Free Will and the Nature of Time
July 31, 2016
The concept and definition of Free Will is perhaps the deepest rabbit hole in philosophical thought. So the idea of layering the Nature of Time onto the myriad of arguments relating to free will is daunting to say the least but so very interesting so many levels.
I have to say that I’m on the fence concerning notions of free will. I see both sides of any argument and would argue, in return, that the answer may not be absolute. We may have degrees of free will depending on the person and the situation but philosophers hate the gray and want the answer to be black and white so the argument is usually pushed to ridiculous extremes.
But to state the question: Do you humans have free will? Do we have full control of our processes and decision making? Or are we subject to the whims of destiny, shackled to a predetermined path that we can not deviate from? Or perhaps even remove destiny from the equation. Are we merely meat machines driven by hormones, base desires and reflexes and maybe even the whims of our gut flora.
Most will argue that we have free will because, to a thinking person, the idea of not having a choice is tantamount to slavery or confinement. If I don’t have free will, if I do not have the capacity to make a choice to determine a condition in my own reality then why bother? Why try to choose? It’s just going to happen how it has already happened and there is no sense in fighting the future.
But the problem with that take on the argument is that it’s not an argument. It’s a reaction. You can’t stand the thought of not having a choice. You didn’t answer the question as to whether or not you actually have a choice.
For some it’s too much to consider. Others choose to test the system by consciously making a choice in the very moment. Although did they really choose to make that choice or did their response to the question compel them to test the system and if they were compelled, did they really have a choice?
And you see how deep the rabbit hole could potentially go.
But a problem that plagues the argument is how quickly the hole branches off into a myriad of disciplines. Philosophy, spirituality, theology all want to contribute to the idea of the solution to the determination of free will. Unfortunately, the arguments can run in endless circles. Philosophy, spirituality and theology are all based off of ideas. Intangible, malleable ideas that depend on perspective and that is almost the very definition of subjective.
So what if we turn to physics? If we can’t get solid answers from the ruminations of scholars and mystics, can we turn to the scientist and depend on “laws” and “theories” to give us answers?
Well, maybe . . .
It’s actually a short hop from the concept of free will to the nature of time. The argument surrounding the concept of free will is centered on whether or not the choices in our past affect the resulting future and whether or not we have control of those choices.
Past. Present. Future. The nature of time would appear to be relevant to any discussion about the nature of free will.
So what do we know about time? Well, there appears to be an arrow of time and there appears to be connection to space and time to the point that physicists refer to them as a single entity called spacetime. Einstein basically said you can’t affect space without affecting time and all sorts of oddness happens with you go really fast through space in regards to time. Interestingly, a lot of experiments have taken place that have confirmed a lot of Einstein’s ideas so we have a pretty solid foundation of “laws” (theoretical or not) to base some observations on.
Now, I could try to stumble through a description of the theory in question or I could turn to Youtube and let an actual scientist use graphics and moving pictures to explain it for me:
As a brief summary, all of time and space, past, present and future exists and we are experiencing spacetime as individual moments or “slices” that give the illusion of “moving through time”.
That sounds almost New Age-ish. All of time has happened but we still must experience it one moment at a time. But this isn’t some swami sitting under a tree spouting ideas about the nature of reality. This is a scientist stating that scientific observation has noted that this is the structure of spacetime and within that structure, past, present and the future exist.
The future exists. It’s there, solid and real. We have to dip back into perspective though to ponder this because if we take this idea at face value, that the future is already there and we just have to wait for it, then we have a “choice” to make. We could look at it as “The future is there waiting to be discovered”. That’s the positive take. It doesn’t matter that it’s set. Only that we haven’t seen it yet.
Or we could look at it as the future is there and I am a slave to it. Choice doesn’t matter because it all ends up at the same future. So it just doesn’t matter.
That’s us dipping our toe into the metaphysical for a moment. Scientists don’t like the idea of predetermination any more than the rest of us and if you corner them, they stumble and stutter to say that just because the future is “there” doesn’t mean it’s set. If you follow the video above back to Youtube, the poster in his description goes to great lengths to say that very thing. It involves quantum energy and other oddness but the bottom line is that no one likes the idea that they are not in control on some level.
But, at this point in my life, I’m not sure I agree that you can change anything. The future is there. It seems to me that it would take enormous amounts of energy to “flex” the future every time someone makes a decision. Chances are it’s already there and we just have to experience it.
We could even take it a step further and plunge both feet back into the metaphysical puddle. The idea that the future is set addresses a bunch of spiritual and paranormal ideas and experiences. For instance: Precognition. If the future is set, then a person in an odd state of mind might glimpse that future. Past life experiences: What if we stand outside of spacetime between lives and simply choose where to dive in? My own idea of “The Perfect Village” could use the concept of a set future. What about the idea that we pick our own parents? What if we don’t just pick our parents, but we see our lives in their entirety and say “Yeah, that’s the one I want and/or need”.
What if you chose the life you are living? What responsibility do you have to that decision?
And, please note, that at some point, you did have a choice.
But that’s the metaphysical side of it and you can argue those points forever and they still just come down to personal opinion and experience. I think it’s intriguing that the argument over free will may be settled using scientific observation but our collective egos would never allow it to be settled in anyway other than with answer we desire. The science may be there, depending on your perspective but we choose not to accept it. We make an almost conscious choice not to accept what may be the truth. That the future is set and we roll towards it one moment at a time.
And isn’t it interesting that we can choose to fight this, clinging to every illusion of choice and the idea that we are in control? Or maybe we could choose to surrender to the idea that the future is there and we will see it when it’s moment has come and that maybe the best thing to do is be in each moment fully and let the future be what it will be. But that means I have to choose to be in the moment and surrender to a future I cannot change.
That means I have the power to make one choice as opposed to a thousand meaningless choices. A lot of the more esoteric traditions of the world even point out when the ego is removed from the equation, only the moment matters. The choice becomes irrelevant.
This rabbit hole is deep. So deep that I choose not to venture any further and return to the illusion that my choices matter. As a matter of fact, I think that at this very moment in time, I choose to have another cup of coffee. See, I’m in control. I have free will. The future didn’t know that I wanted another cup. Honestly, I don’t think the future cared but that’s not point.
The point is that I had a choice.
Really. I did.