I woke up this morning with about four hours’ sleep, brain struggling a little because my current load of work on a book I am finishing has not permitted me to get past this daily allowance of sleep for about three months now, and with coffee providing a handy replacement for blood in my veins, I proceeded to finish off this week’s Sunday Read
, an act that has now grown into 145 Sundays. And I did it all because I chose to. Or, at least, that’s what I consciously told myself.
Free will (https://goo.gl/ACVGmo
) is something we all have. It allows us to choose actions that lead to outcomes. It makes us responsible in our choices and it creates an undetermined cloud of possibilities out of our lives that is not unlike a Quantum Mechanical probability (http://goo.gl/LDgtEK
). It exists in a kind of amorphous wave-like function which collapses the moment our choices lead to a fixed value which represents a hard data point. An act. An event.
Or maybe not. Maybe my life choices have led me down a series of internal neural restructurings which represent specific values and principles which arise when specific external events take place and therefore pre-determine my choice (https://goo.gl/GSXia4
). Maybe, the writing of this column, given who I am and my well-known sense of debt to all of you, is pre-determined. Appearing random (http://goo.gl/f7p0ch
) or, at the very least an act of free choice, free will if you like, only to those who don’t know me well, or would like to think that our choices are guided only by a kind of “fork in the road” decision of the moment.
Benjamin Libet, accurately called “the information philosopher” (https://goo.gl/HRZ95H
) opened the can of worms called “Free Will” with his experiments (http://goo.gl/I3Zbzg
). Science works on data. Data is irrefutable. It exists outside our own inner, subjective realm and can therefore lead to conclusions that we find unpalatable (http://goo.gl/W7rWWf
). While scientifically we all understand that every effect has to have a cause, the idea that what you and I are doing right now was somehow pre-determined by events leading up to it (http://goo.gl/C5gf90
) sits uncomfortably with what we feel to be our consciousness (https://goo.gl/mZ7vgZ
), a state the nature of which is still under debate even as we are beginning to close towards what might be a definitive answer (http://goo.gl/S9pACx
Daniel Do in a TED Talk (https://goo.gl/d8hgrV
) suggests that life may be completely deterministic. What makes sense in physics, quantum or otherwise, raises the rather uncomfortable notion that since we do not actively choose anything we also have no responsibility to be anything. Our success or failure in life can then be seen to be the sum total of elements and choices put into place long before we decided that hard work and constant learning were avenues that could control what happens to us.
Psychologists are debating the implications of this: https://goo.gl/GSXia4
. And unsurprisingly, the subject emerges whenever we discuss AI (http://goo.gl/TmkZ5q
), the singularity or any other means through which clusters of information (which essentially is what we are) come together in a non-organic way and spontaneously re-assemble themselves.
Libet’s writings on the subject of Free Will are quite eye-opening: http://goo.gl/V6wRFI
as well as challenging. Frank Herbert (https://goo.gl/SkLySu
) whose writings these days I find, to a degree, prescient, wrote about sentience, free will and a multi-species universe in The Whipping Star
) and the Dosadi Experiment
(you can download the PDF of the book here: http://188.8.131.52/x4cHnzc
). Passages such as “Delusions demand reflex reactions (as though they had autonomic roots) where doubts and questioning not only aren’t required, but are actively resisted.” (http://goo.gl/jCvnMl
) mark both these books as excursions into exactly the kind of territory where the mind may be an expression of a deterministic universe of infinite possibilities.
So, do we take the red pill or the blue pill? (https://goo.gl/kxY9i1
). Well? (http://goo.gl/GpJCs3
At the root of it all lies the question of who we are (https://goo.gl/NFeA7M
) and, more importantly who we become. It may well be that we have maximum choice on both these fronts. Or on just one of them. Or none. Irrespective of which it is, we are not really off the hook. When we understand the impact and portent of our own actions we are responsible for them, regardless. And understanding, really, comprehension of the sort that allows us to have this kind of discussion, this morning, is what makes us all responsible for what we do and the outcomes effected by our actions. Even in a deterministic universe we are the architects of those we come into contact with, as well as the world we want to see. As Frank Herbert would have said, we ought to build with care.
I know that you had no choice. You have been staring at the coffee pot, offering gallons of pure, unadulterated brain stimulant, while reaching for the piles of croissants, cookies, donuts, and chocolate cake surrounding you – while waiting for this column to magically appear on the web. Well, the wait is over. The setting is now complete. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.