Quite recently, I had an argument with someone about the term of ‘free choice’. The person with whom I argued, let’s call him Gil, would probably say that we argued about the idea of free choice, but I actually believe that the argument concerned the term itself. Perhaps there isn’t an actual difference between the two, but nevertheless each one of us did indeed aim the argument for a different direction.
Gil claimed that free choice may exist (and perhaps he would have also claimed that it does exist, but we’ve never actually got there, as you will see). If I understood him correctly, he defined free choice as follows:
Free choice is what would make two yet-identical people, who were born identical and lived identical lives, in two yet-identical universes, make two different choices – and is NOT something random.
I, on the other hand, don’t like the term of ‘free choice’ at all and think it’s actually quite empty and meaningless. I don’t feel the need to believe in any kind of free choice and already got used to the fact (or opinion) that such a thing doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps, under some definitions, as Gil’s, such a thing may exist, but in this case I believe it would most probably not actually be a ‘free’ choice, but rather a random choice or a choice made by something/someone else of which we have no true control.
First, I’ll explain why (I believe) free choice as he defined it doesn’t actually exist, or yet again, why if it does exist it’s not actually a free choice we make but a choice someone/something else make for us (mind you that he said free choice was NOT something random – which is quite obvious, but essential). Then, I shall explain why the fact that two identical universes can only be changed by randomness/something external of us means that free choice as we (or at least I) see it cannot actually exist.
Do excuse me if I leave out the ‘I believe’ part from now on, I find it more interrupting than helping at this point.
I approach the matter this way: even if I do have ‘free choice’, what would make me choose two different choices in two different universes while I’m the same person, other than randomness? Why would I choose one thing in one universe and another in a different universe, if I’m the same person? What would change my decision? It’s obviously not a part of who I am, because if it were – I would have chosen the same choice in two universes in which who I am is identical. And if who I am is not identical – then what made it different in the two universes? The assumption is that I was born identical and lived identical lives. The proposition that I may choose a different choice in each universe means that either A) I was somehow changed before I chose the different choice, or B) I chose a different choice while I was the same person. This way or another, at some point the two universes were divided – and considering the fact that up until the division I was the same person, what caused the division is not part of who I am, whether it’s ‘free choice’, randomness, or something else, beyond my understanding. The inescapable conclusion is that if I have a ‘free choice’ as Gil described it, my personality and who I am don’t actually affect it – which means, at least to my opinion, that it is not really a ‘choice’, and certainly not a ‘free’ one, is it?
To summarise – and I warn you, the summary is going to be longer – the followings affect how we grow up to become (and yet not necessarily the only things that affects it, to some’s opinion):
- How we are born.
- The way our surroundings affects us through our lives.
- The Randomness that affects the universe, if such a thing exist. I prefer not to get into this argument and just observe both the possibility that such a thing exists and that such a thing doesn’t.
I claim that if these three things are identical in two universes (whether such a condition may actually exist or not), we’d make the exact same choices.
People who believe in free choice (or at least some of them) claim one of the followings:
- Even if these three things are identical in two universes, we may chose a different choice in each one, because we may be different in each one. Or:
- Even if these three things are identical in two universes, we may chose a different choice in each one, because we have a ‘free choice’.
I’ll answer each possibility respectively – each one of you may believe in each of these options; you have a free choice, after all. Just kidding, if you believe in one of them or the other it is because the course of the universe, of which you had no control, led you to it, of course.
- Again, the assumption is that we were born identical. Which means that, if this option is correct, we’ve changed at some point of our lives. What changed us? Don’t say ‘free choice’ – because this option claims that what gives us a free choice in two different universes is the fact that we are different in each one, which means that if we are identical in both of them we would still choose the same choice in each universe. Ergo, if we were born identical – we shall remain identical.
- This option claims that two identical people – who were born identical and lived identical lives in identical universes – will choose differently, while they are still identical. If they are not identical while choosing different choices, then answer number 1 is the relevant one.
As aforesaid, if two identical people in two identical conditions choose different choices, then the thing that made them choose the choice they have chosen is not part of who they are, because if it were, they would have chosen alike, of course. It is either something external or random. Personally, the idea that I may have chosen different choices in different universes while I was the same person with the same logic makes me feel much less ‘free’.
What I showed here, or at least tried to, is that free choice as Gil defined it is not actually a free choice. That was part one; it means that the only things that make us choose what we choose and make us who we are, are (1) How we are born, (2) How our surroundings affected us, and (3) The randomness of the universe if it exists. Now, I’ll try to show why this fact means that free choice, as I see it, doesn’t actually exist in any kind of way.
I know that I said before that something else may change our decision, which is not ‘free choice’, but either something random or external; but as you can see, these things fall under the category (3) and (2) respectively.
Before I move on to the second part, and show why the idea of free choice cannot exist (to my opinion) in any kind of way, I’ll try to summarise what I said again and explain why I believe only these three things affect us:
Let’s say we have two universes: Universe 1 and Universe 2, in which the persons X1 and X2 live respectively.
We know these three things:
- X1 and X2 were born absolutely identical.
- X1 and X2 lived the exact same lives, and were therefore affected by their surroundings in the exacts same way.
- The randomness of Universe 1 and of Universe 2 is identical.
Perhaps this hypothesis cannot de facto exist, but it is not relevant to my point. So, my dear physicists, you’d have to use you imagination a little bit.
I believe that X1 and X2 will always make the same choices, because I believe that the only things that affect the creation of out personalities are the way we are born, the way are surroundings affect us, and the randomness of the universe (if, for the billionth time, such a thing exist).
The reason I believe X1 and X2 will always make the same choices is that I also believe they are going to remain identical – because as long as they are identical they themselves cannot change themselves – for obvious reasons – so the only things that can change them are external, either random or not. And we already established the fact that their surroundings affect them alike.
And, if X1 and X2 are identical, they must make the same choices – because, unless I’m insane – and you’d have to excuse me if I am – the only things that may affect their choices are:
- Who they are, themselves.
- NOT who they are, something external.
Funnily enough, those are the very things we assume are identical for X1 and X2!
The conclusion? The only things that affect who we are are these three: the initial state (how we are born); the external things that affect us (the way out surroundings affect us); and, perhaps, some randomness of the universe.
I’m really, truly, honestly sorry I had to repeat myself so many times in order to establish that.
Now, for the second part, which is quite obvious and yet necessary, and much (much) shorter:
Well, why don’t I believe we have a ‘free choice’? Hmpf.
Actually, I think it’s quite obvious by now, but if I got this far I’m not going to leave it to you.
You see, I showed you why
I believethere is no doubt that the only things that affect who we are and the choices we make are these three (I’m not going to count them again). Obviously, our personalities affect themselves, but because the only external things that affect it are these three, these things also determine the way our personalities affect themselves. Get it? No? Too bad.
Thanks for reading, or at least pretending to.
If you disagree with my conclusions or think I didn’t define the term of free choice well – please, say it. I’d love to know someone’s been reading this post, even if he disagrees.