Do bacteria have free will

Does bacteria have free will?

Main Question or Discussion Point

I was discussing the concept of free will with my professor and he asked me to ponder over the question of whether bacteria has free will. I answered no as everything it does has a simple reason like it will move towards food whereas it will move away from an unpleasant area and so on. It doesn't (as far as I know) dispay emotions or curiosty etc, like us.

Any discussion/views on the topic would be welcomed.

Answers and Replies

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Whilst we don't have a solution to the hard problem of consciousness (in otherwords we cannot explain exactly how consciousness arises and what it is) all of what we do know points to bacteria not being conscious beings. As such they can be agents (i.e. capable of action) but without consciousness there can't really be will.

Having said all that your professor was probably just trying to get you to think of free will in general and uses the example of a bacteria as a good frame for this. The reason being that the difference between us and bacteria is relatively small; we too are a culmination of chemical reactions but there is both a qualitative and quantitative difference between us (though examples of elephants and redwoods would point to the latter not being significant).

Lastly "free will" is a long and complex debate in itself as to whether or not the term even makes sense and what it could mean. See the philosophy forum for more on that.
I read this interesting article a while back, which suggests bacteria under stress have to make decisions, and their decisions are dependent on what other bacteria decide:

http://murj.mit.edu/news/world/16 [Broken]
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Bacteria may not have free will, but they are collectively very successful. Who needs free will?