Free will and fate are both illusions
2013-03-28 0:00

By Tim Lott | AEON



Free will and fate are both illusions. The trick is learning to sail with the prevailing winds of life.

There is a line in J G Ballard’s book The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) that strikes at the heart of the issue of free will versus fate. Ballard writes: ‘Deep assignments run through all our lives; there are no coincidences.’ It is an arresting line — and no doubt many of us at one time or another have felt just this way about our lives, that they have a fated quality to them ­—­ but just what these ‘deep assignments’ consist of is unclear. The issue of free will versus fate might, for many people, feel a little rarefied, and irrelevant. Yet it seems to me it is absolutely crucial to how we approach the countless dilemmas that confront every one of us each day.

Perhaps it’s peculiar, but this question has vexed me for as long as I can remember. At one point in my life, this challenge pretty much sent me crazy. In the late 1980s, when I was studying history at university, I found myself grappling furiously with the question of why things happened — this question being, really, at the heart of all historical analysis.

Why did the Russian Revolution happen in 1917 rather than the ‘first time round’ in 1905? What caused the Second World War? Was it ‘larger historical forces’? Or just individuals making individual decisions? And, at the same time, in my own life — after I had split up with my then long-term girlfriend — I was left asking, what had I done to make that happen? What did I have to do to get her back? Was it in my control?

After three years, I was no wiser than when I started. Did we choose freely? Or were we just victims of larger historical, social and biological forces? It was impossible to tell. What I did realise was that philosophers had been struggling with such questions for thousands of years, but were no closer to understanding the answer than they were when they started out. Today, the consensus among most modern physicists, chemists and biologists is that free will is impossible — it is simply an illusion generated by a consciousness that is itself illusory. This explanation didn’t satisfy me. After all, if consciousness is an illusion, who is generating the illusion, and who is perceiving it as an illusion? For me, mechanistic determinism­ — that there is a sort of fated cause and effect at play in the universe, with no room for choice — raised more problems than it solved.

Consider your breathing: are ‘you’ breathing, or is breathing happening to you?


It also just felt wrong. I felt so sure that I could decide whether or not to drink the glass of water in front of me that I would find it impossible to be convinced otherwise. That direct experience of reality is valid, particularly since it also takes into account the fact that I might drink the water without consciously choosing to, without thinking about it first.

At the same time, it seemed impossible to believe wholeheartedly in free will. At one level, I intuited that there were paths that you just ‘had’ to take, even if you didn’t want to. When I decided to leave my publishing company to go to university later on in life, it felt like something I had to do. When I ended my marriage, I felt I had no choice — but of course, in theory at least, I did.

[...]

Read the full article at: aeonmagazine.com



Related Articles
The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate
Determinism Versus Free Will : Battle to the Death
Do You Choose to Believe in Free Will?
Think You’re Operating on Free Will? Think Again


Latest News from our Front Page

Not Again: More US AID, Missiles Shipped to al Qaeda, al Nusra and ISIS in Syria, Iraq
2015-03-06 4:28
Two weeks ago, 21WIRE reported on how ISIS and other terrorists militants operating in Syria and Iraq are receiving regular weapons and ‘supply drops’ – forming a ‘rat line’ which seems to be playing a crucial role in keeping this highly profitable conflict going on both sides. This week, it’s been reported that Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters have been brandishing US-supplied ...
Swedish parliament removes Baroque artist's bare breasted painting for offending feminists and Muslims
2015-03-06 3:28
A nude painting named Juno, which was painted by baroque artist G E Schröder and has hung in the dining room of the Swedish Parliament for 30 years has been taken down for fear of offending the sensitivities of feminists and Muslim visitors, Swedish newspaper, The Local reported on Thursday. Explaining the ban on the baroque breasts, a source from the ...
White US children will be minorities by 2020 after immigrant 'baby boom', Census reveals
2015-03-05 19:50
This is the result of an ongoing trend of declining birth among white Americans and a baby boom among immigrant groups, as well as a surge in immigration. By the year 2020, 50.2percent of all children in the US are expected to be non-white, according to the Census. By 2044, whites will be outnumbered by minorities. The Census study, released ...
New Jersey Shopkeeper Hangs 'White History Month' Sign In Window
2015-03-05 18:08
A deli owner in Flemington, New Jersey, has angered many of his neighbors by posting a sign on his window that reads, "Celebrate Your White Heritage in March White History Month." Jim Boggess, who is the owner of Jimbo's Deli, says he put up the sign to remind everyone that they should be proud of their race and culture. "No matter what ...
The Viking ”Maine Penny” Mystery
2015-03-05 3:41
In 1957, during his second year of digging at the Goddard site; a large prehistoric Indian trade village in Penobscot Bay on the central Maine coast, local resident and amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren found a small silver coin. The coin is later identified by experts as a Norse silver penny dating to the reign of Olaf Kyrre, king of Norway ...
More News »