Determinism or free will is a stark choice

Wednesday 12th July 2017

Are you being serious?

Until very recently my view was that only crazy people could believe in determinism. The concept that we are just puppets having our strings pulled by a remote God is not only scary but also absurd, is it not?

I would not have given the subject a second thought were it not for one rather startling revelation. Einstein held strong religious beliefs and was convinced that we have no free will.

“I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will……… I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists.”

I am a huge admirer of Einstein’s work. He was arguably the greatest scientist in living memory. Were he alive today he might also be recognised as one of the greatest philosophers and self development coaches too. So when Einstein clearly believed in determinism I was compelled to investigate further.

The determinism clock is ticking

There was another reason for this compulsion. Fellow author Hugh Shields and myself are putting together a speaking tour titled Get Lucky with Einstein. The presentation is based on our inter-linked books, Get Lucky Now! and Hawking and Einstein Go To Dinner.

Albert Einstein’s two short sentences about determinism taken from Hugh’s book resulted in hours of research, pages of notes, and the mother of all migraines. I will not bore you with the details, but suffice it to say this journey visited Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics, genetics, predestination, chaos theory, and the theory of everything, which is sometimes called string theory.

This journey also introduced me to the works of Baruch Spinoza in particular, and also to other philosophers who were active in this field including Marcus Aurelius, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. As if this were not enough the tricky concept of Karma also raised its head.

The only area where I felt remotely comfortable was in the field of genetics. It gave me the advantage of information that was unavailable to past philosophers. As human beings are we the product of our parents or a product of our upbringing and environment?

Don’t blame me, it’s my genes!

An ever growing body of evidence suggests that our genes are the most important determinant in answering this question. Genes have a binary function, because they are either switched on or off. There are no shades of grey.

In Newton’s words “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Cause-and-effect, so perhaps we just might have less free will than we think. Perhaps our actions and emotional states are far more hardwired than we might choose to believe?

The problem with following this road on the determinism journey is that it leads us to a destination called Fatalism. In which case why bother about any of these questions?

It took me a few days, followed by a moment of inspiration, that persuaded me that this message need not be as pessimistic as it appears. Because there is one tiny but priceless bit of information that was unavailable to Einstein, and which would surely have given him much food for thought.

In my humble opinion it is so important that it deserves a separate blog and video. Without wishing to tease you too much all will be revealed in the next episode!

In the meantime do not despair, and stay as positive as you can, under the circumstances!