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The Free Will - Determinism Paradox

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The Free Will/Determinism Paradox

Most of us humans, I would guess, prefer to think we have free will. That is, we prefer to think we are able to make choices or decisions based upon our own unique volitions. Such thought appeals to our vanities. If we make "good" choices and decisions, our self-esteem is elevated, and this gives us pleasure.

On the other hand, most of our knowledge leads us in the direction of believing the universe's functions are deterministic. That is, our knowledge tells us that choice is not necessary to our description of the universe. Events occur as a result of the events which preceded

them. For example, if we strike the cue-ball properly, the 8-ball will be knocked into the billiard table pocket which we intended.

We have developed a paradox in our thinking. How can we have free will and the remainder of the universe be deterministic? Our attempts at resolution have been primarily religion oriented. This resolution presumes that we humans are special within the universe. The devine creator gave us free will. Simple as that! The downside of such resolution is that it is not based upon knowledge. It is faith. We might argue that it is an a priori principle. However, this position is tenuous since none of our observation or data support this principle. The logical resolution is to postulate that we do not possess free will. Rather, we have the impression of free will because we do not know all the factors and events which determine our choices or decisions. Therefore, in the presence of inadequate knowledge, we have an illusion of free will, but with more knowledge we would be able to see the determinism in our actions.

Another attempt at resolution of the free will/determinism paradox has evolved from the incorporation of probability theory into modern physics. Probability theory is based upon the concept that outcomes of events can be confined within a set of possible outcomes. Further, knowing the characteristics of the set of possible outcomes allows us to make predictions as to what the most probable outcomes will be. Thus, modern physical theories may be thought of as a blend of free will with determinism. A specific event outcome is not determined, but the outcome of many such events (the set of possible outcomes) is determined. For example, we cannot say when a specific radioactive molecule will decay, but we can say very accurately how many molecules will decay within a specified time period (i.e., we know the half-life decay periods of radioactive substances). Extending this construction of knowledge to humans tempts us to say it is possible for each of us to have the free will to make our individual decisions. As entities we are certainly very complicated and contain within each of us an infinite number of subevents occurring during our exercise of any choice or decision. However, the probabilistic approach to free will does not fullfill our desires. A choice resulting from the outcome of a random event or a million random events is not the exercise of free will based upon unique volition. It is the same as the a flip of a coin!

Even though our knowledge is telling us that we do not possess free will, most of us are loathe to accept this conclusion. We think, if I do not have free will, then it is not important whatever I do. I might just as well stay in bed all day. Such reaction is emotional, not logical. It is this kind of negative emotional reaction which inhibits us from accepting the logical conclusion of determinism. The following is a simple thought exercise which may help us understand the deception which our emotions are perpertrating upon upon our intellects. Consider the following similations of an "undetermined universe" and a "determined universe." Suppose that a new car is to be given away by your local community association on Saturday night. Every adult in the community is eligible. In the undetermined universe, the winner of the car will be drawn at random by computer selection from the list of community adults at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night and the winner announced over the local FM radio station. In the determined universe, the computer random selection has already been made but the name of the winner is being maintained secret in the vault of the community association until 8:00 p.m. Saturday night when it will be announced over the radio. For the average person in the community the emotional impact of the contest is identical whether an undetermined



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