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STOIC POETRY | The illusion of free will

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

August 15, 2019

Dear Eric,

I think I've made up my mind regarding free will... I don't think we have it. I think free will is an illusion formed of our apparent ability to choose.

Could I ever choose differently than I actually do? Would I ever make the same decision differently if all other factors were identical? I don't think so. This is because our choices are not made in a vacuum of circumstance, but are instead decided within a symphony of events, wants, memories, biases and predispositions, which each collectively always weight the scale in some particular direction. It's the fact of who we already are, and the circumstances of our lives which gives credit to certain decisions ahead of all others - and these are the decisions which we will always make. And if our mind and reason are not sound, then this unsoundness also biases us towards a particular choice which we would not otherwise make. In short, our decisions are made as a consequence of the universe we know and live in and are the natural result our considerations within this setting and circumstance. And if the universe were to unwind and wind back in the exact same way then we'd make the same decisions again. Our free will is simply an illusion borne of our narrow view of decisions as mere reactions to the simple question at hand - when in fact the larger universe has already made up our minds for us by the fact and nature of its very existence and our particular place and time within it.

The only exception I can think to this is the fact of quantum uncertainty, as this variable would seem to ensure the universe could never again unfold in exactly the same way; and a replay of events would always be different in slight and subtle ways which would only compound over time, leading to wildly different replays of the universe. So, my thought experiment is obviously flawed... Though I think the principle at least holds that if the universe could indeed replicate itself such that we are always delivered to the same decision in the same way then the outcome would always be the same.

Free will then would appear - at least on paper - to be an illusion. And I will henceforth operate my life as though this were true. I may even add a new principle to The Good Life to remind myself of this seeming fact.



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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