Sunday, July 10, 2016

Do You Have Free Will? Probably Not.

This late post is due to me getting a summer cold. I've been dealing with this crap for the past two days which means that taking care of myself supersedes a blog. (Hard to believe, eh?)  My latest post which is bound to rile some people is about fate and free will.  Rather than tell you my overall opinion on the subject (but I will give you my thoughts on it), I'm going to go over what Norse mythos/legends and science has to say about it.  You can then come to your own conclusions.

The Heathen Concept of Fate

Those who follow Norse paganism are no doubt familiar with the Wyrd/Fate and the Norns who weave our Wyrd strands. Their names are Urdr, Verdandi, and Skuld and they water Yggdrasil and use mud to prevent the World Tree from rotting.  (I don't exactly understand how, since rot often occurs with wetting things down, but I digress.) They also weave the strands of each god's and human's life. How much is predestined versus how much we can choose is the great debate. The fact that they set our fate upon its path suggests that our destiny may be predetermined already. As always, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) on this interpretation.

To me, the Norns are akin to the Greek Moerae, the Roman Parcae, and the Slavic Sudice, which is highly suggestive of an older Indo-European pagan religion whence these beliefs sprang from.  I talk about this a bit in my earlier posts, so it should come as no surprise to my readers. I'm not going to talk about the validity of predestination versus free will when it comes to the Norns.  I'm going to talk about what science has to say about it, because I find the implications far more interesting.

Is it a Conscious Decision, or are We Trying to Explain Our Behavior?

We think that we make choices all the time.  But 20 years ago, psychologists proposed that we somehow convince ourselves that our behavior was caused by our own thoughts and actual intentions after the behavior, itself. In other words, the fact that you're getting up from your desk to get a cup of coffee isn't ruled by thought, but by behavior and your mind plays a great game to convince you that you thought this up all along.

As farfetched as this seems, a recent study takes this to the next step. Subjects were presented with five white circles and asked to think which one they thought would light up red. Whichever one was lit up was done randomly and without a predictable pattern. The subject could give an answer that they selected the one that was lit up, selected one that was not lit up, or tell the examiners that they didn't have enough time. What happened was interesting.  When the time was too short more that 30 percent claimed they picked the right circle (when the number should have been around 20 percent).  When the examiners slowed the time between when they were to choose before the circle lit up, the number that claimed to pick to right one fell to about 20 percent.

At some point, the scientists determined, the people were mixing up what happened with their actual intention. In other words, stuff happens and we make up a good story why it happened and how we intended it to happen that way.

Bereitschaftspotential

That mouthful of a word describes a readiness state our brain goes into before we are conscious of our own decision.  This state can occur up to 1.5 seconds before the mind is conscious of it. In fact, Sam Harris makes a case against the whole concept in his book entitled, (what else?), Free Will. This was proven in tests using MRIs back in 2008, which allowed the researchers to predict the person's action up to 90 percent even before the person knew what he or she was going to do.

The Block Universe and Time Theory: Or How to Make Your Head Hurt

Okay, you say, that's works for people, but how about a person's fate? Well, now I'm going to dive right into the Block Universe theory on time, which will probably make your head hurt about as much as mine is hurting right now with this cold. Time in the Theory of Relativity and other equations is changeable backwards and forwards, so our thought that time is linear isn't right.  The Block Universe theory states that the past, present, and future exist simultaneously in space-time and that we perceive time's passage as if a spotlight is being shined on the moment events seem to occur.  Events happen, but the past and the future are already there too.  We live in a temporally scattered existence.  We're scattered throughout a certain segment of time.

Well, this puts our lives in another perspective.  We exist simultaneously with ourselves when we're born and when we die.  Our entire lives have already existed and the point where we are at is just the spotlight shining on it. So, while we can make choices that create events, those future events already exist with the past and the present. 

 

Then Again, This Might Be a Computer Simulation

Nowadays scientists are at least considering the possibility that the whole universe is some gigantic computer simulation program and we have no idea what purpose it might have. Elon Musk of Tesla is convinced we're a simulation. Neil deGrasse Tyson believes it's about a 50 percent chance.  In which case, all our speculation may be moot and our gods are just terrific programmers.

What The Rational Heathen Thinks

 There are certainly other views of the Universe I haven't covered, but it's getting late and I'm tired and still have some work to do. At some point, I look at the question as possibly meaningless -- if I don't have free will, and if my fate is plotted for me, it won't change my actions one way or another.  I still have pieces I have to write, I still have chores to do around home, and I still have plenty of things I must do.  If I am the master of my fate, then the outcome and plan is still the same.  I'm not going to say "it was fated," because I understand that the one thing physics does recognize well is cause and effect. So my work to fix something that breaks or try to improve things is what may cause positive outcomes.

Then again, it might be fated that I do these things.  Who knows?