Musings on the idea of Free Will
April 16, 2009 1 Comment
Think about what it means to make a decision. The cashier gave you too much change – do you tell him/her? It seems like you make your choice based on past events (your parents taught you that it was deceitful to take something that shouldn’t be yours) or the current state of your mind (the cashier is really cute, maybe I’ll get a few points by pointing out the mistake). Upon further analysis, it really seems that the exact state of your brain (memories, neural pathways and triggers) and the state of external stimuli might be fully responsible for each decision and action. However, one could make the same argument for a computer, which function is based on the concept of a finite state machine (each action is fully determined by the state of the machine and its inputs). This idea essentially boils down to us being nothing more than robots. Are you okay with that?
What about the following scenario:
Two kids with the same parents grow up in the same environment. Why do they frequently have a completely different set of values? One gives the money back to the cashier without question; one keeps the money without question. Why? It can’t be purely due to genetics. And it can’t be purely due to upbringing. Determinists would argue that slight differences in genetics or environment may have a domino effect on the value systems of the individual. But, could it also be due to the possibility that these are two different souls, which have evolved differently? Believers in reincarnation might say that the former has learned a universal lesson in a previous incarnation and is perhaps an older, or more experienced, soul. It is therefore natural for that person to make such a decision, whereas the sibling’s soul has not yet learned that universal lesson. We can’t be sure, but it does seem odd that people often talk of the deep personality differences between their children that are observable at such a young age that environmental differences are precluded. This tends to lend support to the idea that there is a “ghost in the machine.”