Saturday, January 21, 2006

Yearning to be free?

The writer Dostoevsky worried that science would soon learn the laws of nature with such precision that it would be possible to predict in advance the course of a human life: "All human acts will be listed on something like logarithm tables, say up to 108,000, and transferred to a timetable...They will carry detailed calculations and exact forecasts of everything to come." A person will no longer be responsible for his acts, said Dostoevsky. Life will be "easy."

Well, not to worry. Nothing that science has discovered yet undermines the notion of free will. Even if the laws of nature were at every level deterministic, the complexity of a human life is such that no conceivable calculator could predict the future. If it walks like free will, and quacks like free will, it's free will.

And what brings these thoughts to mind? When we arrive at our house here on Exuma each winter, there are always lots of popular magazines left by family members who visited in our absence. And every one has a horoscope.

Now I know that no one takes these things terribly seriously, but isn't it curious that many of the same people who fret about the determinism of science, are happy to turn their lives over to the stars. If there's anything like Dostoevsky's life-negating logarithm table, it's the astrological chart.