Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Infinite Capacity to Hand-Wave

Rush - Freewill 

Cleveland Amory once said, “Man has an infinite capacity to rationalize – especially when it comes to what he wants to eat.” (He wasn't a vegetarian, so he knew of what he spoke.)

As I've noted elsewhere, we all have our blindspots. We all have things we want to believe and will accept the most absurd arguments if they tell us what we want to hear.

This came up when Anne and I recently listened to two very educated individuals (one the head of a college) discuss free will. The guest contended that we have free will because 1. Computer programs can be so complicated that you have to run them to find out what they do, and 2. Chaos. Thus, since you can't predict what someone is going to do ... [hand-waving] ... free will. 


Obviously, if you just stop to think about it, the fact that we don't know exactly what will happen when we run a very complicated computer program doesn't mean the program has free will. Because a butterfly's wingflap can change the weather doesn't mean the wing or weather has free will.

I've written ad nauseam about free will. That isn't because I think people are stupid to believe (it sure feels like we are in control) but because I think people will be much happier if we realize that everything is just matter and energy following the laws of physics. Holding on to the illusion of free will doesn't make life better ... and it doesn't help us make the world a better place.

PS: James Gleick's Chaos is a really interesting book. (At least in my memory from 25 years ago.)

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