Most of us, considering the advances that have been made in the various fields of science, have of course no hesitation in accepting the existence of physical laws. We know that without these laws man would have a hard time finding out what's what. We know, for example, that gravity makes things fall, that sperms fertilise eggs to produce babies and that heat turns water into steam. When it comes to human behaviour, however, our sense of lawfulness becomes a little awry; we find it hard to believe that our actions and thoughts too could be determined by an interplay of various forces instead of what we have come to regard as our free will. Although quite prepared to admit that at least some human behaviour is determined (witness the care being taken in courts of law to ensure that the accused is not suffering from 'mental illness'), we do object, often vehemently, to the assertion that man has no independence at all!
And that is just what's being asserted here.
First and foremost there is our genetic endowment. No one of course argues that the individual before conception in his mother's womb had a choice as to the kind of genes and chromosomes he was going to have in his body. This genetic make-up of ours, or the DNA with its encoded sequence of amino acids, has pre-disposed us to certain unique characteristics: we not only look different from any other individual on earth, we perceive the world in our own special way. Our sensitivity to sounds, smells, colours, etc., is not quite the same as other people's. So there is in operation in the human population a broad range of inborn capacities ready to interact with the environments into which they appear, with a multitude of consequences.
Like heredity, environment too has been thrust upon us. As new-borns we have no choice but to breathe the kind of air we find around us (it may be clean, smoky, industrially polluted), to eat the kind of food given us (wholesome, junky, allergen), to play with the kind of mates that are available (friendly, aggressive, weird). Whatever the stimulation, each exposure to it modifies our character to a greater or lesser extent. The attitudes we take up, the thoughts we have, the words we utter, the fears we harbour -- all are the end result of the sum total of the events in our life, superimposed on our genetic potential.
Reflecting for a moment on the thoughts that occur in our brain, we find that these thoughts do not occur because we have willed them to but because they have been instigated by other thoughts or by physical stimuli emanating from either within the body or outside it. If thoughts are a pre-requisite for decision making, it follows that our so-called free will is no free will at all. To talk about having freedom to decide, therefore, is spurious, although it is understandable.
Understandable because when we behave it really appears as though we have initiated that behaviour and no one or nothing else. Standing before two doors with a right to choose one of them to enter, we do really feel that we have a choice. What we are saying here is that after the choice has been made and entry undertaken into one of the doors, that choice was inevitable, given our heredity and given all our previous experiences.
And inevitable from all eternity, we might add.
For consider the chain of events taking place in the universe. Every event has a cause and every cause has been another event for which there has been another cause. Going back sufficiently in time we arrive at the ultimate cause of all our doings -- and to the realisation that we, the living creatures, are no more than mere robots, carrying on with our lives not because we have a will of our own, but simply because nature has 'programmed' us that way.
It is therefore useless worrying about all the mistakes and blunders we have made in our lives and all the pains and disappointments we have experienced, for we simply could not have avoided them. They had to happen.