I don’t believe that free will exists. This might come as a surprise as my entire life is centered around a choice I made to make the purpose of life to complete my Life List. I make decisions every day that are my own but I don’t believe they are an expression of my independently functioning will.
Allow Me to Explain
Imagine a popcorn kernel laying in a frying pan which is being heated by a lit stove. Shortly it will explode into a piece of popcorn but that action hasn’t yet occurred.
The now popped piece of popcorn flies out of the pot in a specific direction and lands on the kitchen floor.
The instant before the explosion started, a decision was made. Many factors contributed to the eventual trajectory of the not yet popped popcorn; the shape of the kernel, the source of the heat, gravity and all of the other forces which eventually would act on the flying kernel. At that point, the instant before the kernel exploded, a series of motions were started, a determined set of events were forged by circumstance.
This is a very interesting type of event. I call this a circumstantial determination.
The final destination of the popped popcorn was the result of a previously established set of circumstances. The action of the popping wasn’t a decision in that someone or something decided it, instead it was a determination in that it happened a certain way and now is just so.
Now lets look at a circumstantial determination which happens to be in the extreme.
Rewind to the beginning of our Universe. Instead of the very moment before a popcorn kernel explodes, think about the very moment before the Big Bang occurred.
I believe that the same kind of circumstantial determination was made in that instant.
The piece of popcorn sitting on the kitchen floor and the current shape and trajectory of our Universe have at least one trait in common. Their current status was circumstantially determined prior to their current state. In fact, they were determined before their current forms were even created.
That is where the similarities end. The Big Bang was fundamentally different than the popcorn kernel.
Unlike the unpopped popcorn, the Universe didn’t have any other external forces acting on it before it formed. They simply didn’t exist yet.
As such, the instant before the Big Bang was the single most important circumstantial determination to ever occur. That instant determined everything that would happen after it.
The Big Bang happened and then everything throughout history occurred as a result of it.
Fast forward to today.
Earth orbits around the Sun. Our Sun orbits around the black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
While our current solar system formation is many steps removed from that initial action of the Big Bang, the current position and makeup of our present day cosmic situation was determined the moment the Big Bang occurred. The elemental makeup and force of the Big Bang were the first series of circumstances that determined the next series of events that eventually became us.
Our situation was not decided in the traditional sense of a design. Instead, our current big picture situation was determined circumstantially.
But How Does This Relate to Living Beings?
Our Sun forms.
I have intellect and can make decisions in my life. I can choose to pursue a Life List or I can choose to do something else. I can make a conscious directional decision and ultimately I can make the necessary actions to turn left or to turn right.
Or Can I?
I make decisions based off of my genetic makeup.
I make decisions based off of prior experiences.
I make decisions based off of current inputs.
I make decisions based off of expected results.
As a human, these are the type of circumstances which uniquely determine my decisions.
For the popcorn kernel it was things like heat source and physical shape that determined its trajectory (for the sake of simplicity I will label these type of circumstances as “natural circumstances”). These forces occurred outside the kernels ability to influence them.
As humans we are impacted by the same forces (natural circumstances) but unlike the kernel, we have additional circumstances (genetics, prior experiences, sensory inputs – which I will call “human circumstances”) that impact our paths.
But Humans Are Different! We Are Conscious Beings!
Unlike the pre-exploded popcorn kernel, I have a brain and a body that enables me to react to my environment. That is fundamentally different than a moot object that has no power to change its environment.
Human circumstances are a different type of circumstance but like the natural circumstances of the kernel, these human circumstances are also outside our control and not within the immediate command of our own consciousness. (For instance, I can’t change my genetic makeup or past experiences just like the kernel can’t change its shape or the heat source of the pot)
So it appears that while these types of circumstances are different, they are still bound by the same core limitations (an inability to directly change predetermined circumstances). So then, does the fact that there are different types of circumstantial determinations really even matter?
Imagine an astroid heading on a crash course toward a distant planet. It’s current trajectory was set in motion sometime in the past. It is on a predetermined path but like the path of living beings, the astroids path through the Universe can still change. Other forces, like the gravity of nearby stars could potentially reverse the astroids current trajectory. Just because the astroid is heading toward the given planet does not mean it will absolutely make it there.
Other forces could affect it on the way which would be outside the scope of the forces that initially set it in motion. This is similar to the situation where a human chooses (based off of predetermined circumstances) to change their own path.
But even if this happens, was the initial circumstantial determination that set the astroid (or human) in motion changed?
The initial determination did not change, only the outcome changed.
This was the key insight I had on how I understand fate. Just because something was predetermined doesn’t mean it can’t change.
More recent circumstantial determinations can override older circumstantial determinations. It appears that the movements of my body can change the world around me.
Does Being Conscious Disqualify Us From Being Bound To Predetermined Circumstances?
When I look backwards, I humbly think the answer is no.
Wasn’t the secondary (more recent) force that ended up changing the trajectory of the astroid also determined by previous circumstantial determinations itself? Isn’t my propensity to be attracted to brunettes determined by prior experiences and the makeup of my DNA?
Every new circumstance was determined by a prior circumstance. Even the circumstances that change.
It all goes back to the Big Bang. One circumstantial determination was made, the power, the shape, the makeup of the original burst happened and then like a pinball in an infinitely complex pinball machine, other circumstantial determinations reacted with each other. That has been the course of everything.
This is the reason I don’t believe in free will.
I can make choices but my intellect and physical form don’t enable me to change the circumstantial determinations that dictate my decisions. My decisions may be my own but like the trajectory of the popcorn kernel, they are determined by pre-existing and ever changing circumstances.
Being a conscious being does not change the fact that everything that happens now is the result of circumstantial determinations of the past. Natural circumstances and human circumstances are indeed different from the point of view of a human but they have the same limitations when considered on a galactic scale. Now that life exists, there are simply more types of circumstantial determinations but that doesn’t change the circumstances that determined everything in the beginning.
Like the popcorn and astroid, my life’s trajectory can change. That however is not free will. It is the still the circumstances of my existence that determine my conscious decisions. These circumstances are the results of a multitude of other interacting circumstances that were initially set in motion and predetermined the moment of the Big Bang. It was an instant in the past that determined the future.