Jack and Janis Discuss Free Will, Part III

Both of the brothers remain silent for a few minutes, as they admire the scenery.  Their minds focused on the squawk of a bird and the motley chorus of insect noises.  Eventually, Jack comes back to the topic at hand.

Jack: So, what will you do if science proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that free will does not exist?

Janis: That depends on what scientists actually learn.

Jack: What do you mean?

Janis: Well, let’s assume that we do not have free will, which I take to mean we do not have any conscious control over our decisions. 

Jack: Right, so we can’t consciously make any choices.

Janis: Correct…However, something in us—our subconscious perhaps—might still have control over our choices.  Therefore, we would still be making the decisions—we just wouldn’t be doing it consciously. 

Jack: Yes, but would our unconscious be free?  Wouldn’t its choices be predetermined?

Janis: Our unconscious--or whatever non-conscious portion of our brain is involved—would obviously not be “free” in the classical sense.  However, that does not mean that its choices would be predetermined.

Jack: I think you mean “our brains.”  Parallel word association and all of that…Either way, I don’t understand what you are getting at.

Janis: Well, for one thing, some of our unconscious brain’s decisions might be random.  In other cases, its choices, whether random or not, might not be repeatable—even when every variable is exactly the same.  [Janis muses on this fact for a second].  Perhaps you might also refer to those instances as random.  Regardless, the point is that our unconscious brain might be able to make decisions which are not determined beforehand. 

Janis: [continuing before Jack can speak] Let me put it another way.  I think it will be impossible for a researcher, at any point in the future, to prove that all of our actions are predetermined.  As such, I am free to believe that I am autonomous because some part of me is able to actively make decisions, eg. choices that are not predetermined. 

Jack: In thinking about it, researchers would be hard pressed to demonstrate that any action is predetermined. 

Janis: Even better…Regardless, as long as I can hold to the belief in my autonomy, I can assert my rights as an individual.  In other words, I am entitled to basic rights, such as the freedoms of speech, expression, etc.  I am also responsible for my actions, since I am the author of those decisions.

Jack: But what if all of our actions are predetermined?  Wouldn’t that depress you?  Wouldn’t it also absolve you of any responsibility for your actions?

Janis: I don’t think that it would.  Let me explain…in a moment.

Neither brother speaks for a few minutes and instead focus on the sights and sounds around them.


Jack and Janis Discuss Free Will, Part II

Jack: Well, what did you do at that point?

Janis: I wrestled with the problem for many more years.  I began to read literature on the topic-from scientists, philosophers, psychologists, and others.  At this time, I do not know (nor does anyone else) whether free will exists; it’s a conundrum.  

Jack: That’s depressing.  

Janis: Well, I have to admit that what I read on the topic depressed me for a while.  Especially since I came to the conclusion that, even if free will exists, it is much more limited than I would have liked…However, I am now at peace-at least with regards to that subject.

Jack: How so?

Janis: I came to terms with the fact that we cannot definitively prove or disprove the existence of free will-in all instances.  At least not yet…

Jack: And how did that help you, besides leaving you permanently befuddled?

Janis: Well, let me answer that by asking you a few questions.

Jack: Go ahead…

Janis: Do most societies-and their laws, customs, and traditions-assume that people have free will? 

Jack: As far as I know they do-at least the current ones.

Janis: And do most people act as if they have free will?  Is it the norm for people to believe in free will?

Jack: Of course…

Janis: Are most people happier believing in free will than in not believing?

Jack: That is a more difficult question to answer.  People often regret their choices.  They suffer from their choices.  They sometimes wish they had no choice at all.  However, in the end, I think most people are happier believing that they have free will—that they have the power, to some extent, to determine their own futures.  So, I would say, “Yes, people are happier when they believe they have some control over their actions and thoughts.”  

Janis: Well, I’m like most people on this one.  I am happier when I believe that I have free will, even though many of my supposedly free choices have deleterious consequences.  By believing in free will, I conform to the norms of my society.  At least on this issue, I don’t have to worry about maintaining a discordant belief or being treated as an outsider-an aberration.  So, with that in mind, I decided (or well, I at least created the illusion of a decision) that I would vouchsafe for the existence of free will until science definitively proves that it does not exist.  

Jack: That is a simplistic answer.  

Janis: It’s a short walk.

Jack: Not that short of a walk.  We still have some time.  

[Both brothers stop for a second to admire the scenery and to gather their thoughts. Jack breaks the interlude…]

Jack: Your decision seems rather cowardly to me.  You seem to be taking the easy way out.  And apart from that, what if science does prove, beyond a doubt, that free will does not exist, what will you do then…?  How will you cope?

[Janis and Jack start walking again.]

Janis: I will try to answer both of those questions.


Jack and Janis Discuss Free Will, Part I

The summer day is warm but not too hot.  The bright summer sun has reached its zenith in the sky and now wends its way back to its nightly resting place.  In the distance, dark clouds gather-hinting at rain.  Two brothers, Jack and Janis, decide to catch up on lost time-and reacquaint themselves with nature’s beauty-by taking a leisurely stroll in the park.  As they walk along the trail, they initially pass the time with idle chatter; however, their discussion takes on a weightier feel, as they ponder questions that neither man can answer by himself.

Jack: Do you still find yourself asking the big questions?

Janis: Like what?

Jack: Well, like whether or not we have free will?

Janis: That is a weighty question for such a short walk.  [Janis is quiet as he ponders the matter for a moment—with brow slightly furrowed and head bowed, he then says…].  You know Jack, I’ve given much thought to the matter-or suffice to say, I gave the matter much thought when I was younger.

Jack: Really Janis, you never discussed this subject before.

Janis: You never asked.  Anyway, I first contemplated the issue when I was four years old-and before you were even able to speak.  I kept asking myself whether or not I was a robot.  I then wondered how I would prove that I was not a robot.

Jack: Perhaps you were just wondering whether or not you were a robot?  I’m not sure that a four year old has any inkling of things like free will.

Janis: Perhaps not, however, that is the first time I can recall thinking about me as me…

Jack: What?

Janis: I mean thinking about myself as unique-of being self-aware.  That is important; one cannot possess free will if he or she is not a unique, independent entity.  

Jack: That’s great…but when did you give the matter serious thought again. 

Janis: In the summer between my sixth and seventh grade years on through high school.  I kept wondering whether or not I had free will.  Did I consciously choose my own path?  I designed all sorts of experiments to test the hypothesis that I did have free will.

Jack: You never mentioned these “tests.”  What did you do?

Janis: Well, you can imagine that a sixth grader, even a high school student, might not yet have a grasp of the complexity of the subject.  And anyway, he or she has probably not read all of the available information on the subject.  Well, I fit the aforementioned description perfectly.  At that age, I had not read the latest scientific findings, which would be old news now anyway, nor had I checked to see what the great philosophers said about free will.  

Jack: And…

Janis: Well, my “experiments” were simplistic.  I would, for instance, do something I didn’t like, such as eating certain vegetables, or I would change up my habitual actions and instead of doing something, say, with my right hand, I would do it with my left.  Or, I would consciously try to think about every action I performed during a set span of time-say 30 minutes.

Jack: And where did that get you?

Janis: Nowhere…

The Dialogue or Conversational Form

Hi All...I am sorry I haven't had the opportunity to post here in a while.  I'll try to do a better job of updating my blog in the future-and reading your blog posts as well. :) 

In my first blog post, I said that I would try to posit my authentic thoughts-unfiltered by heavy editing and/or ruminating.  For the most part, I have attempted to stay true to that mission-at least in the posts that do not link to my freelance articles.  However, I feel that the act of organizing my thoughts into paragraphs frustrates my mission to some extent.  That is because I have to prioritize views, delete alternative theories, etc. in order to create coherent paragraphs.  That act deprives readers from seeing the true range of feelings, emotions, and beliefs I might have on a topic.

In order to rectify this situation, I might on occasion try to postulate my thoughts in a dialogue or conversational format.  In those posts, I will use different characters to espouse contradictory ideas, feelings, and beliefs.  My tactic might work-or it might prove to be a disaster.  We will see. :)


I Apologize for My Absence

Hi All,

I wanted to quickly write to you all and apologize for not posting anything to my blog in the last few days.  I have been pretty busy.  I will try to create a new post (and read through all of your blog posts) soon.



Snakes and Snow-Truly Ironic!

Snow outside of my house.

Yesterday was certainly interesting.  I was clearing some brush and leaves when it started to snow-SNOW!  Keep in mind that it rarely snows in southwest Virginia in April.  Even more surprising, as I was raking leaves, I came upon a small garter snake.  I was amazed to see a snake slithering around in near freezing temperatures; they usually stay in their burrows in this type of weather (heck, most of the snakes are probably still hibernating).  So, imagine me (or anyone really) raking leaves and moving brush during a snowstorm (in a month that does not usually see any snowstorms) and finding a snake.  Truly ironic!


My Bracket Has Been Busted

Well, I have had better NCAA brackets over the years-that is for sure.  You know it's not a going to be a good year when you check your bracket only to find out that it is ranked in the bottom 2.5% in a prominent, national bracket contest.  I have improved to about 11% or so now...Perhaps I will get really lucky and will be able to move up to around 25% (from the bottom, not the top 25%)...Needless, to say, I should not have picked so many upsets (and should not have counted on mid-majors breaking through the ceiling this year).  How are your brackets coming along?  Hopefully, you are doing better than me.

Basketball player-Microsoft Office