What would “free” will look like, anyway?

walking dead

Oh — another reason to write about the Walking Dead!! YEA!!

Any given episode of the Walking Dead gives an apparent contrast between free will and determinism (or non-free will).  The quick and obvious conclusion is that the “walkers” don’t have free will (because their actions are herd-drivien and instinctual, plus they have no minds to be free) — and the living people have free will — they make choices on their own etc..

But — and there’s always a but — that may not be such an easy conclusion.

I’m not going to argue that the walkers have free will — but, I don’t see anything about the people that indicates that they definitely have free will either… both could be determined.

The basic argument boils down to this —

1) thinking, reasoning people take action based on prior experiences and current circumstances.

2) NOT considering prior experiences and current circumstances would be irrational – it would be a random act.

3) not even “random” acts really are — a person chooses to do them for a reason…. it might not be a reason obvious to us.

4) IF we could see two things — a) ALL of the relevant prior experiences, and b) the factors that contribute to how those experiences are weighed (discounted or attended to), we could predict future behavior.

5) IF behavior can be predicted (even in theory) it is determined.

So — we don’t have free will.

but, but, but — I can hear you screaming from here (still in Starbucks, BTW) — it feels /seems / looks to me as if I do have free will.

That, my friends, is the power of the illusion of freedom.  You can’t see all of your own prior considerations and weighing mechanisms, so it SEEMS to you as if you’re making free (random) choices — as are others — especially others… (have you driven lately, there’s lots of random out there!).

And, we need the illusion of freedom to perpetuate the idea of moral responsibility — because, otherwise, if we weren’t making choices, how can we be punished for those bad choices?

but — and this is a nice, fat objection to determinism….

How could it POSSIBLY be proven false?

When you think about something like gravity, you can’t say you’ve seen it turn off — but you could imagine what it would look like if gravity took a break — my iphone would fly up, I would too etc… So, when things fall we can conclude that some force like gravity is doing the work…

but, what would it look like if determinism were false?  I don’t know, and neither do the folks who think it’s true… and, since they rely on scientific principles when constructing the argument, they are also responsible to those principles — and, the idea of falsify-ability is a biggie — and it fails.

So — what’s the truth?  I’m not sure… I’ve read a lot, I’ve struggled with indeterminism and lots of other variations on the question of whether or not we have free will — and then I “choose” (or do I ) to think about something else.. .like, lunch and an afternoon nap.

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1 Comment

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One response to “What would “free” will look like, anyway?

  1. JC Davis

    Okay, I’m going to wade in here naively… I’m still processing this – let me come back to you in about 60 years with a more thorough position, but for now:

    Let me contrast points #1 and #3:

    1) thinking, reasoning people take action based on prior experiences and current circumstances.

    3) not even “random” acts really are — a person chooses to do them for a reason…. it might not be a reason obvious to us.

    What if #3 changes (i.e., I act one way in one instance and then a different way in an otherwise identical instance)? Would you suggest that’s because one either forgets the recall of previous experience, or do you suggest that it may not be a conscious decision to acknowledge and act upon it?

    This pulls in point #2:

    2) NOT considering prior experiences and current circumstances would be irrational – it would be a random act.

    Similarly, do you suggest that #2 is impossible? That the inclusion of prior experience (especially) and current circumstance is done subconsciously?

    And what if someone fails the assumption in #1 that they are a “thinking, reasoning” person?

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