Do we have free will? CISL San Francisco students were asked this question last month for our writing contest. The winning entry, from Maxime Bindzi, is a wonderful example of a five-paragraph English essay. Enjoy his musings on free will. Congratulations, Maxime! Your writing skills are truly impressive!

Student Writing Sample: “Do We Have Free Will?”

By Maxime Bindzi
Most people think that they’re free because they have the impression that they make their own decisions. I decide for example to listen to rock music, to wear baggy jeans and to talk in a certain way. We consider ourselves as individuals in a society but are we really as original as we think we are? We do have a certain degree of choice but not as much as we think we do. What really happens is that our behavior, our language, our lives are influenced by a lot of factors which don’t reach our proper conscience. Our decision making is influenced by an endless chain of causalities.As a teenager or pre-adult, I consider myself as an original person. I’m not part of any fashion music or politic movement; I’m more like a free spirit.
However, I was raised in a poor French neighborhood with its own rules and its own system. My friends and I may probably have been influenced by some rules that made us choose between basketball and ballet, between being bullies or victims. I myself did not face those choices because my mother made them for me. I started basketball and classical music (cello) at the age of 3, and I’m proud to be one of the few in my neighborhood who had been introduced to this kind of music. The only choice I had to make was accepting my difference or be part of the mass. I choose the difference. 
Now I look on my friends lives, they did not made any choices, they just followed the cultural or social wave which allowed them to do certain things and forbade them to do other things. In their mind, they are free to sell drugs, be bad at school and play soccer. The fact is that when everyone has the same occupation, there is no more freedom; it might be for a few of them but for most of them this is a question of social habits. When it comes to social habits there is no more free will. I might sound a bit rough but I truly believe there is none.
The reason why I think so is because there are many things that affect our choices, even though man has the capacity of determinism; there will always be a factor which doesn’t reach our mind such as publicity. I was born in an advertisement century, TV is everything. Studies have shown that at the age of 18 we have been exposed to at least 350 000 ads. This is definitely something that can affect our everyday life. When you are part of a group, your choices can be distorted.
When we talk about determinism, it is hard to avoid destiny. Am I really free to do whatever I want or was it written before I did it? Is there an entity beyond our imagination (God or something else for the non-believers) who can control our choices or who make us believe that we are free? To conclude, I think that it’s depends of what you mean by free. But if you’re looking for THE answer which will solve everything, give up and pick another question because there is none. However I think that it is useful to ask ourselves, “Are we really free?”.