Do we have free will? If we do, how much free will do we have? Obviously, we can never have absolute free will because of the limitations that genetics (nature), the environment (nurture), our personal experience, our past, and other conditions of our surrounding impose upon us.
Hence, there may be only a limited array of choices that we have at a particular moment in time; in other words, we do not have an unlimited set of options. There are many things that will not even occur to us in any given situation due to those constraints mentioned earlier.
Let us look at the following mundane scenario. I wake up in the morning, get up and have eggs for breakfast. Now usually I do not choose when to wake up; it is often based either on external circumstances, such as noise or alarm clock, or internal conditions, such as my body, regular sleep cycles or nightmares. Put differently, I usually do not have control over when I wake up so I have no free will or say in this matter.
Furthermore, my breakfast is also limited in its choices. I can only have what is available in my fridge / kitchen at the moment. Technically, I could go to the store to buy more items, but then again knowing how lazy and often hungry I am in the morning I choose to have what is there already.
Based on my taste palate and my desire to have a hearty breakfast, scrambled eggs would be the only option and it would be accompanied by a cup of coffee with a spoonful of sugar and no cream. I refuse to have bacon because of my concern for high cholesterol.
As can be seen, in this simple example, I may believe I have free will, but others with enough information about me and my routine could quite accurately predict my behavior.
Now let us look at free will in terms of time. The arrow of time points forward, and it is generally assumed to move along the line of the past-present-future continuum. Notwithstanding, we experience the world from the crucial crossroads of the present; the present turns immediately into the past, while we have a sense of an unknown constantly looming future ahead of us.
What about my breakfast options if there existed the possibility of time travel? If I could travel in the past, I would be able to change the present, to choose to do otherwise by actively selecting to have cereal in order to show that I could act differently from how I had acted in the first place.
This is rather different from the fact that I would consciously choose now in the present to have cereal instead of eggs to prove my free will. One could say in this case that being led to prove that I have free will I purposely acted against my inclinations. That would mean I was compelled to act against my inclinations, and it was not really my independent free will. Anybody could have predicted my act of defiance.
In the case of time travel where I could choose a different outcome from what had actually happened, I would have the option to either a) do as I did in the first place (have eggs) or b) to do things differently (have cereal instead). The fact that I am not compelled to do as I already did once opens up a certain freedom of choice.
Put differently, I have the ability to do otherwise and hence change the future. This is known as the “alternative stories theory.” It was a premise that “Back to the Future” explored in a playful manner. It is also one that is fraught with difficulties, such as the riddle if you travel to the past and kill your grandfather, would you still exist?
But let us assume I go back to the prehistoric time of the dinosaurs, how could I possibly change the course of history? Whether I know that the meteorite will hit the earth and make them extinct makes no difference: it will happen anyway.
Reading the renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking I realized something crucial. If we can go in the past or future, we assume we would still be the same. But Hawking claims that one alternative theory proposed by physicists tells us that we cannot transfer information along the time continuum.
That would mean if I go in the past I will become my past self, therefore not have knowledge about future events. Simply going back in time I might be deleting all the future information and data and find myself in the exact position I was when I was in that past situation. Hence I would make exactly the same choices and not be able to exert my so-called free will.
Second option, what about future time travel? It would be similar. I would incorporate all the data, basically filling in all the gap by the time I arrive where I will be. In other words, my future will be my natural present.
Although I have traveled forward, it is like forwarding a movie. All the events are going to happen the same way, and I will be in the same position, only that time has moved much faster.
And yet another point. The past is often seen as fixed or rather transfixed. So it becomes solidified, and we cannot change the facts. What I did in the past everyone knows, and yet, what I will do in the future remains still fluid and at best can only be a prediction with the current means and limits of science.
But if I move forward in the future, then my past will be my future from the current state. Yet according to the movie example I was giving, if my future is my past, then it means that it has been determined already. By this what will happen in the future has already passed, and I have no choice or say in the matter no matter what I do!
That would then mean there is no free will although I have the illusion there is. Another illustration would be the sum of all the physical forces that are exerted on objects and matter in the universe. I cannot defy gravity, for example. A planet cannot choose which way to turn.
We are equally in a web of interconnected events that define us both from outside and within. If we have free will, it may be so limited that it may be insignificant; if we do not have free will, then we may be even nothing but actors with lines that may be written by a supernatural creator!
I am quite fascinated by the concept of karma, but what if karma is set not in this life, but is a consequence of another life. If in another realm, one of the spirit, we had free will and, as a result, we must live out a scripted life in order to be free again.
These are just hypotheses and mind games, and I am just sharing them with the universe in a moment of euphoric philosophical thrill. You must believe me when I say I had no choice to do otherwise!