On freedom and choice

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Essay on Freedom of Choice and Determinism Based on Slaughterhouse Five
The issue of whether free will exists has been widely debated throughout history. The main philosophies on this are determinism (which imposes that free will is false and predeterminism is correct), compatibilism (determinism and free will aren't mutually exclusive; they're both correct) and libertarianism (determinism is false, free will is true). However, determinism is non-debatable at this point. With the advances we've made and are making in fields such as psychology (particularly behaviourism), psychoanalysis, sociology, philosophy, theology, anthropology, physics and biology, we find more and more proof for it every day. In this essay, the ideas brought forward in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five will be scrutinized. The nature of time in relation to the possibility of determinism will be explored. Also to be presented is the argument of causality supported by Pierre-Simon Laplace's Philosophical Essay on Probabilities. The final aspect of the puzzle of free will to be studied is what makes a person into who/what they are.

Imagine if we were to rewind the universe back to it's singularity and let it play out. If we were to look at the “right here, right now” of that universe, it would seem exactly the same to us. In fact, the only factor that would allow for any variation is true randomness (quantum randomness), and that variation would be on a strictly microscopic level.1 These random motions of molecules cannot set off a chain of events to influence macroscopic change. In fact, these random movements have a habit of counteracting the effects of one another.2 Everything macro, however, is governed by much more strict, observable and understandable laws. If we restarted today, it would happen exactly as it is happening, the only way it can happen. In 1814, the french astronomer and mathematician Marquis Pierre-Simon Laplace published an essay in which he wrote “we may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future.”(Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, page 2).4 Laplace later went on to write that if there existed a creature that knew “all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed” and was capable of analysing this information, “...nothing would be uncertain [for it], and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes.”(Philosophical essay on probabilities, page 2).4 In fact, one could argue that the very existence of the word “why” (“for what cause, reason, or purpose; wherefore... 2. For which; on account of which...”3) further bolsters Laplace's causal/scientific determinism. It implies that the present is the result of the past, like dominoes knocking down one another or like a ball rolling down a hill. If we asked the ball why it is rolling down the hill, it would recount earlier events. Therefore, all our actions (and everything that will ever happen, has happened and is happening) are determined by the past. All we are capable of is responding in a predetermined way to already existing things and events. Although the Tralfamadorians believe that the whys and wherefores do not matter, they matter to those of us who ask if free will is possible and whether determinism is correct (if the Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse Five are to be believed, it is a question unique to our species).

The nature of time could also offer insight into whether free choice exists. In the 1600s, Isaac Newton pictured all time as moving at a fixed pace, identical for everything and everyone everywhere.5 Come the early 1900s, Einstein gave us an new theory: that time is relative; factors such as speed and mass can alter the rate at which time passes for separate objects.6 He “unified space and time into a single 4-D entity.”7 Now, we are being challenged to view time as happening simultaneously, always (as Vonnegut's Tralfamadorians do). In fact,...