Monday, 27 May 2013

On Fate, and Free Will

Things only feel like they’re meant to be the way they are because they are the way they are. Because we’re born in to them and from them and the way this universe is unfolds not only all around us but within us; it is us. There is no way that things could ever be other than they are at any given moment, at least not in any human capacity, which is all we have to deal with. So, if you wanted to call something ‘Fate’, you could call it ‘how things are, and how they have to be’, or ‘will be’, or ‘were’. But there is no innate possibility. Things don’t get tidied up and kept on track and made to happen by Fate, by some controlling principle of reason; they just happen. That’s really the difference: there is no reason for anything, not even for existence, but what we ourselves ascribe to it. This does not devalue any sense of reason; rather, I feel it gives us power over things we could not otherwise have power over. Not in a controlling sense, but in the sense that despite the inevitability of, well, everything around us, ultimately it is we who hold the key to any occurrence.

Consider a universe, or perhaps I should say an existence different from our own in any way, whether great or small. The sky is green, humans have six fingers, coffee tastes like medicine. No matter how strange it may seem, in a universe which, from its inception, lives with any given set of principles, laws of physics, and so on, any beings which come to exist within such a framework will ultimately consider that reality to be ‘the way things are meant to be’. From ‘losing my lunch money made me go to the coffee shop where I met my future wife’ to ‘if I hadn’t gone to work late I’d still have my job’; all these realities are unable to exist, for each entity within them at any given moment, in any other way. And it is pointless to get into arguments of ‘well, you did meet your future wife at the coffee shop, but if you’d had your lunch money you’d’ve met her and made a million bucks’, for two reasons. One, the countless variables, knowable and unknowable, and the completely unpredictable nature of the entirety of causal reality (see: quantum indeterminacy); and, two, because any occurrence of events other than those which actually happened is impossible.

This of course all raises the question of free will. If I could never have done anything but lose my lunch money and meet my wife at the coffee shop, then did I really ‘do’ any of it? That is, I was physically there, but did I choose anything? Or did it ‘just seem like I did’? Good question. Does the deterministic reduction of every action and ‘choice’ into merely the result of preceding events and actions negate the very possibility of free will?

To be honest, I don’t know. And until we can completely map the thought processes of the human brain, then take exact knowledge of the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc, and the circumstance of every bit of matter in existence (again, indeterminacy renders this impossible), and put all the data into a superbly accurate difference engine which would then predict every occurrence to come forever; I say, until and unless we can do that, we are simply left with the practical question ‘is what seems to be free will actually free will?’, and then the more practical ‘does it matter?’

So, since the former question is out of our grasp (unless I have missed some crucial piece of evidence somewhere along the way), we move on to the latter.

Either we have free will or we do not. Because we cannot prove this either way, people will simply believe what seems reasonable to them (or, whatever), and go about their lives as usual. Our knowledge of the truth can have no effect, in this case, on the nature of it, and, excepting the laudable goal of some grand search for truth remaining unanswered, no huge harm or loss has occurred. Once again it is our reasoning minds and our imagination which provide value and meaning to our lives, surroundings, and our understanding of existence, and ‘the way things are’. Therefore, as relates to free will, it matters only what we believe, and nothing more.

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