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Tuesday Topics Inaugural Entry: Free Will

Most days, I try to keep topics positive (or at least neutral), gaming related, and focused on giving you, the community, a chance to speak your minds. That rule does not apply on Tuesdays. Tuesday topics could be about anything ranging from deep social issues to philosophy to the price of gas. This is the column where I get to shout my opinions through a megaphone like that creepy "THE END IS NIGH" guy on the corner of every stereotypical city street. This week's topic is a bit of a moral softball since I don’t want to rile too many feathers right away: "The existence (or non-existence) of free-will."

Before I begin, I just want to preface this discussion by saying that I have not taken a philosophy course in 5 years. So, I am a bit rusty here. Also, I am not trying to say that the following column is correct. My facts could be way off, and I fully expect you expert TAYers to keep me honest in all this. Rather than view this as enforcing my opinion, think of it as my confused attempt at explaining something that baffles me in my own life. So, without further ado:

Free-will is one of those concepts that everyone wants to believe in, but just does not work in practice. All humans, especially Americans raised on a healthy diet of concepts like "rugged individualism" and the "bootstrap" mentality, want to believe that they are in control of their actions. Sure, there may be societal restrictions placed upon you, but you ultimately decide what you will do, right?


Unfortunately, it is not that simple. In order for free-will to work, we need to assume that every action has an infinite number of other actions that could have occurred. Obviously, discussing an infinite number of possible actions would be impossible, and so we will limit ourselves to a basic example. You have come to a crossroads. You could choose to go left, right, or turn back. Let’s say you choose left. Your gut reaction is to proclaim that free-will allowed you to choose to go left.

But let’s unpack that for a moment. We cannot go back in time, so we are going to just use logic. Could you really have chosen anything other than left? Well, that depends on how you perceive time and space. If you believe that time moves forward in a straight line, which is generally the most acceptable assumption, then it does not seem that free-will can exist. If time moves in a straight line, then time is almost like a movie strip. Sure, you can use your remote to rewind to certain scenes, but the scene does not change upon reviewing. Also, if we assume time is laid out in this manner, then it would be difficult to argue that we are authors of our own filmstrip, especially if you hold any belief that there is a God (because if God exists and knows your actions, then you only have an illusion of free-will by default). Basically, the film-strip already exists, we just participate in the images contained therein. Just like a character in a film.


The alternative to this belief is to deny the existence of time. That is, the moment we exist in is there and then it is gone forever. What do we do with that? Well, it might work in a philosophical sense, but everything that science has shown us seems to indicate that this theory does not work. So, we are still stuck in the same situation. Free-will just does not work.

My logic above is by no means comprehensive (some of that is due to the need to condense the post, some due to ignorance). It has been many years since my last philosophy course, so feel free to fight my logic in the comments. In fact, I would love to have some discussions about this.


Before I set you all loose on me though, I would like to say one thing: would it be so bad if we really don’t have free-will? In a way, it is freeing (hah, puns!) to me. After all, if fate is pulling me in a certain direction, then I don’t need to stress so much about life. Things will happen as they should, I am just along for the ride. Now, DISCUSS!

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