Recently it seems many people are talking about free will. Famous people. And my cousins that dragged me into a discussion on it on Facebook. I refuse to read or listen to much of anything about it. The parts people focus on or argue about seem silly to me. So I’ll say something silly.
My understanding is that there is some kind of philosophical debate that is old and now new again regarding whether or not we have ‘free will’. First of all,
What the fuck is ‘free will’? !
Okay, first lets start with ‘will’.
What the fuck is will?!
Google says “the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.”
Let me play with this for a moment. So people have ‘will’ because they have action? So a lion does not? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a lion do some motherfucking actions when it was chasing some fucking buffalo or protecting its pup from other lions [The Last Lions]. I’m pretty sure those actions were non-random and selected by its brain.
So humans are not unique in having will the way it is conventionally defined if you remove the noun ‘persons’ from the standard definition.
I’d like to define will the following two ways:
(1) Will (n): the goal(s) of a sentient agent at a point in time.
(2) Will (n): the ability of a sentient agent to achieve its goal(s).
Or maybe (1) and (2) should be combined. Either way will be fine going forward.
Since I don’t like the readily accessible definitions of sentient from google I’ll provide my definition of that as well.
Sentient (adj): having a consciousness that contains a model of the world that includes the agent generating the consciousness.
‘Sentience’ could be replaced with other words like ‘self-aware consciousness’ or ‘human-level sentience’. Self-awareness can be considered a spectrum. When we discuss people’s personalities we often characterize their level of self-awareness. Chimpanzees also have a level of self-awareness, but not to the degree of humans. Without going trying to define all details, I would say that the agent has some kind of model of its environment and itself, and is aware that the model of the environment and itself that is in its consciousness is not the actual environment and completeness of itself. It is a model. One curiosity about this definition is whether we should say that the agent defines the time domain the model operates in (past, real-time, future) or the realness of it (I notice as I get older I often fantasize or daydream less).
One interesting thing about will is that it is hard to measure, especially in my second definition. The more complex the agent and system in which it’s operating in, the harder it may be to measure. So let’s say will is some vector w, that has a magnitude and direction like in the graphic at the top.
What is missing from many conversations of free will, is that we, as humans, rarely know the magnitude and direction of will completely in ourselves and especially not in other humans. Sometimes, we get moments of knowing, like that time I almost died in a river in Sri Lanka. I wanted to grab a rock while the river swept me towards that waterfall (I couldn’t, but luckily it was a mini-waterfall and I didn’t hit any rocks when I fell). My will was easy to measure by myself and observers at that moment. Will is often in a multidimensional vector space, like I want sex and I also want a slice of deep dish pizza. Oh, and I also want to reduce pollution. That’s will. This discussion will be expanded in Part 2.
So what the fuck is ‘free’ in ‘free will’?!
Who cares if will is deterministic?! Why are people arguing about that?! And let me take the side of a physicist and say it is deterministic. Let’s say everything has been determined by previous events and random particle motion (as far as we can model) from the Big Bang. The interesting part of will is not whether it is independent of the rest of the universe or not (I don’t think it is). And yes, in that aspect we are not different from a rock hurling through space. BUT, the interesting part, as a human, is that I’m conscious, self-aware/sentient, and I have will, while at the same time I don’t fully know it’s magnitude and direction ALMOST ALL THE TIME. In myself. And I don’t know the absolute will of others. Or if I define will as the following:
(3) Will (n): The sum of all of an agents goals and ability to achieve those goals over its lifetime.
Then it gets even harder to measure. In fact, while the agent is alive it is absolutely unknown. One could even say it’s free, free from being known by any agent in the universe that we are aware of.
We are in the fucking movie. And we don’t know the ending.
You hate when someone tells you the ending of a movie.
Well, imagine I told you the end of the movie, AND every detail of everything that occurs in the movie, or, I upload a copy of the movie into your brain, you don’t watch it, you just suddenly have a complete copy of what your brain would have made in itself if you had watched it, and then you had to be in it, for like 70 years…but you can’t change anything about the movie. Or, you watch a movie on loop, for your entire existence.
That’s the interesting part of being a human, free will (or call it something else, like um, unknown will, if you want to avoid the inclusion of determinism), it’s in the movie, I love it, next.