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The Great Debate

Long hikes and drives give one the opportunity to become lost in his or her own thoughts. Over the past two weeks I’ve thought intensely about what I now know has been a topic of discussion for centuries, possibly even millennia.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, if a particular individual is born at a specific time, on a specific date, during a specific time period, to specific parents and is introduced to specific stimuli, would any of their choices really be their own? Essentially, is free will a real thing? Or are we just a chain reaction like a set of dominos making decisions because of past experiences and encounters?

Only after coincidentally stumbling upon the subject on an android application (Quantum) aimed at teaching the basic principles of quantum physics (the science of studying micro particles such as atoms, protons, quarks, etc.) did I learn that science and philosophy are trying to find an answer to this question.

For those Madmen fans out there, I can’t help but to recall a scene from Season 1 Episode 4 “New Amsterdam” in which Pete Campbell, an ambitious account executive at a marketing firm, tries to convince Don Draper, a lights out Creative Director, about his own value to the company they both work for through an idea he had...(you can stop at :52)

“Direct marketing, I thought of that. Turned out it already existed, but I arrived at it independently.”

I had a similar experience recently as I researched the aforementioned discussion on my “domino theory” and learned that my theory already had a name - a Clockwork Universe, in which the universe is a clock set in motion and governed by the laws of Newtonian physics. Because we understand these laws and are able to accurately predict how the celestial heavens move, we should be able to predict life here on Earth as reliably given the correct set of formulas.

Luckily for those in favor of free will, it is not Newtonian physics but quantum physics that governs the particles comprising our brain's neurons and synapses, and quantum physics does not follow the same rules. Quantum physics is subject to the uncertainty principle, which holds that micro particles cannot be accurately predicted. There is therefore a degree of uncertainty with regard to Newtonian physics that may come into play in our own lives.

If the uncertainty principle applies to our brains, one can argue that all of our possible decisions have a probability of occurring and are therefore completely unpredictable. So the question then becomes, are these decisions yours? Is randomness the equivalent of free will? Or are we still subject of the uncertainty of quantum physics?

We may never know the answer to these questions in this lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we should enjoy the ride any less ; )

“There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be...” ― John Lennon

*Special shout out to Abraham Calvin and his gift of The Alchemist which partly inspired this post*

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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