? Many philosophers have hovered over this topic. And that topic has yet to be fully resolved: Do or don’t people have Free Will? The texts I have read seem to prance around the topic and share subtle, strong, and opposing voices. Covering such a conundrum in a mere 800 words will be quite a feat, but let us try to mentally make our way through this metaphysical morass. People experience the world in four dimensions. Up and down, left and right, forward and backward, and—the doozy of the bunch—past, present, and future.
Humans’ view of time does have two directions like its three comrades, but contrary to the rest, we mortal humans can only travel in one direction through it. The universe works in a “cause-and-effect,” “action-reaction,” direction. Yes, it would be trippy and philosophically exciting to experience a world where the opposite held true; where reactions caused their actions, and effects led to causes . . . But we don’t. Because of that inescapable fact, we can see a predictable chain of events that leads to any given moment.
Following that logic, everything people are experiencing presently is a result of the past, including every thought and action. Determinism in a nutshell, the Big Bang (just a theory, remember, thought up by many of the greatest minds humanity has ever seen and which matches every observation of the universe people experience) set the laws of physics in motion. That eventually led to the formation of stars, galaxies, and planets. Relatively recently, around 4. 6 billion years ago, the earth formed from an agglomeration of dust left over from a giant star’s dramatic death in a supernova.
Once the earth cooled, and oceans formed, life arose by one way or another through panspermia or chance chemical reactions in a geothermal test-tube (or God said “Let there be! ”). Fast forward a few hundred million years, and those chemical reactions have become drastically more complex. First, multi-cellularity, then, a neural system of connecting electrical signals, then higher and higher beings until eventually humanity evolved on the grasslands of Africa.
Unimaginable numbers of chance actions and reactions all running together, interacting, culminating in what is recognized and perceived as consciousness. Reasoning based on this point of view appears to be a coup de grace for Free Will, however an alternative spin from another of science’s basic principles may undermine such logic. Quantum mechanics. The term itself is a little daunting, but at its foundation, quantum mechanics basically says that, on a subatomic level, nothing is certain. Everything is a matter (no pun intended) of probability.
Since everything on a minute scale is a matter of probability, and everything in existence is made of those same particles, one might extrapolate that everything on larger scale is also just a matter of probability. Or take radioactive decay: Radioactive decay can be predicted very precisely. Scientists can calculate the half-lives of decay and corroborate them through experiments. However, it is key to note that of a certain number of particles, x number will decay, but it cannot be predicted which particles will decay.
That suggests the universe has a less-concrete, more roll-of-the-dice progression. With regards to Free Will, many decisions could still be predicted. Actions may have high probabilities of occurring, and, over a population, certain behaviors can be expected—even unavoidable. BUT there is the chance of each event’s opposite occurring. As Forrest Gump so sagely points out, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny. Or if we’re all floating around accidental, like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both [are] happening at the same time.
” Yours and my future has a general direction, but it’s not spelled out to the T. I find this integrated stance on the Free Will vs Determinism debate quite gratifying for two reasons. First, it concedes to scientific evidence and is not just some irrational hope for a comforting, but usually whimsical, assertion of Free Will; while, second, it portends that there is some unpredictability in the universe. And maybe, just maybe, that locale itself, that slight gap between each probable outcome, is the set of Cartesian coordinates where our Free Will resides.