After reading my post on decidedly undivine First Causes, one commenter had a question about my position on free will. I had referenced a quote from Arcadia,
If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future; and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist just as if one could.
Butterfly5906 asked the reasonable next question:
Do you believe we have free will? If so, how do you reconcile that with the Tom Stoppard quote? Theoretically, we could predict the movement of all of the atoms in our brains, and the behavior of our neurons and thus all of our choices, but that seems to negate free will. (I ask because I’m trying to find the answer for myself, and the best I can come up with is “I don’t understand quantum mechanics- so maybe it’s something to do with that” which is an absolutely awful explanation.)
I don’t find free will that hard to reconcile with the equation for everything, because foreknowledge isn’t a big constraint if it happens outside of time. Let me put it this way, if someone in the future has knowledge of all my actions and thoughts, because they’re looking back at past events, I don’t find this threatening. And most people don’t.
But if that doesn’t do it for you, I’ve got another out for you. It’s not scary to imagine that someone with a lot of data can predict your choices. That’s a necessary consequence of continuity of your identity. It wouldn’t take very much data to predict that I would have a cheese sandwich for lunch any day in elementary school, because I always chose to bring a cheese sandwich. Developing an identity means limiting the scope of things you’re likely to choose. My friends can predict my behavior, sometimes better than I can. I don’t think my choices are rendered meaningless by that fact.