Predeterminism, Freewill, Psychology, and Culture


The notion of freewill is something I struggle with, it is a commonsense concept but it defies basic scientific and mathematic epistemology and ontology. In a world where all change, all movement, stems from other causal forces, which themselves are certainly linked to others in an unbroken chain of prior occurrences and where we suppose that we could know the exact properties of all actors and actions of this interaction then we could predict the outcomes of the situation under study because all things follow a path predetermined by the axioms of physics.  This was Einstein’s view.

In social psychology, there is at times an illusion of a belief that if you knew everything about a person’s intrapsychic processes combined with an understanding of the social processes happening within their environment you would be able to predict their future behavior. I say it is an illusion of a belief mostly because it is implied and possibly not true, at least wholly. If we consider social concepts such as priming, cognitive biases, heuristics, and conditioning then there is clearly a belief in the predictability of behavior. Indeed, why should we assume that people act against the accumulation of all occurrences of the self in a particular social environment that is also the product of cumulative occurrences and pragmatic selection? This is, of course, assuming the self is constrained by the past.

These thoughts were crystallized by reading Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution by Marian Blute, of which I have only two more chapters to read.

Below is a quote by Marian Blute on the matter.

“The concept of free will has no scientific credibility. It is not a theory. Because it can explain everything, it can explain nothing and is in fact an excuse not to seek an explanation.”

Marion also explains that evolution doesn’t just filter the past for the most successful traits but is also inductive because phenotypes are plastic and can have different expressions, environmental changes can induce certain traits that then become genetic. When this process is applied to sociocultural evolution, the defense is made for a constrained “social construction” of social reality. Homo sapiens as symbol user can envision the future and therefore make inductive choices. Taking the moderate stance, Marion promotes both a deductive and inductive version of sociocultural evolution. Culture is constrained by the past at the same time that it is freed by possibilities for the future.

Returning to the notion of freewill, it seems reasonable to suggest a freewill that is constrained by ecological, biological, cultural, social, and evolutionary factors—a limited freewill.