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.