Free will: the ability of the individual to make the final choice.
We have always claimed that territory for ourselves, denying that animals possess free will or the thought process necessary to use it. However, if you ask animals, they will tell you that they follow the same steps that you do to get what they want. Many do it with far simpler equipment than the hunk of gray matter we lug around, but they all make their own choices.
Freedom is so important to some animals that they cannot live in captivity. Others can adapt to some degree, but often suffer severe depression when caged. You might claim that animals are ruled by instinct and therefore have no freedom of choice, but you misunderstand free will. Animals build very rigid behavior patterns or habits that they always do the same way, but every animal has the ability to choose the appropriate behavior. Humans build their habitual routines by the very same process as do other animals. Our free will is more expansive than other animals, and we have the ability to make up routines on the fly, but the ability to choose is the heart and soul of biological systems.
Navigation, choice of food and mate selection all areas where some degree of free will is necessary.
Individual freedom has proven to be the most effective way for big business, big government and big religion to deal with day to day activities of their followers. Those organizations have discovered that total control over people depresses them like it does caged animals. However, a degree of freedom, even within a rigid structure, makes people work harder.
It has also been discovered that the the closer the decision making process is to the problem, the more likely it is that the problem will be solved. Rather than having information travel up the chain of command to a qualified decision maker, and then return back through channels to the point of action, it is better to give the authority and the necessary training to the person at the point of action. Of course, for that to work there must be strict limits to the scope of the granted authority and some sort of oversight. Besides shortening the feedback loops, a measure of free will is certainly good for moral.
Biological systems make use of this concept at every level. A measure of free will is granted to all mobile creatures. The ability to navigate demands that real time adjustments be made by the individual. Birds in a flock are following the flight pattern dictated by their peers, but each one is doing its own flying. Schools of fish perform in the same way, with the group navigating as one, but each fish is still in charge of its own fins.
In experiments where worms are put in a simple T shaped maze with one branch leading to food and the other to something unpleasant, appear to ponder their options, pointing what sensors they possess first down one tunnel and then the other, until they finally make a choice. Eventually, they can learn the clues that lead them to the right choice, and repeat successful behavior. The individual makes the choices and remembers the results.
Mating rituals are highly stylized, and certainly part of species specific inherited behavior, but the fact is that the female of even the tiniest insect species, deliberates and chooses her mate. If everything is not just right, she might not mate at all.
Cats demand their measure of free will to the point of trying to boss the rest of the household around. They like to initiate feeding, games and contact in general. They like to set the rules for each activity. If you spend enough time observing nature at play, you will see this behavior is common in animals and even insects.
There was a big black and gold stripped fly that hung out just outside my trailer. One of his favorite perches was on the crank handle on the trailer hitch. The handle stuck straight up. It had a chrome tip on the handle that was just about the same diameter and this fly’s wingspan, probably 3/8 of an inch. The convex chrome surface displayed his undercarriage like mirrors under the fenders at a custom car show.
I would talk to him when and he would move around, it seemed in response. When I wasn’t talking he stayed still. So, after a few days of this, I offered him the back of my hand. He looked up at me, and climbed on. I turned my hand around and he reacted by turning his body so we stayed face to face. Then when I stopped turning my hand, he would turn in circles. After a short time, he would fly back to his chrome perch. He would only perform this trick once in each session. He would still give me his attention, but he wouldn’t get back on my hand.
We did this a few more times in the days to come. One day, I held out my hand from five feet away and called him to get on. He did! He took off and made one or two circles and landed on the back of my hand. We did this trick every day for quite a while. I even got to show it to a couple of friends. He turned to me and then turned to the audience… and I think he made a little bow.
Then one day, he wouldn’t do it at all. He just turned his back on me. I tried to coax him on by putting my hand up close like I had days before, but he just flew off to another perch. I tried for several days, but he just wouldn’t play. So, after about a week, I was standing there with my hands on my hips, talking to him and I asked him what the deal was. He immediately took off and made a couple of circles. I held out my hand and he landed on it. I was astounded. He wanted to initiate the action. We did it that way many times after that. I would stand there and talk to him, with my hands at my sides. When he was ready, he would take off, I would hold out my hand, and he would land on it. If I held out my hand too soon, he would turn his back on me until I put my hands back to my sides. He liked this trick and would do it more than once per session.
Not only does this exhibit free will, but also the desire to demonstrate it to others.
One day there were two of them and they would fly around and around in tight circles for several minutes and then fly off. They would come back in a few minutes and circle again. They were flying really fast and their buzzing was very loud. Then they disappeared. A few days later, he was back. His wings were in tatters and he was all beat up and ragged looking. He did his trick a couple more times that day, landing on my outstretched hand. That was his farewell performance; I didn’t see him again.
In this view of biological systems, memory, an understanding of time and space, a sense of self and the exercise of free will are all attributes possessed by each and every mobile species. The difference is in the scope of available choices, but the ability to choose is the same. Successful navigation, feeding and mating require that the agent have final control over the process. Free will is universal within the System.