Friday night topic: Human beings and free will

— 5:56 PM on May 18, 2007

This week brought news of a study that may have identified the beginnings of free will in the behavior of fruit flies. At least, that's how it's been described. The basic insight of the study seems to be that fruit flies are capable of behaving in ways that are both spontaneous and non-random, which some folks think may point to a biological mechanism behind the human experience of "free will." The ScienceDaily report then explains:

Our subjective notion of "Free Will" is an oxymoron: the term 'will' would not apply if our actions were completely random and it would not be 'free' if they were entirely determined. So if there is free will, it must be somewhere between chance and necessity - which is exactly where fly behavior comes to lie. "The question of whether or not we have free will appears to be posed the wrong way," says Brembs. "Instead, if we ask 'how close to free will are we"' one finds that this is precisely where humans and animals differ".
Framed that way, this raises an interesting topic for discussion. How close, then, to free will are we? Could what we experience as free will be one day explained by a mathematical model, like the fruit flies' was? If so, would it still be free will as traditionally conceived? Or has that always been an illusion anyhow? Discuss.
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