Free Choices are Predestined

Free Choices are PredestinedThe goal of a martial artist is to respond to the situation presented by the opponent. It is not about thinking. It is about a trained, honed response.

To accomplish this, the artist learns hundreds, if not thousands of techniques. The techniques are grouped into categories, how to respond to a punch, how to respond to a kick, a clinch or a throw, and so on. As time and training pass, the artist will find they favor certain responses. When faced with a situation, the artist will know several techniques that would be appropriate. However, their body will respond with the technique that is most effective for them. Does the artist have free will?

Free will versus determinism or predestination, is a real conundrum. Think of that martial artist. Their body combined with their training determined what their response would be to a given attack. The artist cannot afford to make a choice, they must simply respond. If you studied the artist beforehand, it would be possible to predict their response. All pro fighters, football players and teams, businesses, politicians, and armies do this sort of thing. They study their opponent to determine their goto responses. This entire concept is based on an idea of determinism. They understand that actions can be predicted.

It can be argued that we would not know that the individual would study a specific art, which in turn led them to the specific response. However, if the artist could be observed in a lifelong view it would be possible to determine that they would take up a specific martial art. Who their parents are, the things they experienced as a child, the movies and tv shows they liked, what their friends did, where they lived and what was available to them would allow a prediction that they would take up a martial art, and which one. Did you ever tell your mother than you were going to do something that you felt was out of character, only to find her response to be, “I figured you would do something like that?”

With enough information every action can be predicted. Knowing what foods you like, your eating habits, your body chemistry, and sufficient details about availability, it is possible to predict exactly when you will be thirsty, and which drink you will choose. The action feels free to you, and yet it can be predicted. It is predestined.

We all feel like we have the free will to choose. In a sense, we do. From within the being itself, actions we take feel as if they are choices that we are free to make. We cannot have an omniscient view of ourselves. We know our favorite drinks, we know if we like martial arts or not, and if so, which ones we prefer and which are available to us. But we see most of these things as random chance. We do not connect them to a distant past. It is only pure luck that a Kung Fu school is right down the block. Or is it? Did your predilections lead you to that neighborhood, or is Kung Fu more tantalizing than Jiu Jitsu because it is in your neighborhood? Even if both are in your neighborhood, your childhood may lead you to favor Kung Fu over Jiu Jitsu. It does not matter. To you it seems like a happy circumstance. You enter the school as a matter of free choice, though your mother may have predicted you would do just that.

Chemists can predict the result of mixing various chemicals. So accurate are these determinations they appear to be math. In fact, they are math. They are every bit as absolute and predictive as adding 2 plus 2 (base 10). With more information, chemical reactions can be more easily predicted. The long term effects of chemical mixtures will be known, knowing exactly when they will degrade form one state to another, to another, and so on.

All life as we know it is a chemical reaction. Human behavior is predictable. Given enough information, enough calculating power, and a long enough view, all existence is predictable right down the specific location of each subatomic particle. Can there be free will?

We cannot see the forest for the trees. We cannot see that long, omniscient, detailed view. As individuals we cannot process all of that information. Our brains filter out some input. Our eyes focus, reducing the information received in the peripheral. Our hearing is bent toward what our eyes are focused on, even though hearing is a spherical sense. Our hearing can be fooled by our eyes, our brain wanting to create a coherent understanding. Have a friend stand across the room and snap their fingers. To you the sight and sound happen at the same time, but we know sound travels slower than light. There must be some nanosecond delay between the visual image and the sound. Within a certain delay gap our brains stitch the two together to make sense out of them. Moving pictures are only still images. Our brain ignores the frames.

Information is distorted and discarded in order to make it palatable and portable to the human brain. We would suffer an information overload if we tried to process every single sensory input in their entirety every moment of our life. Add to that the complexity of evaluating every interaction of our entire lives at every moment within our lives, and the forest becomes too great. We have to focus on the trees, the little things in front of us.

While our actions can be predicted, and thus we live in a world of determinism, we live lives of restricted information that present the feeling of choice. In a global, holistic sense, everything can be predicted. In an individual sense that information is beyond our comprehension, so the individual feels a sense of free will. Free choices are predestined.

Sifu Keith Mosher

About Sifu Keith Mosher

My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge". I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager, and I am currently an Author and a Martial Arts Instructor.
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