Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Free Will and Butterflies

The problem is, the universe is still pretty predictable. Like, clockwork.

And so are you.

We can predict lots of things the universe is going to do. Sunrises. Sunsets. Eclipses. Rainbows. Lots of things.

We can predict lots of things you're going to do. Given enough information. You'll eat. Sleep. Poop. Grow. Learn things.

But the other problem is, we can't predict everything. Most things. Lots of things. But not everything.

So we don't really know if you have a little bit of free will, or a lot, or almost none.

It's hard to tell.

There's this thing called Chaos Theory. It says that although the universe and nature and stuff are MOSTLY predictable, every now and then, things get really really unpredictable.
Butterflies. Trying to destroy the world.
Not very good at it yet.

It's called the Butterfly Effect. It says that sometimes, something as small as the flapping of a butterfly wing can set off a series of events that cause something HUGE to happen. Like a hurricane or a tornado.

Every now and then.

So mostly you are predictable (you and the universe), but every now and then,

You are really really unpredictable.

Does that mean you have free will?

Ah. No. Not completely.

It says that just because we didn't know what made you do whatever weird, bizarre, possibly illegal and immoral thing that you did, there could have been something that made you do it.

So although it's possible for you to have free will, we still don't know if you actually have it.

What there is, is the possibility for free will to exist.

Because the universe is not completely deterministic, thanks to quantum things and chaotic things, it's possible for you to have free will.

It's clearly not predetermined that you have free will.

Ouch. That's confusing.

Because here's the thing. Most of the time, we act like we have free will, but whether or not we are actually making free will decisions is hard to say.

Mostly, we don't.

That is, we are little puppies slobbering when the bell rings.

You know. Pavlov's Dogs. All of that. That's when this guy named Pavlov (great name for a Star Trek character) trained a bunch of dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring by ringing a bell and feeding them doggy vittles.

After awhile, all he had to do was ring the bell, and looky there! Doggy slobber. Even without vittles. After another while, eventually one would guess that the doggies would figure out that they weren't getting any snacks and stop slobbering.

We're like the dogs. We are (largely?)(totally?)(that's the problem - don't really know) influenced by cultural bells.

We are (largely?)(totally?) influenced by our culture. By our friends. Magazines. Movies. TV shows. Celebrities. Families.

We dress the way we dress, cut our hair, decorate our homes, buy the things we buy, read the things we read, listen to and watch what we listen to and watch because of the little bubbles that we live in.

Our hearts also beat and our lungs breathe and our entire bodies work constantly without us making any decisions about any of it.

That's a good thing. If we had to constantly think about keeping our hearts beating and our lungs breathing and our spleens spleening, we'd die at night.

A lot of the things we do when we're awake and asleep, we do on autopilot. We don't think much about it. We have trained ourselves to walk, talk, drive, run, jump, eat, and do all the things we do without thinking about them very much.

And that's a good thing.

But the question is, are we (largely?)(totally?) controlled by our autopilots? What are the decisions that we make? Are (none?)(some?)(any?)(all?) of them free will decisions?

Turns out, it's really hard to tell.

Behavioralist BF Skinner said that none of them are. He called it "conditioned responses". Everything we do, we do because we have been trained or conditioned to do so. Even, apparently, become famous behavioralists.

I think that's a bit of a stretch.

But it's really hard to tell where free will actually starts, since we are so heavily (completely?) influenced by outside factors, outside of our ability even to be aware that it's happening. We are truly conditioned to do most things.

The question is, are there things that we do outside of conditioning? As free will decisions?

And the answer is ...

You have the potential to do things that you are not conditioned to do.

Whether or not you actually ever do that, is the question.

And the answer is, maybe, every now and then. Like a hostile butterfly. 

Maybe, every now and then, we do something unpredictable. We make a free will decision. Maybe.

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