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STOIC POETRY | Agent in a vacuum

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

September 2, 2019

Dear Eric,

How much vacuum - if any - is necessary to discover free will? How much of the "substrate" of the universe must first be removed before we can truly be free to choose? And does this even make any sense?

Freedom within a vacuum Provides no substrate for action While a substrate for action Interferes with freedom

A problem with the idea of free will is the apparent fact that an agent (someone who acts upon the universe) attempting to execute their freedom will always be subject to the influences of the greater universe around them. The agent can never escape such "outside" influence - which always mindlessly guides and directs their every choice. It's almost like the universe is participating in the agent's choice by virtue of the universe's very existence. To overcome this, I imagine an agent in a vacuum...

Agent in a vacuum

Picture yourself (a quite worthy agent) floating freely in deep space - setting aside for a moment the fact that you'd immediately die there for a whole host of reasons. You're way out there between galaxy clusters, so far from any stars that there is no visible light whatsoever. Cold and silence surround you. No sense of up or down. You are utterly alone. In such a circumstance...are you now free to choose? While alone, way out in space, can you then truly exercise free will, given that there is no "substrate" of the universe to influence your decisions? I think not. The problem is you. YOU still exist. Not just the stuff of you, but the trajectory of the universe implicit within you, the orientation and bias of your person before we made the universe essentially disappear behind the veil of deep void, the inertia of your very being brought on by virtue of your childhood, life and living. You simply can't escape the influence of the universe unless you were raised in absence of the universe. And that's silly...

No agent in a vacuum

Next, let's remove the agent from the picture (as ridiculous as this also sounds). Let's take you out of our deep space scenario and leave ourselves with just the deep space. Well, now we have neither substrate (forgetting for a moment that empty space isn't really empty) nor agent. The previous problem being that the agent attempting to exercise free will was itself made up of universe substrate which exercises bias in the influence of the agent's decisions. And the only way to escape this dilemma is to remove the agent. Well, now what? Where can we find free will if we have no universe substrate and no agent to attempt to execute free will?

A soul in a vacuum

With no universal substrate to worry about, and no agent to get in the way, exactly what are we left with which can then exercise free will? The only "thing" I can imagine is the something people sometimes call a soul a spirit. If agents - like humans - indeed have a soul, then perhaps this soul is alone capable of exercising free will? But must a soul first disconnect from its body - and the universe at large - before it is free to choose, as demonstrated in the previous examples? That, I'm afraid, is more question than I can attempt to answer. This is mainly because I have no reason to think that anything like a soul really exists. And if a soul or spirit does exist, then I know nothing about the characteristics of such a thing. I simply cannot speak to this question.

So, for now - and in absence of any evidence of a soul - I'm going to reinforce my conclusion that free will is indeed not a thing. As such a thing would require both an absence of any universe as well as an absence of any agent before the nothing that is left can truly be free. And what the hell does that mean? And if someone wants to suggest that free will is indeed exercised by a soul or spirit, then I'm more than willing to review their evidence that a soul or spirit actually exists.

My faithful conviction then - that free will is an illusion - is growing stronger day by day.



My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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