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The Universe is Absurd: does free will exist?

Updated on April 9, 2015

Of course it does, what are you some kind of dumb guy?

Upon reading this title, the majority of us will experience a fervent desire to answer the question bluntly: "Of course we have free will, I can choose to do anything I want to do. See look, I'm choosing to slap your body in the face region. Nobody made me do that, I chose to inflict bodily harm upon you because of your stupid questions."

The truth is, the answer to this query is significantly more complicated than as outlined by our theoretical friend here. If you paid attention, he even falsified his own claim to autonomy. Let's find out why.

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What are you talking about friend?

Let me explain. The use of the word "because" in the statement above implies causality. If I wasn't here asking stupid questions, our theoretical pal would not have reacted. He probably would have just continued blissfully obliviously watching animals fall down on the internet. He might even have been better off, since this topic is a potential source of innumerable blown minds.

The decision to slap was a direct result of input information and synaptic responses. It was decided, at least in part, by his perception of a threat and his evolutionarily preconditioned system of responding to threats. In this case, it took the form of casual violence. So what portion of this action was decided by the slapper, and how much by the slapped?

What's the answer? Tell it to me now.

The very thought of free will is apparently a paradox. If it exists, it violates causality. To the best of our knowledge, nothing else does. Everything is caused by something else. Just try to think of something that wasn't caused. You can't do it because we can always ask why. There is always an answer, even if we don't know what it is.

Alternatively, if free will does not exist, why the shit are we even here? Are we really not responsible for any of our actions? This certainly is not how we experience life. If this were true, we would have to rethink everything about our society and ourselves. Essentially, this concept reduces us to fleshy computers. Beep bop boop.

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Several factors that play a role in this discussion

There are a few components that could potentially contribute to answering this question. I will introduce these briefly and then explain them in more depth below: The existence of a deity that predefined our fate, thereby invalidating free will. The idea of fate without the aforementioned deity, also negating free will. Finally, the theory of mandatory direct causality, which I find to be the most realistic nail in the coffin of free will.

These are the three main configurations of this idea that I have chosen to examine, although I believe there to be many more. If you have a reasonable addition, let me know about it in the comments.

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An omnipotent deity in charge of your fate

This is the basic argument that god is all powerful, and therefore controls every aspect of everyone's lives. We see examples of this every day when people claim that god told them to do it, it usually being an otherwise preposterous life choice. I find this explanation to be inherently flawed, as well as reasonably objectionable by means of empirical evidence. Allow me to attempt to explain why.

If someone is pulling the strings, he/she/it is doing so in a way that is statistically indifferent from random chance. Some people get lucky, some don't. It has been the disposition of humanity to attribute this phenomenon to an omnipotent being. The problem with this subscription is that these variables always follow a normal distribution. In short, if something is defining our fate, it is doing so in a way that is insignificant enough to be undetectable. Thus, we can reject this premise.

Fate exists without the presence of a deity

The next theory comes into questioning for a similar reason as its predecessor. There is no evidence to suggest anything is pushing the scales in one direction or another. The variables of our existence always follow a normal distribution that can be attributed to random chance. If fate exists, it seems to just happen.

Now, this says nothing about the ability of an individual to change his/her fate, only that if they are doing so, they must be going about it in a random fashion. This reasoning makes the whole concept of meaningfully vigilant fate seem unlikely. What we do know is that if it exists, fate follows the rules that already define the rest of the reasonably understandable universe. This makes it definitively arbitrary.

The obligatory direct causality of our actions

So we still haven't answered the question at hand, do we have control over our fate, or is it predefined? We know that every event that we observe had another event that caused it. We call this system causality. If we work backwards, we can uncover what caused essentially everything. That is, of course, until we use this system to analyze our own brains. Neurologists are hard at work in an attempt for an explanation. So far, the agreeable consensus is that we still do not know.

Our brains are made up of matter and energy, just like everything else in the universe. This being the case, shouldn't our brains follow the same causality that everything else adheres to? The truth is, we really haven't the slightest idea. Nobody knows. Fortunately, there is a bit of gray area here. There is an extremely microscopic scale, called Planck Length, where the effects of Quantum Mechanics take over, muddying the waters considerably. At this scale, the principles of modern physics break down and we can't really analyze anything. Our inability to define reality at this scale is called the Uncertainty Principle.

If free will has a home, this is the best candidate. The unfortunate thing here is that because there is no evidence for fate or free will, and we may literally never be able to empirically delve past the Uncertainty Principle, our answer to this question may always be just that, uncertain.

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    • Luke M Simmons profile image
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      Luke M. Simmons 3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @Venkatachari: Yes, it is a very confusing topic, but very interesting to me as well. If everything was directly caused, you can trace that all the way to the Big Bang, but then you think, "wait, was my decision to switch to almond milk today really predetermined as far back as the origin of the Universe?" This is where I think quantum fluctuations can play a role. Maybe not though. I don't know.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very intelligent topic, well discussed by you. It is difficult to negate any of these possibilities.

      We sometimes feel God exists and controls our actions. But, if he controls, then why all this crime and violence and everything that we see. Can't he control and prevent?

      If fate determines everything, what is fate? Is it some power in it self or something acquired by your genes or something bestowed by God? These are all questions.

      And, if free will is there, then why can't you choose to live free from disease and death and everything?

      So, causality appears to be something appropriate to define our actions. Some cause is the cause for your choices and actions. And that cause is due to some other previous cause and so on to infinity.

      It is a great, wonderful topic. Voted up and awesome.

    • Luke M Simmons profile image
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      Luke M. Simmons 3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @Catherine: Yes, but if you take it a step further, we can examine the factors of influence which dictate which inputs to heavily weight and ignore. Causality implies that our evaluation of influences is also subject to influence and preprogrammed synaptic response. This would mean your choices are entirely defined by causality. Therefore, causality and free will are mutually exclusive. I don't think it's a semantic argument, the linguistic assets "free will" and "causality" are sufficiently defined in my opinion.

      This is what the neurologists are saying anyway, and have even claimed that our brains make decisions for us before our conscious mind is aware of the outcome. Scary stuff, but I still hope there's room for some autonomy. Perhaps our consciousness may somehow influence the outcome of quantum fluctuations. We already know that our neurons are sensitive enough for their firing to be influenced by stochastic quantum fluctuations. Maybe these effects aren't so random? I find this to be the best and last hope for meaningfully directive sentience.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      You can have causality and free will. We are all influenced by causes, but we get to choose which of those causes we will respond to, what weight we will give them, if we will ignore them, etc. The whole thing becomes a semantic argument. I say if it feels like free will, let's call it free will.

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 3 years ago from Florida

      Very well researched and written ....Free will is an undetermined action taken on by subjects unwilling to take responsibility for their choice of actions by reaction, without thought. thanks for the share

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