Sometimes I wonder: am I free to make my own choices, or is my behavior determined by my genetic code? By the chemicals in my brain? By my social environment?
Philosophers have put forth some interesting food for thought-
Do we have free will? In other words, do we act solely on our own accord? Without being forced to be influenced by others or natural law?
Or is the universe deterministic in nature? That means that every action that has occurred up to this point has its own predictable root cause, so it was all bound to happen. Therefore, our very behavior must also be deterministic.
And then there's compatibilism which argues that the concepts of free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. Both free will and determinism can co-occur.
I like the explanation of Hume's Fork in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy:
"Either our actions are determined,
in which case we are not responsible for them,
Or they are the result of random events,
in which case we are not responsible for them."
We probably won't land on a definitive answer during our lifetime, but we can at least take solace in our own individual pathway. As Matt Ridley points out in his book Genome, there's at least some comfort in realizing that we are at the very least each able to express our own determinism and not somebody else's.
So while I think long and hard about how I make the choices I do, I will also remind myself to enjoy the cognitive and societal freedom (or perception of freedom) to make them.