determinism and free will 2

Now we descend from Parmenides's vantage point on Mount Olympus.

From there we could see the whole world laid out, not only in space but also in time: everything that was is and will be as a single unimaginably complex intertwining of threads of existence. For each object and being we see that coming into existence, being and going out of existence are just one thread.

Thus the Fates weave. There seemed from there no possibility of anything ever being any different, since we see all changes as one thing.

From the point of view of the being whose thin thread of life we observed from Olympus, things look very different. The twists and turns of fate do not entirely feel to us like being pushed and pulled helplessly, but require decisions and action.

Saxon King Harold Godwinson, standing on the battlefield not far from York in 1066, is faced by his brother Tostig and Harald Sigurdson, King of Norway at the head of a large Norwegian army. Harold sends a messenger to the Norwegian camp and offers a third of his kingdom to his brother Tostig. Tostig asks what Harold will give to Harald of Norway. Harold replies that he will give him six feet of English earth, but because Harald is such a tall man, seven feet.

Battle commences and the invading Norwegians are defeated and Harald and Tostig slain. Harold Godwinson returns to fight William of Normandy at Hastings, the outcome of which we all know.

What if Harold, knowing that he had two battles on his hands and weary troops, had made a pact with Harald and gone on to victory at Hastings? Probably the inhabitants of Newcastle would speak Norwegian to this day, and English history would have been very different.

Perhaps the choice Harold made was determined by Fate. But from Harold's point of view he was making a decision, in those few minutes.


adolescent philosophising

Some adolescents pass through a stage when they want to know who they are and what is the meaning of life. Then they grow up and die.

It is better to stay an adolescent in our thinking.

When we change enough we may realise that we don't know who we are, or that we are not who we thought we were. If we are what is common to what was before and what is now then what we thought we were shrinks indefinitely. It can only stay the same if we have fossilised.

Yet what watches remains.


determinism and free will

cracklesWe are with Parmenides, standing on Mount Olympus, looking down on the whole universe in time and space. From our god-like perspective the universe is a four-dimensional space-time solid, in which all our heres and nows that were and are and shall be are but specks.

We can perhaps distinguish a line connecting all the moments of the life of one being, this being the thread spun by the Fates. Everything is fixed.

Omar Khayyam wrote:

With Earth's first Clay They did the Last man's knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

However, from the point of view of this being, whose thread of life we observe from Olympus, things look very different.

In my next post I propose to challenge the idea that determinism and free will are irreconcilable.