A recent Scientific American article about Experimental Philosophy discusses the idea of philosophical thinkers attempting to use the scientific method to back up the ideas they normally spend time pontificating about. I thought it was odd to use psychology experiments, which are notoriously unreliable, to answer philosophical questions, which are notoriously unanswerable. The conclusions of the article made me feel better about the ability of the experimenters to take their data with a grain of salt, and I suspect they have found some new psychology to look into rather than answers for philosophy. Overall, I think this is a pretty nifty idea, and I wish them luck.
What got me thinking, though, is the article used the example of trying to determine if the universe is operating under free will or determinism, based on people’s reactions to certain thought experiments. Now I realize their experiment was based having people think about a hypothetical universe, but to apply it to our universe, I had this thought:
Why, if our universe is based on determinism (and you may be shocked at how many people think it may be), do we have thoughts questioning determinism? Basically, determinism can, and often is, taken to mean that everything we do can be traced back in a cause and effect manner, and that we have no control over what we will do as that has already been determined by what has happened. Or it doesn’t matter what you do, as that is what you were going to do anyway.
Determinism. Hmm… So life is like dominoes. Knock the first one down and watch them all go. They have no choice in the matter. Or, since the Big Bang, it was predestined you would have that scar on your cheek from the drunk driver who crashed into your car when you were 49 years old.
I can’t get there.
I comprehend the idea that if you knew every particle in the universe, and all the rules for them interacting, you could blow off a Big Bang and 5,234,123,234 years later you could accurately predict the location of each and every particle. (What a computer that would take!) But I don’t get determinism. Is it really possible that the rules for everything in the universe interacting with each other actually resulted in your little bother being a pot-head?
The part that bothers me the most -In a deterministic universe, are we predetermined to wonder whether or not thinking about determinism was predetermined? I find it hard to swallow that idea.
In a preordained universe maybe. Maybe God created the universe and gave all of the players scripts to follow and my part in my script is to sit here and type this right now. But why? Why bother? It’s not interesting. Why put together such a complex script just to watch it play out? Why would I type this, thinking I may be stimulating someones thought processes, when they are preordained to read it and decide it was dumb. What is the use?
It is much more interesting to ‘see what happens’. Throw all the marbles in a bag and shoot them out of a cannon! In my opinion, a deterministic universe probably would not be predetermined to wonder at its own predetermination. I also think there is no value in a preordained universe, entertainment or otherwise.
So it is my humble conclusion that freewill does indeed exist and is being largely put to use, in spite of being able to accurately predict that any snowball I throw will hit my kid in the face and end the fun.
There has to be a good idea for a story in here somewhere… Like the Military being predetermined to discover the secret of predicting the predetermined roles of…Hmmm.. Minority Report. Guess that one was predetermined to show me I wasted my time on this one…