I’m really not nailing these posting dates. Sometimes it feels like too much to write days back to back. Then again, I guess that’s the consequence for falling behind.
Today I want to think about how the future plays out. In retrospect, everything appears a lot clearer than it did in the moment. I would like to explore the idea of determinism, the philosophy that all choices are determined by the course of past events. What this means is that each action is simply a ripple of the action before it, and that nothing in the present can occur out of choice––each action is already pre-decided by the past.
When following this thought train further, this implies that free will, the ability to make conscious choices out of many possibilities, cannot exist because every “conscious” choice was already pre-determined.
So…does that imply the future is already decided based on the present? Yes, and no. If you were able to input every single factor that affected a situation into a computer and process the result, assuming you accurately modeled the situation, the expected result would occur in real life as well. For example, if in the future I was to write a philosophical discussion, we could simulate this by accounting for my surroundings, the computer and its keys, music playing in the background, time of day, how I was feeling emotionally that day etc. Even for such as simple case, the possibilities are already countless.
As this example illustrates, even the very near future is challenging to properly assess. As these near futures are combined with other near futures to try to predict a further future, the possible worlds ascend off into infinity. What this means is that even with unlimited computing power, it would only be possible to eliminate failed realities as we got closer and closer to the desired event. Eventually, the computer would be left with only one choice as the event happened in real time.
I’m not sure what this concept is called exactly, but the reasoning implies that predicting the distant future would not only take immense computing power, but also only be capable of producing probabilities rather than certainties.
Continuing onward, since each future is determined by an earlier future, eventually this timeline hits the present. Going further backwards, the present is determined by the past.
Eventually, this regression through time leads us back to our births as individuals. From our very first breaths, do we have choice? We aren’t capable of preventing ourselves from breathing, as this instinctual process is automatic. Each moment onward, our surroundings (parents/guardians, household, relationships) end up shaping our decisions. So, from the moment we are born till the moment we die, the idea of choice remains illusory rather than grounded in reality.
Although some may argue that in each moment we are capable of making a choice to change the future, we must consider if this is really a choice? Based on the conditions surrounding the person, their decision has already been made. Whether it’s through assessing all of the traits that impact the result, relying on gut feelings, or simply flipping a coin, all of these results can be determined in the moment of the present leading to the future. The factors leading up to the choice have already occurred/been reasoned out, hence why there is no ambiguity in this regard. Similarly, how the person feels in the moment is determined by all the interactions they have had with the world in the past few moments as well as their entire life. If the coin lands heads and the decider makes a choice, as the coin shakes to a stop, the side which is up has already been determined. Nothing is unpredictable in the immediate future as long as we are willing to assess every factor leading up to it.
That’s my case for determinism and the idea that free will does not exist. I think I’ll cover a case for free will existing in the next post.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day.