Culture Magazine

The Band Practice Dialogues: Free Will and Determinism

By Realizingresonance @RealizResonance


The hard rock band Realizing Resonance performs enthusiastically in their otherwise empty rented practice space. The band is composed of four members, Taylor, the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Daniel plays lead guitar, Rune is on bass, and Chris is the drummer.

Rune: I think I finally have the bass line in the bridge down, at least well enough not to train wreck it live. I hope.

Taylor: Nice. ‘Bout time.

Rune: Hey, gimme a break. You wrote some tricky transitions in there.

Taylor: Just messin’. Anyways, we can move on to something else. I’m kinda tired of runnin’ through our set, you guys wanna just jam a little? Like freestyle?

Chris: I heard those jam bands get a lot of groupies following them on tour and stuff, but they’re not my type of girls. I’m down, just don’t expect a drum solo.

Taylor: Who’re you foolin’? They’re all your type! No drum solo required.

Daniel: Whatever, as long as we stick to A minor, or C major, or E minor or…um…G major. Those are the only keys I know well enough to improv in.

Taylor: Well then Rune, you wanna lay down something deep in A minor?

Rune: I guess, but I’m not really into just jamming that much. I don’t know about everyone else, but I still need to practice the set before I feel totally comfortable getting up on a stage in front of people.

Chris: Look at it this way, at least if you train wreck it’ll probably be on YouTube.

Taylor: No one’s gonna train wreck. Jammin’ will be good for our practice. Improvisation is the ultimate expression of musical free will, and freestyling with friends, other talented musicians, is like a transcendent free will. Like…the music has its own consciousness and we are the limbs, and the organs, belonging to one big sonic mind. The feeling of getting into a good jam…it’s like nothing else. It’s the freedom to move the music in different directions spontaneously without a top down plan, to play the lead, then surrender control, playing off each other, but still inside the music. It’s hard to put into words. It’s good for practice. I think It’ll help you play everything better. It stretches your musical muscles.

Rune: I don’t think I would get as much out of it as you think. I learn best with structure and conditioning. Plus I don’t really believe in free will anyway. So expressing my conscious choice with jazzy improvisation or a hippy noise fest does not appeal to me in any way.

Taylor: What do you mean you don’t believe in free will?! I never heard of that.

Rune: I mean free will does not exist, and I think it is an error to believe in it. Everything that happens is a function of what happened just before that, and this means that what will happen was already going to happen. Our typical view that we have any real choice in the matter is a persistent illusion. We fool ourselves into feeling like our decisions are not already determined for us. The universe is governed by causal forces, starting with the big bang, unfolding through an inevitable set of interactions from there to eternity. We are part of the universe, so we are part of a process that destined us to our position long before we were born. If we spend our practice time freestyling we will not be expressing any more free will than if we work on perfecting the songs in our set list instead. So I vote for the latter since we have our first show coming up soon, and I would like to feel confident that a good outcome for the performance is the part of the determination.

Chris: Ay Dios mio! Spoken like a truly naive Atheist. It’s obvious that we humans have free will to make choices. It takes some mental somersaults to get to where you’re at. When you know, like I do, that free will’s a gift from God so that we may choose to follow His Word and do good works, it’s easy to understand. But you think all there is to the world is the stuff you can measure, without recognizing that your grand scientific theories still leave your knowledge hollow and empty of true meaning.

Suddenly Chris smashes his drumsticks down hard on his crash cymbals.

Chris: I chose to do that. But if you think it was destined to happen then don’t blame me if there’s a ringin’ in your ears.

Taylor: Ow! What the heck?!

Daniel: Good thing I still have my earplugs in.

Rune: Whatever, smashing your cymbal to annoy me does not prove anything. You’ve proven long ago that it’s in your nature to annoy me. And by the way, there are Christian sects that believe in determinism. John Calvin believed in predestination, the doctrine that God has already determined through His will the complete course of past, present, and future events, and specifically whether you will go to heaven or not. My family are Lutherans, since we have mostly Swedish ancestry, and they would disagree with your argument that good works make any difference for salvation. That’s something you Catholics believe. Protestants broke with Rome on the grounds that they felt faith and grace are the only ways to get into heaven, and believed that free choice couldn’t contribute to being saved. Just because I don’t believe in God does not mean I wasn’t saturated with these things growing up.

Taylor: I don’t know about God. What I can’t believe is that you don’t think free will is real. It’s obviously real! Chris smashing down on his cymbals whenever he wants does prove it. I can just decide to raise my hand in the air and that proves it. Proving that free will exists is so easy that anyone can prove it to themselves by just choosing a choice. Little kids even get that as soon as they can talk and all they wanna say is ‘no.’ Because it’s obvious to them that they can if they want.

Rune: An illusion can lead you to believe something that seems obvious, but is nevertheless completely incorrect. It’s no surprise that little kids would not see through an illusion. Plus, the fact that it’s common for many children to go through phases, such as saying ‘no,’ suggests deterministic tendencies in development. True reality needs to be logically consistent, and since little kids, and I guess plenty of adults, are not so good at critical thought, they need to rely on what seems obvious and are not able to see past the illusion.

Chris: Ok Spock.

Taylor: Dude, that makes no sense.

Rune: What kind of music do you like to perform?

Taylor: We both play in the same rock band together, so what do you think?

Rune: Did you choose to play rock music for a reason besides liking it?

Chris: For the hot groupies.

Taylor: Of course I chose it because I like it. I taught myself how to play guitar because I’ve loved listening to rock since I was little. You know I’d never sell out and play country or bubble gum pop and I know you’re the same way. That’s why you’re being so stubborn about not wanting to freestyle, because you don’t like listening to jam bands and that kind of stuff. But that just makes my point, because I choose to persevere and follow my dreams and not sell out, when so many others either give up or compromise–and it was through the force of my own will, my free will.

Rune: No, you are proving my point. Why do you like rock music over other genres? Did you choose that? Could you not just use your free will to choose to enjoy country music the most instead?

Taylor: Um…I hate the twang and I think the lyrics are dumb. I guess I don’t exactly choose the music I like, but that’s because music is different, it’s something that you feel with your soul, or something. Songs and artists just resonate with you, you know? Choosing to learn to sing and play guitar, so you can play the music you love in bands, is not the same thing as choosing to like a genre of music. I practiced–I practice all the time when I could be doing something else if I wanted to.

Daniel: We’re supposed to be practicing right now.

Rune: But Taylor, aren’t you the kind of person who follows their dreams?

Taylor: Well, yeah.

Rune: Did you choose to be the kind of person who follows their dreams?

Taylor: Um…I don’t know. Sort of…

Rune: There you go. What we choose depends on the kind of people we are, and this we can’t choose, so our choices really don’t originate from a free will. We know, with an incredibly high degree of certainty, as the result of centuries of scientific study, that the universe is composed of matter, energy, and force, which break down into protons, neutrons, electrons, photons, Higgs bosons and other particles. Particles are governed by physical laws of mechanics, and particles form atoms, which form molecules, which form more complex molecules. Chemistry relies on physics. But biology also relies on chemistry, since the body, including the brain, is composed entirely of molecules and energy, dependent and beholden to the laws of physics and chemistry. The mind is caused by the brain, the brain is part of biology, biology is reducible to chemistry, and chemistry is reducible to physics. Minds are not separate from the reality of the causal order, so they cannot be causal forces unto themselves.

Daniel: From what I understand, particle physics is centered around quantum mechanics, which is based around indeterminism. Like the uncertainty principle, wave-particle duality, and the inherently probabilistic nature of the quantum world. We are way beyond Laplace and his demon. We can’t simply use the laws of physics to predict the entire future course of the universe, not even in principle. So it’s not correct that the universe is determined. And if determinism isn’t correct then how can it be a good argument against free will?

Taylor: You wanna talk about a lap dance demon? There was this one…

Rune: Laplace’s demon. Laplace was a French mathematician in the Enlightenment period who argued that you could imagine a supernatural being, a demon, who could perfectly predict infinitely far into the future, if the demon had complete knowledge of the laws of motion and the locations and momentums of all the particles in the universe.

Chris: Nice Taylor. You beat me to it. I know some lap dance demons too.

Rune:One track minds. I think Laplace was right in principle, because there is hard causal determinism, even though it’s impossible to get the perfect knowledge needed for making perfect predictions. Anyway to your point Daniel, indeterminism does not support free will either. Quantum mechanics is based on probability distributions, which while not explicitly determinable they are nonetheless extremely reliable and lawful in their propensities, and while there is uncertainty at the micro levels this does not manifest as indeterminism at the macro level. Playing my bass is reliable and determined. Assuming I am in tune, the strings I pluck and the frets I hold determine the notes I play, and the quantum particles that form my bass do not cause the notes to play in random unexpected ways.

Taylor: Great, now we’re gettin’ into geek speak.

Daniel: Yeah, but if the bass is determined that doesn’t say anything about the bass player. The bass player has to learn and remember…and get into the groove. The bass just gets played.

Chris: Rune could be more of a playa though. Is determinism your way of explaining why you have such as hard time with the ladies?

Rune: Ha ha. We get it. You’re Cristóbal the Playa. The “Latin Lover.” Enough already. Save it for your groupies at the show.

Chris: Sor-ry! You’re so sensitive…

Daniel: Rune, everyone gets it that there are laws of gravity, and thermodynamics, and crap. I never thought that having free will meant that I could walk through walls, or stop myself from aging, by wishing really hard. There are many ways that we aren’t free, but the fact that we can differentiate between freedom and slavery should show something. Having free will doesn’t have to mean that the mind doesn’t depend on a big causal chain culminating with the brain, it very likely does I’m sure. Having free will simply means the choices are yours and no one else is responsible for them. Unless you are being constrained or controlled in some way, like with slavery, or duress, or hypnotism, and stuff like that.

Rune: Yes, when we are not outwardly constrained we have the illusion of making free choices, but it’s just neurons firing in the brain, replacing the chains upon our wrists, one master for another. Free will is regrettably an epiphenomenon.

Taylor: Epi– what?

Rune: Epiphenomenon. It is a secondary effect of a process that has no part in the causal workings of the process. It means that we perceive and experience ourselves taking actions and making choices, but action and the feeling of acting are both caused by the same causal forces in our brain. We don’t cause an action but we feel like we do because of the consistent correlation in time of bodily actions and our experience. There have been some experiments that show how our brain starts to initiate an action before we are actually consciously aware that we are doing it. This is evidence that the feeling of free will is an epiphenomenon, and that means it’s an illusion.

Chris: At first when you said “epiphenomenon”, I thought you were talkin’ about me. But now I really don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.

Daniel: I think you’re out on a limb Rune. I can deliberate about a decision and change my mind. I do this all the time. In my day job I have to analyze data and offer recommendations about possible managerial actions, and when me and my co-workers get into a meeting room and discuss strategy we are obviously doing more than being passive observers that only watch as our mouths speak causally predicated words. When I get home I have to decide between spending my time with my wife, my friends, learning something for career development, taking a nap, or as Taylor would prefer, practicing guitar. In order to make this work I create a complex schedule each week that I try to maintain. There is too much deliberation and contemplation going on behind my decisions for it not to be me making them. They involve conflicted feelings of duty, love, and passion, with different objects of desire vying for my limited time and attention. Not only do I have to make decisions about what to do, I have to make decisions about what to think about.

Taylor: Hey, if you practiced guitar more often at home, we could spend more time learning more new songs when we are together. We should be doing that right now.

Daniel: We have plenty to practice already. With our ten songs in the set list, plus like five alternates. You write virtually a new song every week.

Chris: It’s not just ‘cause you’re the only one of us who’s married, and with a real career. I work two jobs. I date. I’m busy too. Taylor just does nothing else but spend his free time playing music and writing songs. He’s obsessive to an abnormal degree.

Rune: Exactly, Taylor is a song writing machine. Determined to create. The key point behind what you were saying, Daniel, is that you feel emotions that conflict, but you don’t decide which emotions to feel. Your emotions are your experience of your causal drives, and your intellect is your experience of satisfying these drives, whether this is hunger and getting a meal or reproduction and going on dates. Just because life is really really complex, does not mean it’s not all part of a causal order. Humans are agents that process environmental inputs through inherent cognitive machinery, through lower level bodily urges to their derivative higher level social strategies. Our subsequent actions and our experience of initiating them are ultimately predetermined. It’s easy to understand how we can get from changing environments and diverse interacting agents to evolutionary and emergent patterns if you have studied complexity theory and systems theory. Even chaos is determined. Flocks of birds, schools of fish, colonies of ants and termites, and even tornadoes are examples of where intricate phenomena emerge from the interactions of many diverse parts following simple causal rules. Yet these emerged entities seem to show a causal force that belongs to the whole entity rather than the parts. Human identities are emergent and really no different in principle, just different in the diversity of parts and degree of interaction, resulting in greater complexity.

Daniel: Dude, hello! I do data analysis and statistical forecasting for a corporation. I already have an economics degree. I know all about systems and complexity, and trust me, economic laws are not determined like the laws of physics. Good luck with that reduction! How does determinism explain all of the choices that went into the set list that we decided on at our last practice? We agreed that we wanted our strongest up tempo songs first, because we want to catch the attention of the crowd right away, so we picked “Future Tell”, “Metamorphosis”, and “You Incomplete Me” as our first three. Next we decided on slower songs, “Tragedy” and “Daydreaming”, but we agreed that “Daydreaming” should be played after “Tragedy” because we wanted to lighten the mood up from a heavy piece. And of course, we have “Realize the Resonance” as the finale, with “Entropic Ends” right before that one, given the poetics of ending with these two songs. When it came to the other three songs before that though, “Rise of the Oligarchs”, “Spoiled So Special”, and “Whispering to You”, none of us really had any preference for how to order them. We just sort of picked at random. This is the liberty of indifference. We are still making a choice even when we don’t care which way or the other. We can decide to utilize chance to choose even, by flipping coins, or rock-paper-scissors.

Rune: Thanks for the soft ball. You just summed up the causal reasons for us selecting most of the set list, which all supports my view, and the other three songs that we were indifferent to were determined all the same, only we never made explicit any personal reasons for those selections. If we left it up to a coin flip that would simply pass the determinism on to the complex web of movements and forces that go into that action and consequence, with randomness being only the higher level illusory perspective that is not able to track the complexity. Plus, turns out we didn’t flip a coin.

Taylor: Man, all I wanted to do was just jam a little without any structure. So what you’re saying is, my desire for us to improvise a little has instigated an annoying college symposium on free will versus determinism, what–like–because of the butterfly effect, or something?

Rune: Think of it this way. If you rolled back time to the beginning of our practice session today, could you see it going any other way? Would you have randomly decided not to want to jam? I know my reaction would have been the same.

Taylor: It could have been different. You could’ve played that last song a little worse, making me less comfortable with just free styling, and we could’ve just ran through the song a few more times instead.

Rune: But why would I have played any worse than I did? My performance today was a function of my current skill level, my previously practicing the songs, my focus, and these are functions of earlier things, so if I was going to play worse than I did something else before that would have needed to be different, but that will not work. Think about all the time travel movies that show how there is a paradox which results when you go back in time and change even a small detail, so that the present time you left is forever changed, including the conditions that resulted in you going back in time. The most dramatic of these is the grandfather paradox, in which you go back in time and kill your grandfather which creates the condition that you would have never been born and so you would never have been able to go back in time and kill your grandfather. The logical corollary to this thought experiment is that if you went back in time and only observed the past like a ghost, and did not interfere in any way with the order of events, you can rest assured that the present time will be exactly the same as it was when you get back and you don’t have to worry about any paradoxes. This also means that if you roll time backwards to a particular moment and then start time again without interfering directly in any way to change some detail, then events will play out like a movie with a script.

Daniel: No one has ever really rolled time backwards, that we know of, so you can’t know that our intuition from time travel movies is the reality or not. It could just as easily be the case that quantum indeterminism means that rolling back time allows for the possibility of tiny little changes in the positions of electrons, which eventually aggregate into large scale macro differences after a while, so you don’t get the same events if you were able to replay time. It’s totally possible that if we rolled back time to when we were selecting our set list last week that the selections we made out of indifference would have a different ordering.

Taylor: Yeah, what he said.

Daniel: Besides, you make it sound like humans are essentially zombies who just happen to have an illusion of their own consciousness. According to your view, we would all behave exactly the same way if we did not have any conscious awareness of ourselves, like if we were zombies without minds. If the complexity of our brains and neurons firing is all you need, and our conscious experience of personal identity directing our actions through choice and free will is just a by-product, not a part of the causal order, then it doesn’t matter if it was removed from the picture all together. I can use the example of many movies and television shows to demonstrate the intuition that zombies without consciousness do not behave like we do anymore. So I don’t think it makes sense that we don’t have our own personal causal powers related to consciousness and free will. We would be mindless zombies otherwise. At least if we get to use movie intuition as evidence.

Chris: I think that I can’t just be determined by my drives and urges all the way. I used to have problems with drug addiction when I was in high school, but I overcame it through force of will and through the support of family and my rediscovery of faith. When I had the drives to use, I couldn’t resist them all the time, but that was not because I didn’t want to resist them. I really did. I didn’t want to be the way I was, and I dreamed of stopping, but I was weak. Then I got back to my Catholic roots and opened myself up to faith in God, truly, and this gave me the power to persevere and change my sinful ways. This is also when I started playin’ the drums, and I would I say that my life was healed by prayer and percussion. Not that these caused me to change though, but that I was able to use them as ways to transform myself. Free will is something real if I can take control of my basic urges and become a better person, a person that I want to be more than the person I was. If I didn’t have free will, it’s like sayin’ that I wasn’t responsible for changing, that I wasn’t responsible for my action. If that’s true, then there’s no point tryin’ to accomplish anything, I may as well just sit around bein’ lazy, since nothin’ I do has any effect on what happens and I’m not responsible for what happens. The Atheist response that I sometimes hear to my story– about finding faith to help me get clean–is that I found the power within myself and just misattributed it to God. If what you’re sayin’ is true about determinism, Rune, then I couldn’t even have found the power within myself. Your position would make more sense if you were a Lutheran still, and believed my willpower really was all from God, because then at least determinism would make sense with my experience.

Taylor: Yeah, Rune, determinism would mean that I wasn’t truly responsible for writing any of the excellent songs we are practicing. It would mean that the melodies, harmonies, and lyrical poetries I write are triggered by factors in my environment, with no artistry on my part, no dedication, no choice of environment at all. How could I have such pride in my work then? How then could you all fault me for being such an awesome composer, and writing so many good songs?

Rune: I don’t think we’re truly responsible for our actions in the way that everyone usually thinks. That is one of the reasons why I am against the death penalty. I think we need to completely reform our understanding of responsibility, justice, and punishment to consider determinism.

Taylor: Wait a second. I let you and the other guys write your own parts around the core of my original compositions. That’s the reason why we all agreed that when we get signed some day that we would share writing credits. If what you’re saying about determinism is true, then either no one wrote the songs and no one gets credit, or I wrote the songs as an original source of their primary content, and your parts were therefore determined from there on out. So I should get all of the credit and the royalties if we get signed.

Chris: Really? You wanna play the drums too?

Rune: Not so fast. Credit is apportioned by contribution of the part, or your friends don’t want to play in a band with you anymore and you can get credit for playing all of your own instruments. That’s the causal order of that.

Taylor: Obviously joking. Still, how does determinism explain the way I write my songs? People ask me a lot, so I’ve thought about it, and it’s not just a simple method. Sometimes I hear a melody in my head, and I’ll keep trying out different patterns of words, like random strings of words, just to feel what sounds like it belongs. Not like it was meant to be exactly, but like I am an explorer who discovers my creation through inspiration and experiment. Sometimes I get something down super fast, I get a verse and a chorus, with melody, chords, and lyrics, but then I get hung up on the second verse. In fact, I got so hung up on the second verse of “Daydreaming” that I felt it was better just to repeat the first verse.

Daniel: I knew it!

Taylor: Sometimes I have an idea for a lyrical theme, which gives me a sense of the musical structure. You know, the tempo, and whether it’s a major or minor key, and the style. That’s when I want the song to be about something specific. It’s not just the process of writing a particular song though, you know, it’s the creativity of writing any song. They are each a novelty. A body of work is an artist’s fingerprints, a unique identity, except instead of being born with a repertoire, the catalog is shaped and formed by the artistic will, changing and evolving over time. The Beatles are “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “Strawberry Fields”, “Let it Be”, and all their songs, not just any one song. I intentionally try to push my boundaries, and the boundaries of the music, but not too much because then it wouldn’t be accessible to the audience I want. It can be even simpler than that though, like not wanting to use the same key too many times in a row, and the desire for changing up the tempo. Its kinda like what Daniel was saying before about the set list. I am almost writing a set list rather than individual songs, or an album, as one holistic entity, with each song fitting inside like flexible puzzle pieces. Unfortunately, most people don’t really listen to entire albums much anymore, but still.

Rune: That’s all really interesting, but it doesn’t explain anything about free will.

Taylor: Whatever it doesn’t! I might not be explaining my creative process that well, but the point is that creativity requires a free will. For the inspiration…it begins with dedication…no outside instigation…free will its own creation. See that! New lyrics off the top of my head. How else but free will?

Rune: Impressive, I guess…Obviously I’ve heard of songwriting and creativity before, so you didn’t stump me or something. I don’t think this has anything to do with free will. Remember I didn’t even think that playing your jazzy improv would be expressing a free will. I don’t disagree that music feels transformative and transcendent to us, and for some the allure is so powerful that they even become musicians and songwriters. Clearly, each of us here is that type of person. However, at root this is because music produces a limbic system response of dopamine and endorphins. Music triggers our internal reward system. The styles of music you are exposed to as an adolescent become the styles you are predisposed to as an adult. If you are a non-musician you process melody and harmony in your right brain hemisphere and rhythm in you left, but if you are a musician you process all three components in your left. This means left hemisphere damage could cause a musician to lose their ability to perform music. Trauma to the hippocampus could cause memory damage, such as the ability to remember long sequences of music. And so on. Your brain creates your creativity, and what I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time is that you didn’t create your own brain.

Chris: Actually, I know a few ways that people can intentionally create different brain states for themselves. Not my recommendation though.

Daniel: You are over thinking this Rune. There is no contradiction between any of the deterministic examples you have argued and the existence of free will. They are pretty compatible I think. Look, I agree with most of what you’ve said, most of your evidence. The laws of physics, the principle of sufficient reason, evolutionary selection, biological imperatives, brain states, these are all well established rational facts and assumptions.

Rune: Don’t even get me started on evolution.

Daniel: I won’t. The thing about all of the deterministic evidence that we can think of is that it creates constraints that limit our options, but while the constraints define our options, it’s our options that give us choices. I didn’t choose that I was born in California in 1977, but I did choose to move to Seattle in 1995. I didn’t choose who my parents are, anymore than they had a choice in who I was gonna be. I didn’t choose that I am attracted to women, that I was attracted to my wife and fell head over heels in love with her, but I did choose to express my love by proposing to her at Chichen Itza in Mexico–

Chris: Oh man, you should’ve done it at Machu Picchu!

Daniel: Chichen Itza was a place we both had both always wanted to visit before we ever met. It’s one of the cool things we have in common, our interest in the Mayans. Dude, Incas are cool too, just a different connection to me and Elise. You know what I mean? Anyway, I chose to take Elise to Chichen Itza and propose marriage to her at that place in the world. I didn’t choose that Chichen Itza is a place that exists in the world and which we can actually travel to, or that we both were interested in it even, anymore than I chose to live in our time rather than the time of the Mayans. Determinism presents us with options, of which there are often many, but we still get to choose between these options. And that is free will.

Rune: The key is to see how each step of the way is predicated, even what seems to take place inside yourself. You just said that you had particular reasons for going to Chichen Itza instead of Machu Picchu, so this preference was a conspiring factor in the determination of where you went. I’m sure it also had something do with wanting to demonstrate romance, it was within your price range, and…

Daniel: You’re missing the point. Preferences themselves might be determined, but these still only form constraints on our options at the moment just before the choice. Preferences, and wealth, these limit the set of options at any given moment just like gravity and geology do. Even law, morality, and custom have the property of constraining what are acceptable alternatives, and our musical tastes are the same way. The thing is, we still think about all of these things, ponder and deliberate, consider scenarios, and we decide how to use our free time doing what we can do freely. For some people it’s in the spaces between work and duty, while others freely choose to shirk responsibility in order to obtain more free time.

Taylor: I don’t shirk! I need time to create–

Daniel: I wasn’t talking about you. How we spend our time, the choices we make, these determine our character more than our character determines exactly what we’re gonna do next. We can even change our character through the force of will, because we are free to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, as when Chris got clean. Nothing about the future is a foregone conclusion. In fact, a fundamental fact about our decisions is that they all pertain to the future. We don’t need to be explicitly thinking about our plans and goals, but each step we take is forward. There are pathways already there in front of us, there are pathways that we have started on or already traveled down, but we still get to pick which branch to follow at the next junction, at the next crossroads, or we can decide to just go off the path altogether. Isn’t that close to what we’re doing here and now, following a lesser traveled road?

Rune: Not really, garage bands have been around for decades–

Daniel: It was a rhetorical question. I already know your answer. What I’m getting at is that the future is an enduring aspect of our decision making process, and the future hasn’t happened yet. This is profound right? It means that there are purposes involved in our motivations beyond our human drives and instincts, beyond our character and preferences, beyond the conditions of the past. We are teleological creatures who dream up fantasy futures, and some of us even seek out the cutting edge skills and tools to achieve our autonomous creative ends. You gotta know this is profound.

Taylor: What is teololo–

Daniel: Ask your phone. The future hasn’t happened yet, yet we consider it constantly. The thing is, the future does not cause the present, so this aspect of our decisions, this is about our thoughts, our consciousness in consideration. Its holistic and integrated…and messy and fleeting. It involves the consideration of possibilities, scenarios, and hopes, along with taking risks, leaps of faith, perseverance, and reflection. We take a stand on our own existence. We take a stand on our own identity. We are pushed forward by time, and, recognizing this fact about our situation, we take a stand on our own futures. We are processes not things! We are evolving entities with each second, defined anew with each choice we make, each thought, each contemplation. Yes, we go on autopilot much of the time, following our typical routines without thinking about it, executing our subconscious checklists. We tactically react to the situations of the day, we converse about clichéd niceties, we generally conform to the socially accepted patterns of behavior.

Taylor: I’m not a conformist–

Daniel: Didn’t say you were. We at least conform relative to our social circles. I’m not as free at my corporate job as I am here at band practice, but I’m not exactly free at band practice either, since we’re supposed to be practicing when we’re here. I have a dress code at work, and while this is a constraining rule there might be an infinite amount of tie designs to choose from. Performing music lends itself to a kind of dress code as well, but now the idea might be to go with leather and tattoos, or maybe just crazy costumes like KISS or Lady Gaga. The point is, we can really feel ourselves in our decisions, and this feeling we have, this experience that we have of imagining our dreams, of formulating our plans, of executing our steps, of enjoying our accomplishments and regretting our mistakes, these might be ultimately dependent on our biology and circumstance. Nevertheless, the fact that we make decisions which are solely concerned with our person, and that these involve pie-in-the-sky concepts…um…fame, wealth, getting signed, performing to a sold out Tacoma Dome, the fact that we base our decisions on things like this should already be proof positive that whatever autopilots we’ve got going on, we still play a very active part in trying to make our own future happen how we want it to. Don’t discount this. Like I said, seriously fuckin’ profound.

Rune: A profound illusion.

Taylor: Shoot! Our practice time is up. Thanks for that Rune. I think maybe that was your plan all along.

Rune: Hey, I wasn’t the cause of anything!

Chris: That conversation was destined to go ‘round in circles anways.

Rune: Don’t even get me started on destiny. And circles!

Daniel: Seriously?

Jared Roy Endicott

The Band Practice Dialogues: Free Will and Determinism
 Subscribe in a reader

Inspired by the Following Works:

Nichols, Shaun. Great Philosophical Debates: Free Will and Determinism. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2008. Video.

Rescher, Nicholas. Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2009. Print.

Watson, Gary. Ed. Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 2003. Print.

Related Articles:

The Band Practice Dialogues: Government and the Social Contract

I Play My Guitar Because I Want To

Emergent Consciousness and Freewill

Mardi Gras and the Liberty to Sin

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog