Free Will vs. Determinism

First off I hope I spelled Determinism properly.  Oh good, I did.

Second, I want to write about something that has nothing to do with photography; at least not directly.  And you know, I’m not sure it’s even about me at all.  It started innocently enough.  I was taking an early physics course in high school.  Physics, at least the Newtonian type appealed to me.  And the whole idea of cause and effect, made a lot of sense.

The relationship between things was very clear. E=MC(squared).  I have no idea how to get the squared symbol.  I also don’t know if the letters should be CAPS or not, and don’t really care.  The point is that “E” has no choice.  It is the result of mass being multiplied by a very large number, namely that speed of light, squared.

Everything in that Newtonian world could be described with an equal sign, the stuff on the right was going to be assigned to the symbol on the left.

I began to wonder whether we, us humans, also were working based on cause and effect.  Were we Newtonian figures?  Wasn’t there a cause for everything that happens in your life.  And when you get right down to it, how much real say have we had in any of it.

We don’t choose our parents; or our genes.  We don’t choose the era we’ll be born into; or the location.  In fact, we don’t have a choice about anything when we’re born.  And it seems that so much of who we are, possibly all of who we are, is determined well from the very beginning of time.  Everything that ever happened in this universe, and possibly previous universes, or parallel universes (we have no idea of cosmology that makes sense); everything that has ever happened has resulted in this moment when I’m writing this post.

I couldn’t be writing it if I were born a hundred years ago.

And yet, if everything is predetermined – then this feeling of free will is just an illusion.  So it’s an illusion.  So what.  You still need to do stuff and get on with your life.  It’s no reason to be depressed, because even tho everything is predetermined the cause chain that leads to your decisions, and your fate, is so blasted complex, and since you can’t figure it out, you may as well pretend that you actually do have free will.

I still feel that way.  But, with the advent of quantum strangeness, the idea of cause and effect has a probabilistic model.  Or so it seems.  Maybe there is a randomness in our actions that are not predetermined.  Maybe we are more like quarks than planets.

So you know, the only reason I wrote this, is that last night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, I began counting sheep, and never having seen sheep jump over a fence, I began to wonder whether sheep could jump over fences, and if they could, what farmer would build fences that his stock could easily jump over.  And why?  And somehow, I don’t know how, this sheep jumping business lead me to Newtonian physics – with him sitting under the famous apple tree (did that really happen? ) – and somehow I wound up thinking about writing a post about Free Will v. Determinism.  And so there was some sort of cause-effect chain that brought me to this point.  And when you do this self-referring sort of thing, you are quickly in Monty Python territory.

[My evidence for this, is the end of the Do You Want an Argument Sketch.  I’d watch the end for the feeling I was trying to achieve.  That infinite set of mirrors when two mirrors reflect each other into infinity.]

7 thoughts on “Free Will vs. Determinism

  1. Well, now I have to sell some paintings, so I can visit New York again. This is my fav topic and to discuss it philosophically (is that a word) with someone who too have these thoughts would be awsome. Guess that could be a looooong dinner at that place we visited some years ago.

  2. I am not surprised you responded to this. At least a few readers may have thought about it. I know my father and his male friends talked philosophy when I was a kid.

    I remember the pita lunch very well. You said you could do a better job cooking whatever we were having.

    I asked you, if you believed in God. You said that was something you didn’t want to talk about.

    That’s the Albert Camus in me. I’m very interested in the meaning of our existence. Nobody talks much on Facebook about that subject, unless it’s to quote platitudes.

  3. Free will = optimism
    Ultimately not much point cultivating it but it gives you something to think about while you wait for the inevitable.

  4. Ha ha. Your email address is NZ. No kidding. 😉

  5. Like most philosophical questions, the question may be meaningless, in the sense that meaning is equated with truth, which is not to say the question is unanswerable, for it may one day be answerable depending on future discoveries about essentials like time, space, energy and matter.

    Why, for example, might one prefer pizza over frog’s legs or vice-versa? Is one’s choice determined from the moment of the big bang, if there actually was such a moment, for a moment presupposes a smooth progression of time and the big bang may actually have been the beginning of time and space itself?

    Before I actually decide to type these words, I make “decisions”, perhaps throwing out one idea in favor of another, but in a very important sense each decision has already been made for me by processes beyond my control in regions of my brain that I, the so-called decision maker, are not privy to.

    We cannot really talk to our brains because they do all the talking, like relatives you prefer not to visit. Sometimes we get a glimpse as to how our thoughts arise, how associations are formed, but the brain, like the universe, is simply too complex and perhaps too unpredictable to understand, even if we discover the basic laws someday.

  6. So. You come down on the side of what? Your choices are pre determined? But too complex to predict?

  7. Andy, when I reply to your comment (just now for example) do you get notified via the dreaded email?

Your thoughts?