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Monday, August 4, 2008

Another One For A&E (Or Why We Have No Free Will)

I just found out today that my old friend, the one who discovered this, is living on the street addicted to pain meds and cough syrup.

His life up to this point would be perfect for A&E's "Intervention", only back when I was a part of it, I had no frame of reference or experience to draw upon to see where he might be headed.

I feel so lucky to have extricated myself from the bubble I grew up in as a kid. Looking back at it, I am thankful for my upbringing as it has helped make me what I am today, but I also realize how isolating it was. Everybody gets in their comfort zone, their little rut, but kids grow up in one and during their teen years when they rebel, they don't know what they're rebelling against. I ended up breaking out of my rut without even realizing I was in one.

I don't blame anybody or anything, as I love my life and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's mine. It's perfect. But my question is: do I control it and me?

I've been thinking about the existence of free will recently. I don't think we have it.

(Did he just really say that?) Yep, I did. Hear me out.

In the absence of external input (you type a key or move the mouse), computers know what they are going to do based upon their programming (Microsoft Excel stored on your hard drive), but computers can't always know what they're going to do moment to moment because they don't have control over their external input or their programming. We do. We created them and we programmed them and we give them the input to work on, directly or indirectly. They don't have free will because they don't know what their programming is or how to change it beyond the capabilities we have already given them and thus can't choose to react differently to external inputs.

Yes, I know computers aren't sentient, but a human being's self-awareness doesn't mean Life-awareness. We don't know what Life will throw at us next. Life which created us and which does control our external inputs (windy weather or the death of family members) would reasonably also have programmed us (our instincts and our reason). We are in a vast computer program, as in Douglas Adam's "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". We also don't know what our programming is for all the science and philosophy we have.

So I think that our programming gives us the sense of free will, when in fact everything we do could be predicted based upon our initial programming and moment-to-moment external inputs, if we knew what those are and will be. I think we catch glimpses when we recognize patterns, when we naturally seek similarities, and when certain truths seem to be universal. I don't think we could ever totally know because of the fact that we are the computer we're analyzing and it's beyond the capabilities we have been given.

If we could figure that out, then likewise, computers we've invented could eventually become self-aware as well. Hmm.

I suppose it's all words anyway, having little or no real useful impact on us. We live our lives. But it's interesting to ponder why one person ends up able to share his passion with the world and another ends up throwing it away. And I did like sharing words with Michael.


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