There is no free will. Only the idea of Free Will.
I grew up in a Catholic country. Luckily, neither my family nor myself were into it. In a sense, I grew up ‘free‘ from the shackles of guilt and sin. Which, to clarify, does not mean lack of morals (although those, too, were shaky) but lack of “original sin” or any kind of sin just for existing.
But while I did not go to Church (except funerals, weddings and baptisms) or believed in a Sky Daddy, I wasn’t truly free from religion. Every aspect of the culture I grew up with was imbued in and, in a way, tainted by, religious beliefs. From paintings, to architecture, to literature to every other social and cultural aspect.
And while I did not want to be part of it, everything around me was influenced by religion. To the point that I would have to perform certain rituals and be part of certain activities just to feel like I am part of the community and not become an outcast (I was still a weird kid, though).
A lot of religions and cultures are like that. It isn’t just a problem with Catholicism, but this is what I know about because is what I grew up with it. Ritualistic practices also help strengthen bonds and alliances in communities. But this is a well understood phenomenon and not part of what I am getting at.
One of the concepts that has always fascinated me about Catholicism (and other religions too), is the concept of free will. Which is very much like Schrodinger’s Cat. It both exists and doesn’t exist until you open the lid and take a peak at what is inside the box.
It is also highly dependent on who you ask, why, and under what circumstances. On the one hand, you’ll hear that we have free will and outcomes are direct consequences (reactions) to our choices. On the other hand, and often the more likely doctrine you’d hear until you begin to question the dogma, is that ‘God has a plan for you‘, and therefore, everything that happens in your life is the result of ‘God’s plan”.
Spiffing! Right until the time when you think, well, If I am a thief, a rapist, a murderer or just a Karen, it is God’s will because he made me this way and planned for me to behave in a certain manner. Therefore, everything I am or/and I do is determined by (the will of) God. This, of course, includes the rape and murdering of children, animals, and every other terrible thing you can conceive of.
The Old Testament is a hoot and a half. Filled with rape, murder, genocide, infanticide, etc., just to name a few. And God, the Almighty, the all-knowing-, the past, present and future stopped having hissy fits by the time we get to the New Testament. What kind of an all-loving, all-knowing kind of God does all this and then has a change of heart? Was God Zeus? Was God having teenage temper tantrums? And if he was, wouldn’t that imply that he was no God but merely a different being with superior abilities compared to us in some regards?
Catholics don’t usually enjoy this line of questioning. It shakes the very foundations of their beliefs, so they found a loophole. The short explanation is that anything good that happens in your life is God’s will. Made a touch down? God’s will. Found your missing wallet and nobody hacked your credit cards? God’s will. Anything positive comes always from God.
Now, if the kid’s neighbor snapped and went on a killing rampage that killed a few dozen innocent children… well, that is your fault because you never paid enough attention to the kid. And if you did, ‘maybe’, he wouldn’t have snapped the way he did. It is definitely your fault and not God’s fault. God is omniscient and omnipotent and already knows every possible outcome before it happens. But it is not his fault.
Catholics got really good at blaming you for your own shortcomings while simultaneously crediting God for any good outcome in your life. You gotta give it to them. Its win-win situation. You have free will while simultaneously not having free will.
Free Will vs Limitations
None of the intro above really matters except to say that I have been thinking about Free Will today. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news. The concept has come and gone through my synapses many times before. Except today I had a new perspective.
Today’s perspective is that there is no free will. Only the concept of free will. Everything we do, say, act or believe is extremely conditioned via our socio-political environment as well as our economical one.
Our universe is deterministic in nature (I will probably explore this concept at some point). Some stars or planetary formations were fated to collapse and explode and leave a Black Hole behind while others left nothing.
Going back to the argument of free will vs limitations.
Let’s say I wanted to launch a rocket into space. Absolutely no one is going to finance that endeavor. Whether I could or could not launch said rocket it has nothing to do with my very limited scientific prowess. It has to do with whether I could solve a simple equation that tells me how to achieve escape velocity given certain mass (accounting for rocket fuel). And whether or not I need to add drag (wind resistance) to my calculations.
Today, I am just a simple man that lives in a hut in the middle of nowhere, and whose survival depends entirely on whether I can find water and food supplies to keep me going for another day or week. You don’t know this, but I am the smartest person on Earth (the Hunter, not me). I could solve every problem you have if only I had different chances while growing up. Maybe hot food for every meal. Maybe a school I had to give up just so I could feed my sick family.
Back to choices and pre-determined conditions. Currently, I might have 10 different choices of IP providers. And on choosing, I think I have free will. Similar as to when I buy shampoo at the supermarket. Given 10 different choices, I pick one. But given 3 choices I still pick one (maybe what I consider to be the best). Therefore, whether I have 10 choices or 3 choices doesn’t much matter. I still have to pick between pre-determined outcomes.
Tim right there in his hut, concerned with his everyday survival and not getting sick, would never know about the 10 different Internet Services Providers or which coffee shop is the best or even have access to a phone, let alone a social media presence. While the choices do exist out there in the world, presumably for all of us, Tim in his hut does not have any of those choices. He doesn’t even get to choose not having a choice. What he does or does not, or what kind of person he grows up to be is extremely limited and conditioned by his environment.
And if you don’t have the same choices as others, how free are you exactly?
Of course, capitalistic societies would counter that and tell you that if you work hard, keep your head down and do your best, you will succeed in the world. If it really was down to that, every African woman out there working on farms would be a millionaire by now. It looks like all this “manifesting” doesn’t really work unless you are a white Karen or a Ken selling a pyramid-scheme course. (Nothing to do with DEI, this is a dig a modern Western societies).
We have no free will because all of our choices are pre-determined via our environment and socio-economical conditions. If we all had access to the same food and resources, if we didn’t have to work for money but for the fulfillment of doing something we love, then our choices in life would be completely different (for most of us) than what they are or have been in the past, and even what our future choices might be.
Even in a utopian reality in which everyone had the same amount of resources, we still wouldn’t have free will. Just a greater number of choices to choose from. There is an interesting theory in physics that suggest that for every decision you make, a new world springs to existence containing a new version of you that has made a different choice. Ok, I am wool gathering.
We don’t have free will. We have a set of conditions that limits our choices, and we simply choose a, b, c or d, or sometimes several at once, or non at all. All with already pre-determined and pre-established outcomes. Like reading a book or playing a video game with multiple-choice answers. No matter what we pick, all the choices are going to lead to the same path: death.
Our choices are extremely deterministic to the point that a computer software could (and it actually can) predict our choices and therefore determine possible outcomes. These types of computers have been in use for a long time to predict market crashes, economy, consumer behaviour, etc. Even now these new technologies are used in countries around the world for “Pre-Crime” a la Minority Report. There are more sinister aspects than pre-crime to what these technologies can do. But maybe I’ll explore those another time.
Scientists use these models to predict the fate of galaxies millions of lightyears away, in a long-distant future nobody is going to be around to see. Bit of a waste of time if you ask me; but everything really is in the grand scheme of things.
In a sense, what these computers do is ‘predict the future’. All you have to do is enter the variables and the machine would compute the more likely outcomes for you. The more variables you have, the higher the accuracy.
In fact, somebody could calculate what a new-born is going to be like age 30 by adding those variables to a computer. Year of birth, location, family income, siblings or lack of, school/s of attendance, political climate in the country/region/town, etc.
With all this in mind, is no wonder that many believe that we live in a computer simulation. I’d go further, and say that if we lived in a computer simulation, or within various simulations, we would probably never know because we are still conditioned by rules of said simulation.
Imagine, if you will, that one of your characters in World of Warcraft (or any other video game) becomes sentient. Maybe you don’t notice at first. But once you do you start talking to him/it. To him, it would seem like God is speaking to him. You might even take a liking for this new sentient being, and make resources appear out of the sky (gold, wheat, etc.) to make his life more pleasurable.
Another player might have a more sadistic nature and prefer to torture this new sentient being. Think of war, famines, etc. In either case, it would seem to this person that a supernatural entity (God), is ruling his entire universe. And in fact, the player is God in this case. In both cases, whatever the little man inside the computer chooses to do is going to be limited by what has been programmed into the game. He cannot act outside of those parameters.
If sufficient time passes, maybe the man inside the game evolves his civilization and creates computer games. And if the cycle repeats, he will be God to the little man inside his computer. And that new sentient being will in turn become himself God one day and so on.
If and when this happens, or has happened, or is going to happen, we would never be able to tell because we cannot change the rules that have been given to us. We are bound by the same parameters. And by the laws of physics. We are not, and can never be, objective observers looking from the outside into our reality to determine if is real or if it is a simulation.
All we know is that our entire lives since birth are conditioned by the parameters that have been pre-set for us. Therefore, we have no free will. Only the illusion of free will.