EVERY NOW AND AGAIN people talk about decisions, choices, or free will. There are determinists~those who believe what will occur has pre~determined bases, thus, we lack free will of action, and cannot alter our fates. Then there are those who believe that people make rational and independent choices, of their own free will, and remain arbiters of their future.
This author does not propose a resolution to that timeless mystery, only relate a few facts regarding Human chemistry. Human thought, after all, is an invaluable combination of water, carbon, and hydrogen, and a host of amino acids. These also give us a body as well as our animation.
LET’S REVIEW A MOLECULE and its important interplay with our free will: seratonin. Seratonin has a molecular signature of: C10, H12, N2, O, which reads, ten carbon atoms, twelve of hydrogen, two of nitrogen, and a single oxygen atom. This molecule is derived by the amino~acid Tryptophan, found in foods such as bananas, papayas, and meat from turkeys. In humans, 90% of their seratonin is found in epithelial layers of the gut, and the other 10% in cerebro~spinal fluid, and in the brain where it is an important neurotransmitter.
”Posture is more erect post~triumph” ~Darwin
”Heads are lowered after defeat” ~Irenaüs Eibl~Eibesfeldt
A HIGHER SERATONIN LEVEL correlates to social rank. Seratonin is found in greatest concentrations in dominant primate males. This is not to say that socially dominant primate males are genetically endowed to use/absorb/maintain/have naturally larger stores of seratonin. Actually, it means dominance
(greater amounts of seratonin) has a social basis.
Reference the quotes above, as relate to body language (a social phenomenon). Darwin’s ape, having defeated Eibl~Eibesfeldts ape in a territorial brawl, has elevated seratonin: a molecule that encourages a sense of well~being, regulates mood intensity, and ”guards against depression and anxiety” (Wright 1994: 243). As a result of such chemical~social interplay, Darwin’s ape sits proud (and it’s not being recommended that one go beat someone up). Interestingly, research has shown to associate low~levels of 5~hydroxindoleactic acid, a seratonin metabolite, ”in aggressive or violent individuals” (Linnoila et al., 1983).
So how does free will play to these ideas? If seratonin is not by itself deterministic, can one assume individuals have independently unique seratonin levels? Further, since seratonin regulates range of behavior, could a level of seratonin below ones unique baseline produce behavior that cannot be judged as free will? Well, drugs such as Prozac (seratoninergic anti~depressants) attempt to empower people with more will power! Selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and Mono~amine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s) discourage breakdown of seratonin in the brain, thereby keeping seratonin on the synaptic cleft (edge of a neuron), to encourage mood stability, providing resilience against anxiety and depression and maintaining prosocial levels of seratonin.
Additional biosocial factors influenced by seratonin are the receptorcites: 5HT 1A that influences pleasure via dopamine release (chemical also triggered by cocaine, amphetamine, and MDMA), positive/negative effects of schizophrenia, and learning. 5HT 2A also associated with schizophrenia, depression, mood, and anxiety. Seratonin, in a very simplistic way, according to Wright, is a glass of wine (244). [Ethyl alcohol actually releases seratonin, and research by Masters and McGuire (1994) shows people with low seratonin levels commit greater amounts of impulsive crimes (Wright, 244), and alcohol is involved in 64% of violent crime (Barkan 2000)].
Perhaps we will finally realize that social inequality, education and socioeconomic status, are great powers that induce individual response. Is it a stretch to believe Eibl~Eibsfeltds ape turned into a bum and did not potentialize due to chemistry? Social structure? In humans, whether God has given us freedom to choose, or that we are bound to a range of behavior due to chemistry is to be seen, guarded in faith that we do the right things, develop the most beneficial habits, and have sufficient seratonin to encourage the ripple effect of prosociality.
1] Flannery, Vazsonyi and Waldman, eds. THE CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK OF VIOLENT BEHAVIOR AND AGGRESSION. Cambirdge U.P., N.Y. (2007)
2] Wright, Robert. THE MORAL ANIMAL: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology. Vintage N.Y. (1994).