I’ve often contemplated the paradox of free will. The thought that we have the freedom to choose our actions, yet the conflict that our paths have already been chosen for us; that a supreme being already knows what we’re going to do. This seems fundamentally contradictory. How do we have the freedom to choose if someone else already knows what we’re going to do? Doesn’t their knowledge of what we’re going to choose mean the choice has already been made and therefore it’s not really free will?
Perhaps some of our assumptions are flawed in this logic though. I can see several examples of this. We’re assuming that someone knowing what we’re going to choose is somehow us not choosing. That’s not necessarily true. If I know you like chocolate more than vanilla and I offer you a choice between the two I could say that I already know which you’re going to choose. Of course you’re free to choose both and you might decide you’re feeling more vanilla today, but 9/10 times you’ll pick chocolate.
This is really more of a question of probability though and I’m not sure it applies to the question at hand. You’re making an educated guess. If we’re discussing this at a higher level and saying God or some other supreme intelligence already absolutely knows what we’re going to choose and it’s not just a question of them understanding you and the variables and the probability… they simply KNOW, then the probability assumption doesn’t apply because KNOWING is different from analyzing and making an educated guess.
To my limited mortal understanding the only way a supreme intelligence could truly KNOW what you’re going to choose before you make a choice would be if they exist outside of the flow of linear time. If this is the case, which I’ve always assumed its part of a supreme intelligence’s “omnipotence” (existing being outside of time as we understand it) then we can easily understand the nature of free will.
Imagine, if you will, a some kind of supreme being (God, for this example and I use the term God in the most generic sense here) standing along the shore of a river; the river being time itself. You are a fish in this river. You only know the world of water (time). You can barely conceive of a reality outside of the river of time. You are swept up in time‘s current. That is your reality; the world of linear time where there is always a “now”, a “before” and an “after”. You are a creature caught in the current of linear time, unlike God who can exist both inside the river and outside.
If God goes upriver God sees everything that has happened before. Every choice you’ve made in any degree of detail. If you go downriver you see every choice you will make. To the being who exists outside of this river they can clearly see that you’ve already made these choices. There is no question of what you will do or won’t do. They can clearly see what you’ve already chosen. But, to you, from your perspective, in the river in the NOW you seem to not have made those future choices yet.
You remember everything that’s you’ve done, but you don’t know what’s ahead of you in the river. To you, you haven’t made those choices yet. You can only understand the part of the river you’ve come from and where you are now. You don’t really know what’s ahead because you’re caught in the current of NOW.
God can see the Now. He can see the Before. He can see the future that’s ahead because he has the ability to go along the shore where ever he chooses. He can move up and down the river at his leisure. He can take an eternity in each moment at his leisure. This affords him the ability to see and be everywhere all the time because he can move through time in a way we can just barely conceive of.
God can clearly see what you’re going to choose before you even know you’ve chosen it. That doesn’t mean he’s made the choice for you, he can just see it before you’re aware you’ve even made the choice. You’re still doing the choosing. You still have free will, but he can see what you’re going to do before you’ve done it.
Assuming this is true, that would clearly mean the free will is not a paradox. It is easily understood, though perhaps it may seem a bit alien to those of us stuck in the current of time.
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