous rejection of my Hasidic roots New York: Simon & Schuster

Glover, S. (2004) Separate visual representations in the planning and control of action Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27: pp 3-24

Hayes, S. & Pierson, H (2005) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Ency. Of Brain Sciences, 1, 1-4

Mill, JS (1998) On liberty and other essays Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press

Nietzsche, F. (1998) Twilight of the idols, or, How to philosophize with a hammer Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press

Rafter, NH (1997) Psychopathy and the evolution of criminological knowledge

Urbana: University of Illinois Press

Ryle, G (1949) The concept of mind New York: Barnes & Noble

Schor, E. (2008) Conflict, Terrorism, and the Socialization of Human Rights Norms: The Spiral Model Revisited Archive for the Psychology of Religion55, 117-138

Streib, Heinz & Keller, Barbara (2004). The… [END OF PREVIEW]

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