A Philosopher's Blog

Free Will & Possible Worlds

Posted in Metaphysics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 3, 2014
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Dr. Who story Inferno, the Doctor’s malfunctioning TARDIS console drops him into a parallel universe inhabited by counterparts of the people of his home reality. Ever philosophical, the Doctor responds to his discovery by the following reasoning: “An infinity of universes. Ergo an infinite number of choices. So free will is not an illusion after all. The pattern can be changed.”

While the Doctor does not go into detail regarding his inference, his reasoning seems to be that since the one parallel universe he ended up in is different from his own in many ways (the United Kingdom is a fascist state in that universe and the Brigadier has an eye patch), it follows that at least some of the differences are due to different choices and this entails that free will is real.

While the idea of being able to empirically confirm free will is appealing, the Doctor’s inference is flawed: the existence of an infinity of universes and differences between at least some (two) of these universes does not show that free will is real. This is because the existence of differences between different universes would be consistent with there being no free will.

One possibility is that determinism is true, but different universes are, well, different. That is, each universe is a deterministic universe with no free will, yet they are not all identical. To use an analogy, two planets could be completely deterministic, yet different. As such, the people of Dr. Who’s universe were determined to be the way they are, while the people of the parallel universe were determined to be the way they are.

It could be objected that all universes are at least initially identical and hence any difference between them must be explained by metaphysical free will. However, even if it is granted for the sake of argument that all universes start out identical to each other, it still does not follow that the explanation for differences between them is due to free will.

The rather obvious alternative explanation is that randomness is the key factor—that is, each universe is random rather than deterministic. In this case, universes could differ from each other without there being any free will at all. To us an analogy, the fact that dice rolls differ from each other does not require free will to explain the difference—random chance would suffice. In this case, the people of the Doctor’s universe just turned out as they did because of chance and the same is true of their counterparts—only the dice rolls were a bit different, so their England was fascist and their Brigadier had an eye patch.

Interestingly enough, if the Doctor had ended up in a universe just like his own (which he might—after all, there would be no way to tell the difference), this would not have disproved free will. While it is unlikely that all the choices made in the two universes would be the same, given an infinity of universes it would not be impossible. As such, differences between universes or a lack thereof would prove nothing about free will.

My position, as usual, is that I should believe in free will. If I am right, then it is certainly the right thing to believe. If I am wrong, then I could not have done otherwise or perhaps it was just the result of randomness. Either way, I would have no choice. That, I think, is about all that can be sensibly said about metaphysical free will.

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17 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    A transporter malfunction sends Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura into a parallel universe where the Federation is replaced by an evil Empire, Kirk is a despot, and Spock is a cunning pirate.

  2. apollonian said, on February 3, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Truth, Reason, Reality, Humanity All Destroyed By “Noble Lie” Of “Good” (Pharisaism), Hubris, And Perfectly “Free” Will

    Note the issue of determinism vs. a perfectly “free” human will is not at all un-important.

    First, we begin w. idea of objectivity (Aristotle) vs. subjectivism (Plato, Kant, et al.). The question now is whether there is such thing as TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH, which truth, we’re taught by Christ exists indubitably, esp. in Gosp. JOHN (14:6, 8:32, and 18:37-8). Thus note Christ affirms dear old Aristotle.

    And note then the proper metaphysical idea involves existence vs. non-existence–there couldn’t be “parallel existences”–it either exists or not (monism). And if existence exists, then it’s either-or, objective or subjective. Only in the objective reality could truth exist.

    So we certainly have will, but it couldn’t be perfectly “free” like God’s, and everything that happens is in accord w. God’s will.

    At this pt. the problem has to do w. dictatorship, psychology and getting people (the suckers, the “masses”) to “go along.” Thus people, in general, are taught nowadays by thought-control and public-edjumacation the “noble lie” of Leo Strauss and that Kant, for example, was such a great philosopher and everyone ought to want to be “good”–hence that there’s a perfectly “free” will–like God’s, which is obviously just a lie.

    And WHY should one want to be “good”?–because, naturally, it’s “good” to do this (circular reasoning) or, as Kant tells us, it’s our “duty,” and we should want to be dutiful, because we should, that’s all–brilliant logic, eh?

    To imagine one has a perfectly “free” will is also HUBRIS (hence madness), by definition, the ultimate sin according to the Greeks.

    Thus note dictatorship always and necessarily teaches and preaches the perfectly “free” will and “good”–this way they get the suckers (to going along, at least tacitly, w. such as “climate-change” and AGENDA-21 genocide), who always pre-dominate (as they’re over-populated in the determinist, CYCLIC course of things) in a corrupt, hubristic culture of “Decline of the West,” by Oswald Spengler.

    There NEVER has been a more crucial time than NOW for dear Christianity and worship of TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH–the REAL thing–esp. in this degenerate age of the phony, hereticalist, anti-Christ “Judeo-Christianity” (JC–see Whtt.org and TruthTellers.org for expo) which so much dominates, advocating the terror-state of Israel.

  3. Ian James said, on February 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    “However, even if it is granted for the sake of argument that all universes start out identical to each other, it still does not follow that the explanation for differences between them is due to free will.”

    If all universes started out identical then by definition there can be no differences between them. From where could those differences possibly come? The identical universes would have to unfold from identical seeds or causes and all forces & entities within those universes would too need to be identical.

    As I understand it, with my present level of consciousness, the ego shall never merit true free will; only the tenacious illusion of it.

    Woman is the resulting physical manifestation of interacting occult forces and can only do precisely that which her Nature compels her to do. As her consciousness rises so the envelope of available options open to her ego expands but this is simply delusion and no genuine choice of action is open to the ego; it will do as Nature commands.

    However, should she raise her consciousness sufficiently so as to be beyond the ego and the influence of the occult forces, there the Spirit’s will reigns.


    [M]an imagines himself to be the doer of the work by his free will, but in reality Nature determines all his works and even the wise are compelled to follow their own Nature.
    ~ Sri Aurobindo; The Life Divine.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 5, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      Ian James,

      Randomness would do the trick nicely. Think of the universes as game pieces in a metaphysical Monopoly game. They start the same, but the dice will take them often to different squares.

      • Ian James said, on February 7, 2014 at 10:03 am

        Please give an example of genuine randomness. The rolling of dice will not do, as the numbers that turn up are the product of the interaction between the dice, the force applied to the dice and whatever the dice may contact when rolled.

        If we are to allow the existence of more than one universe then it would necessitate a ‘something’ for these universes to exist on or in.

        Think of it as two identical mold spores in a Petri dish. This ‘something’ would be analogous to the pink growth medium onto which the spores are smeared. If the spores were truly identical then any seemingly random differences in their growth rates may actually come from minute differences in the chemical composition of the growth medium itself at the spore sites.

        The point being that if the two universes started from identical seeds then any ‘random’ differences can only be due to external stimuli. However, if there is only the one universe containing all there is then there is no place for randomness as the causal chain resides wholly within the universe itself.

        The Monopoly pieces within a single game set are far from identical. Even similar pieces from two different sets would show cavernous differences under a microscope. If he were around we could ask Pythagoras the difference between similar and identical or congruent triangles. It makes all the difference in the Universe(s).

        A dandy little ditty in keeping with the themes of UK Science Fiction & Free Will.

        Do not like so many modern disputants smother thought under polysyllables or charm inquiry to sleep by the spell of formulas and cant words. Search always; find out the reason for things which seem to the hasty glance to be mere chance or illusion.
        ~ Sri Aurobindo; Thoughts & Aphorisms.

        • WTP said, on February 7, 2014 at 10:38 am

          Randomness is a fascinating thing in itself. I take it you’ve done much study on the matter? Last I read much about it many years ago in college, for certain high-end science the boys in the lab were running into problems generating truly random values. They kept running into patterns. Is this still much the case?

          • Ian James said, on February 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

            No academic study as such, merely contemplation.

            As randomness does not exist there cannot be an algorithm for it therefore it cannot be programmed therefore computers cannot reproduce it.

            The best they seem able to do is to simulate it with a pseudo-random number generator whereby an initial seed value is run against an algorithm to produce a seemingly random number but, as you say, the same seed value will produce the same number pattern because the same lines of code are being executed.

            It’s the same with all living things. Ask somebody to pick a random number and they will produce the results of ‘programming’ or occult forces acting upon their Nature at that time. Cause & effect, right back up the causal chain.

            God doesn’t play dice.
            ~ Albert Einstein.

            • WTP said, on February 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm

              No that I buy into “occult” unless you have some less common meaning of the term, but I agree that true randomness necessary for large number crunching and such is AFAIK problematic. Thus I’m interested in an expert’s view of the subject.

              Re Einstein:
              Einstein, stop telling God what to do.
              ~Neils Bohr

            • apollonian said, on February 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

              It’s Either-Or, And “Science” Cannot Prove Non-Science “Randomness”

              WTP: Ian has done brilliant exposition here for us–it, metaphysics, including “randomness,” isn’t and CANNOT be a matter of empirical study, as all empiricism depends upon the ASSUMPTION of an objective reality whence all logic and reasoning starts.

              Hence given the objective (Aristotle) reality, it’s TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE for any possible “experiment” to give evidence or conclusion against objectivity, hence determinism (absolute cause-effect).

              U gotta unnastan’ see, Mike is just grasping for straws to justify his moralism/Pharisaism, perfectly “free” will, and “good-evil” which necessitates subjectivism, rejection of objectivity, hence monism. Problem then w. subjectivism is ANYTHING GOES, reduction-ad-absurdum.

            • T. J. Babson said, on February 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm

              Of course there is randomness, and it is the same randomness that bothered Einstein: the fundamental randomness of quantum mechanics.

              Here is an example: take a collection of atomic nuclei that are unstable and have a probability of undergoing fission. These nuclei are absolutely identical, and it is rigorously impossible to predict which nucleus will undergo fission and when. All we can know are probabilities.

            • Ian James said, on February 8, 2014 at 5:51 pm

              Randomness: The quality of lacking any predictable order or plan.

              The above post was not meant strictly as an argument against the concept of randomness as such, more against effects without causes. Apologies for any confusion.

              WTP: The word ‘occult’ was used in its supranormal sense.

              God loves to play the fool in season; man does it in season and out of season. It is the only difference.
              ~ Sri Aurobindo; Thoughts & Aphorisms.

          • apollonian said, on February 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm

            Objectivity Or Subjectivism: It’s Either-Or, PERIOD

            TJB: u’re not grasping the basic metaphysical issue–either-or btwn objective (Aristotle) and subjective (Plato, Kant, Descarte, et al.–esp. all the “moralists”) natures.

            Objectivity leads necessarily to determinism, absolute cause-effect, see?–no perfectly “free” will, for one thing–and this is either-or, basic assumption, PERIOD. There’s NOTHING prior to this necessary, most basic dichotomy of assumptions.

            Thus, u see, given the objectivistic, determinist premise, there COULDN’T be anything not in accord–this is just basic logic. No possible experiment could render a random conclusion or even observation, PERIOD.

            The only alternative to objectivity is subjectivism, necessary premise for moralism/Pharisaism and perfectly “free” will conceit by which to terrorize and beguile the children, subjectivism being obviously absurd.

            U gotta face-up to the basic (metaphysical) choice of assumptions, objectivity or subjectivism–it’s either-or, PERIOD.

  4. magus71 said, on February 7, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    If this is true, what’s so unscientific about believing in God?

    • apollonian said, on February 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      God: Cannot Be Dis-Proven

      Magus: the vid is just babbling balderdash. But note in strict logic it’s well-known one cannot prove a universal negative–one cannot prove there is no God.

      Thus Christianity uses this simple logic as premise for the objective, Aristotelian reality–the created world.

      As Luther taught: “the fool has said, there is no God.”

      There’s absolutely NOTHING “un-scientific” about existence of God, which however must be understood as assumption–which cannot be dis-proven.

      • magus71 said, on February 7, 2014 at 5:42 pm

        It’s the “Schrodinger’s Cat” paradox. And there are mathematical reasons to believe there’s something to it. I am a layman of course, but I know some technology we now use is based on Schrodinger’s equations.

  5. apollonian said, on February 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Magus: that’s just balderdash–get it straight–it’s either-or, PERIOD–objectivity and determinism, absolute cause-effect, OR subjectivism and anything-goes. Thus Christianity is aesthetic, allegoric literary defending Aristotle and objectivity (“created universe”) vs. the subjectivist “noble lies” of Platonic, Kantian, Straussian perfect “free” will, “good-evil” Pharisaism, thus socialism and dictatorship, as present AGENDA-21, Obongo-Care death-panels, etc.

  6. magus71 said, on February 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    The famous two-slit electron experiment. Utterly bizarre.


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