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In a way, in our contemporary world-view, it's easy to think that science has come to take the place of God, but some philosophical problems remain as troubling as ever. Take the problem of free will; This problem has been around for a long time, since before Aristotle and 350 B.C. Saint Augustine,
Saint Thomas Aquinas - these guys all worried about how we can be free if God already knows in advance everything you're gonna do. Nowadays, we know that the world operates according to some fundamental physical laws, and these laws govern the behavior of every object in the world. Now, these laws, because they're so trustworthy, they enable incredible technological achievements. But look at yourself. We're just physical systems too, right? We're just complex arrangements of carbon molecules; We're mostly water. Our behavior isn't going to be an exception to these basic physical laws, so it starts to look like whether it's God setting things up in advance and knowing everything you're gonna do, or whether it's these basic physical laws governing everything, there's not a lot of room left for freedom. So, now you might be tempted to just ignore the question, ignore the mystery of free will and say, "Oh, well it's just a historical anecdote; It's sophomoric; It's a question with no answer," you know, just forget about it. But, the question keeps staring you right in the face. If you think about individuality, for example: who you are. Who you are is mostly a matter of the free choices that you make or take responsibility [for]. You can only be held responsible, you can only be found guilty, you can only be admired or respected, for things you did of your own free will. So the question keeps coming back and we don't really have a solution to it. It starts to look like all your decisions are really just a charade. Think about how it happens; There's some electrical activity in your brain, your neurons fire, they send a signal down into your nervous system, it passes along down into your muscle fibers, they twitch, and you might, say, reach out your arm. It looks like it's a free action on your part, but every one of those, every part of that process, is actually governed by physical law: chemical laws, electrical laws, and so on. So, now it starts to looks like the Big Bang set up the initial conditions, and the whole rest of our history, the whole rest of human history and even before, is really just sort of the playing out of sub-atomic particles according to these basic fundamental physical laws. We think we're special; We think we have some kind of special dignity. But, that now comes under threat, I mean, that's really challenged by this picture.
So, you might be saying, "Well wait a minute, what about quantum mechanics? I know enough contemporary physical theory to know it's not really like that. It's really a probabilistic theory; There's room; It's loose; It's not deterministic, and that's going to enable us to understand free will." But, if you look at the details, it's not really going to help because, what happens is, you have some very small quantum particles, and their behavior is, apparently, a bit random; They sort of swerve. Their behavior is absurd, in the sense that it's unpredictable and we can't understand it based on anything that came before. It just does something out of the blue according to a probabilistic framework. But, is that going to help with freedom? I mean, should our freedom just be a matter of probabilities, just some random swerving in a chaotic system? That starts to seem like it's worse. I'd rather be a gear in a big deterministic physical machine than just some random swerving.
So, we can't just ignore the problem. We have to find room in our contemporary world-view for persons, with all that that entails. Not just bodies, but persons. And, that means trying to solve the problem of freedom, finding room for choice and responsibility, and trying to understand individuality.
quote from richard linklater's 'waking life'..word!
"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the feilds that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."
-J.R.R TOLKIEN 'The Return Of The King'
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