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December 18 2012

"Free Will in a Deterministic Whedonverse" - an essay. This originally appeared in "The Psychology of Joss Whedon: An Unauthorized Exploration of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly" anthology.

For serious, Whedon has inspired more internal philosophical conversations for me than anything else, and the subject of "Free Will in a Deterministic Whedonverse" has been a major catalyst.
I've become increasingly interested in determinism in the past 6 months, and this was a wonderful read. A couple things I have to say based on my understanding of the subject:

The common argument that quantum mechanics proves free will (mentioned in the first section, but not elaborated on) is not one I agree with. If free will is being able to make your own choices, then how is this- the seemingly random effects of quantum events-making your decisions for you any more free than all of your events being predestined by cause and effect. The article claims that "if our futures cannot be calculated in advance, then we are 'free' in the very important sense of being able to behave in an unexpected manner." Personally, this doesn't fit my definition of free. Of course, I do believe that free will can exist alongside determinism, but more on that later.

I understand how the descriptions of manipulating prophecies/the choices of others fit into the argument, but I never include this type of thinking while talking about free will. Free will is the ability to make a choice, no? I've never seen manipulation of choice as a real encroachment on free will itself, but I guess that's just my definition of free will.

The article states that "The essence of determination is predictability." This is an interesting statement. In general, determinism means only that things will play out in a certain way, not that one can accurately predict them (except Laplace's Demon). I'm pretty sure that the article wasn't trying to claim this, but I thought I would bring it up anyway and make the distinction. Some specific views on determinism deal with whether it can be predicted, but the field in general does not. If I have any problem with this article at all, it os that they don't differentiate determination from predictability.

The "anyone with access to enough information" that is referred to is a whole other thing. The article seems to view the Powers that Be as this, which is something I've never thought about.

The last two paragraphs of the "The Compatibility of Free Will and Determinism" section are my favorite part of the essay. I really like the way they stated their argument. I've always explained this to myself in a similar way. I believe that while the world may not be necessarily deterministic, many events can generally be traced to a cause, including choices. I still believe that people have choices, and therefore free will, but the choices they make are the choices that they were probably always going to make. Just because you are going to definitely do one thing doesn't mean that the choice to do it isn't yours. You aren't forced into an option, but the option you take is the one you were always going to. I agree that the question of free will is irrelevant to determinism. But that's just me.

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