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…
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.
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?