Episode 61

#61 - Debating Free Will: Frankenstein's Monster and a Filmstrip of the Universe (with Lucas Smalldon)


January 17th, 2024

1 hr 42 mins 49 secs

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About this Episode

While you're reading this you're having a thought. Something like "wow, I love the Increments podcast", or "those hosts are some handsome" or "I really wish people would stop talking about free will." Do you have a choice in the matter? Are you free to choose what you're thinking in any given moment, or is it determined by your genetics, environment, and existing ideas? Is the universe determined, are we all Frankenstein's monster? How does one profitably think about that question? Today we have Lucas Smalldon on to help us think through these questions.

We reference Lucas's blog post titled reconciling-determinism-and-free-will. Because it's is barely more than a tweet, we've included the entire post here as well:

Reconciling Free Will with Determinism

Free will and determinism seem to conflict with each other. But the apparent conflict disappears when we understand that determinism and free will simply describe the world from radically different perspectives and at fundamentally different levels. Free will makes sense only within the context of the physical world, whereas determinism makes sense only from a perspective that is outside the physical world. Consider the determinist statement, “The future exists and has always existed”. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but only because our language forces us to express the idea misleadingly in terms of the past and future. If we assign special meanings to the temporal words in the statement—namely, if by the future we mean “objectively real events that from the perspective of our present have not yet happened”; and if by always we mean “transcending time itself” rather than the usual “existing across all time”—then the contradiction resolves. Assigning these special meanings allows us to express determinism as atemporal and objective: as a description of a physical reality of which time is an attribute. Conversely, free will, which is by far the more intuitive concept, is needed to explain certain kinds of events (i.e., choices) that occur within time, and thus within the physical world that determinism describes from the outside. Determinism and free will are compatible. We really do make choices. It’s just that, from an atemporal determinist perspective, these choices have “always” existed.

Follow Lucas on twitter or check out his blog.

We discuss

  • Levels of explanation regarding free will
  • The (in)compatibility of different levels of explanation
  • Why the lack of free will does not hinge on reductionism
  • Memetic arguments for the non-existence of free will
  • Whether we can have moral responsibility without free will
  • The universe as a filmstrip
  • Whether we're all just Frankenstein's monster


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