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Free will and science




There is a poignant scene in the movie, Seven, when the character played by Brad Pitt had to choose whether or not to kill the perpetrator. The evil genius had set things up so that Brad Pitt character would have no choice but to kill him. And indeed, the bad guy was right. The outcome was as predicted. Does this prove that free will is an illusion?

I don't think so. Just because we are rational and behave in ways that are often predictable and amenable to persuasion doesn't mean that we don't have free will. But I agree it's hard to prove beyond any doubt.

Ideas that are useful but cannot be proven beyond doubt are called constructs. Something we create to assist our discussion. In that sense, you may say that free will is a construct. Science is full of constructs. For example, the notion of solid and void is a construct. We know that if we go deep enough, mass is just a form of energy. At the level of the electron, it's just a cloud of energy. Newtonian science is a construct just as Einsteinian science is. There is only one reality but it presents itself to us differently at different scales. So, we construct different models to help explain what we are observing. Are the constructs false? No. They are true in that they do explain reality as we experience it. On the other hand, we cannot be absolutely certain that our explanation is the one and only possible representation of reality. And we know enough to know that our explanation actually does not explain everything we need it to. It is just the best we can do.

I don't take science as true in the absolute sense but as our best approximation of it.



3 blog comments below

If I have a cookie I have the choice to eat it or not to eat it. Thus I have free will.
Of course it is possible to create circumstances to enforce some decision or behavior and basically prevent free will. But these are no natural circumstances in the sense how I would define 'natural'.

Freedom is a pre-requisite for free will. I have been listening to a song by Konstantin Wecker yesterday which comes with this quote: "Freedom means to be not afraid of anything." Lack of fear probably is also a pre-requisite for free will.
amagard on Wed Mar 15, 2017 10:47 am
Hariku2016 wrote:
I don't take science as true in the absolute sense but as our best approximation of it.

I really like your last sentence, it sums up all that science tries to achieve
restonpiston on Thu Mar 16, 2017 12:07 am
Thank you, amargard and restonpiston, for your comments.

The challenge, and importance, of acknowledging that we have free will is that we exercise it. It is in this, how we use our free will, that happiness is supposed to be found. The more we allow circumstances to dictate how we behave, the less happy we are. The more we are able to assert our free will, the happier we are. And, it is often in the face of fear and in fighting for our rights (and freedom), that we need to assert our free will the most.

So, no, there are no prerequisites for free will. It is something that we have. The argument I am trying to get to here is that happiness does not come from the circumstances that we are in but from our ability to exercise our free will. Being unhappy because of our circumstances is a denial of our free will and a loss of an opportunity to discover true happiness. In a way, true happiness, if you think about it, can be defined as the ability to be happy despite our circumstances. That's why Jesus asked us to embrace suffering. But more on that in future posts.

Thank you again.
Haiku2016 on Thu Mar 16, 2017 12:50 am



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