I fully understand that there are a lot of behind the scenes going on in our brains. I have read extensively on current brain research. But that doesn't mean that the part of us that we identify as us and that we consider our conscious being is not capable of having input. There may be dozens of other factors. But to assume that our conscious selves therefore have no say in any of it seems a bit extreme.
I can understand that. But by what mechanism does your conscious self interact with things? Leaving aside the electrochemical processes, your "self" has memories, preferences, characteristics. Is it capable of stepping outside of the self it has become over the last (mumble)-decades to do something entirely undirected by its past?
It gets even weirder when we find out that many of our memories are very inaccurate. In fact, researchers have discovered that the more times you recall a specific event, the less accurate each recollection becomes. In other words, if somethng happened 25 years ago and you never thought about it until today, your memory of that event would be more accurate than your memory of an event a year ago that you've thought about many times. So I have no trouble agreeing that the "self" that most of us think of as "me" is a bit suspect at times. I just want to give it a bit more credit than the ardent "no free will" adherents do.
I have a feeling that people tend to Act, or to React - and that normally, people do the latter. Things happen, and they react to them - what you might call the basic determinism response. Reactions that are broadly predictable, in essence throwbacks to our tiny mammalian ancestors Fight or Flight responses. In a very real sense, most of the time we do "act without thinking", though I would say that would more correctly be that we "REact without thinking". cf, your momentary desire to kill.
Well, when I read the above, I thought "Yea, Anfauglir is right. To an extent. But not everything we do is a reaction. Then I started to search for actions that are not reactions and I'll be darned if I can think of any. That doesn't mean they never are, but if someone has an example of an action that is not a reaction, I'd sure like to know about it. I'm drawing a blank.
But sometimes (though not too often, I fear) we find outselves consciously weighing the options. I hope you'll understand what I mean if I talk about the awareness of thinking? The times when self-awareness creeps in and we can stop and think - as indeed you did when you "realised" you wouldn't kill, and laughed.
Yes, we may weigh options. But usually in reaction to some stimuli. If not always in reaction to some stimuli. The argument I have with the "no free will" crowd is that the self that we identify with can't be totally without purpose or the rest of our being wouldn't' bother conjuring one up. We do have the ability to think about choices, and we do have the ability to, in some measurable way, actually make choices. Choices that, if they were able to be repeated like in an scientific experiment, would come out different some of the time. Like coin flips. But instead of being merely chance, they would be choices that could go either way and in which minor details, rather than subconscious meddling, may have been the deciding factor.
Much as I hate to say it, I suspect that if in that moment of reacting you had had a weapon in hand, and been next to the object of your anger, you would indeed have walloped them, despite the rational "you" being a person who would never normally consider such an action.
You're probably right, except I'm more careful than that and if I were so inclined, I would take the time to figure out a way to zap the person and get away with it, rather than just flying off the handle and bonking them right then and there. I've only lost my temper once in my life (no coincidence: it was because of this person) and even then I caught myself almost immediately and calmed down. I didn't like it. But that's just me.
This self-aware thinking is, I would agree, the level at which free will (should it exist) be in operation. Certainly it feels, when we are thinking about thinking, that we are weighing options and evaluating. But I still don't get it. What is that "self" evaluating against?
Well, there may be several schools of thought on the issue, but as far as I'm concerned nobody has won yet. I still say that there is no way that simple biology and social conditions could have spawned such a wide variety of people. Something somewhere in us is capable of making decisions that go against the grain, and I like to think that at least part of that process is at the conscious level. Sadly, if I'm wrong I won't be able to be surprised because I won't have the free will to react that way. Bummer.
You've said yourself that "I knew there was no way I could kill another person". Surely if you believed free will existed, you COULD choose to kill - to override everything that had come to make you "you" at that point, to cast aside everything that was and is and make that truly free decision?
But I like to think I am exercising my free will be deciding that there is no way I could kill another person. I consciously thought about such things when I was younger and decided (well, some part of me decided) that I did not want to be someone who was capable of killing. I am generally too peaceful. I understand that my view of such things isn't quite the norm. Most people say they would kill if they found someone robbing their house int he middle of the night or something, but I don't think I could. It wouldn't upset me enough. But I've lived such a peaceful life, overall, that I'm not inclined to go all Rambo on anything in life. Maybe it is just a reaction.
If free will really exists, I fear you must accept that those terrible choices ARE always available to us. If we ARE constrained, if there are decision routes that are indeed forever closed off to "us", that simply could never happen, then free will takes an almighty blow - because you are arguing that a deterministic process is constraining what "choices" you will make, that the past and your enviroment can and do outweigh your "decisions".
I keep asking myself: Where would religion come from if there were no free will. And where would the rejection of religion come from if there were no free will. To me, both free will and behind the scenes control are taking place. The part of us we don't know (which is probably related to the part of us that automatically stops at stop signs and stop lights even when we are not aware of them consciously) certainly plays a major role in our lives. But if each of us has a little Obie-Wan Kenobi inside of us saying "nothing to see here" at every turn, I'm gonna be pissed. At least if I have that choice I will be.
Hey, at least its fun to think about these things.