Updated: Sep 5, 2021
August 30, 2019
I've written to you a few times on the subject of free will - or rather, my perceived lack thereof. I've a thought-experiment to share with you now which might illustrate my point. I call it A Ripple Upon the Sea.
A single ripple Upon the face of the deep Owes its every form and character To the universe at large
Picture an enormous expanse of ocean. A vast sea stretching from horizon to horizon in every direction - with many horizons more of empty waters beyond in every direction still - the true middle of the sea. Sun and wind and rain and night, and the coldness of the depths play upon the waters of the deep, churning these and forming currents and eddies and rolling mid-ocean swells. Upon this vast surface of rising and falling motion, and churning colliding energies, there appears a small dollop of a ripple; a tiny fragment of a wave; a mere dimple in the waters - which rises for a moment into a small peak before fading just as fast back into the depths where evidence of such brief appearance is wiped forever from the remembrance of the sea. Such energy waves of every size are appearing even now everywhere upon all the seas the world over, and across every sea that might exist on every planet in our galaxy, and again within every galaxy in the cosmos. Such purely anonymous phenomena takes place constantly, without notice or care, or much seeming consequence. Now, imagine the circumstance which led up to the moment of our little ripple's rise from the waves? What caused it? Was it a raging storm far off in some distant corner of the ocean? Or a warm breeze blowing over the face of a tropical sea? Perhaps an agile seabird splash-landing to rest a few minutes upon the water caused the ripple to form, or a predatory shark moving silently below the surface? Was there maybe a small earthquake thousands of feet below which sent up a shock-wave to dimple the waters below the azure sky? Or maybe a child splashing and playing happily in the shallows of a peaceful beach a thousand-miles hence? In fact, it was all of these things...along with everything else... It was all events within the sea, on the earth, in our solar system, and our galaxy and even throughout the universe and back to the start of time which caused the little water ripple to rise. The ripple could have no say in the matter of its event or timing, and not just because it has no brain, but because the universe would have it no other way than it did. The ripple was a mere consequence of the reality of all that was and is. And a will-less consequence at that.
Likewise, you and me...
We - like the ripple upon the sea - have no real say in our circumstance or lives, despite the fact that we do have brains, and we do have what seems to be a will to choose, and we do experience the seeming fact of exercising such choice. But this will is an illusion, as we'd have made - and will always make - exactly the choices we do within the context of the universe which is. Though I cannot prove this supposition correct (and this fact does give me concern) I'm nevertheless convinced that an exact replay of our universe would always deliver us to exactly the same choices and decisions every time. We could never bend the script. We can never experience, say, decide or act otherwise that we did and do now. Our paths are, in a sense, freely-locked; free, insofar as the universe at large directs our circumstance - like the vast and innumerable surrounding forces which cause the water ripple to rise just when it does - yet locked, in that the ripple could do nothing other than rise exactly when and how it did...just as we must live exactly when and how we do.
We are then; each a momentary rising dimple upon the face of the universal deep, the result of a vast and almost mindless conspiracy of matter and energy and time and chance. We rise in the moment the universe will-lessly demands, and then fall just the same. And we have no choice in the matter despite our apparent capacity to choose, for every choice is always exactly the choice we must make under each particular circumstance. Our dimple upon the universal deep always rising and falling in consequence only to the universe's apparent mindless will.
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.