Essays by Stan Tenen

Determinism vs Free Will
Comments on the classic question
©2003 Stan Tenen

[From an email sent in June 2003]

With regard to the classic question of determinism vs. free will, there are two basic problems. 

1) The paradox -- how can we have real free will, while Hashem obviously knows in "advance" (being out of time) all of the choices of all of the beings who have lived over all history?  and,

2) How can a loving and fair God hold us responsible for making mistakes that God knows in "advance" are pre-determined? 

The nature of "infinity", as in "the Infinity of God," and quantum mechanics, offer some clues. 

Let's say that at any moment in time, there are 1000 possible choices we could make.  Quantum mechanics tells us that not only is this possible, but that in fact -- in the alternative-worlds theory -- we actually make all of these choices.  And of course, Hashem's* Infinity means that Hashem is aware of all of these thousand different "us's" (which quantum mechanics tells us come into existence immediately at the point of choice). 

From Hashem's perspective, all of the choices are pre-determined, and so Hashem knows all of the outcomes.  And of course, each different choice opens to a different alternative universe (in quantum mechanical terms).  So, each of us, making a different choice, finds ourselves in a world with circumstances -- via the golden rule -- to the "us" that made that choice.

We, however, actually do retain full free will, because while Hashem is aware of all 1000 of the alternate universes that the collective "we" find ourselves in, we can only be aware of the one choice we each made in each life-path.

In other words, Hashem knows all the outcomes, but we only know the outcome based on the one choice each particular one of "us" made.  From our perspective, this is the only world that exists.  From God's perspective, there are multiple -- actually infinite -- "us's", and Hashem knows them all.

But Hashem doesn't know any more than we do which one of these alternate choices any one of our "us's" will find itself making.  In other words -- and this is the key -- we identify ourselves, and God identifies us, only after we make a choice.  We can't know ahead of time -- and nether can God -- which _one_ of us makes which choice, because there aren't any alternate "one's" of us until the choice is made. 

This holds whether or not our ability to choose, and our free will, is real or illusory.  This paradox is a result both of God's Infinity and of the demonstrated reality of the quantum mechanical model. 

Stan Tenen, June 2003
Sharon, Massachusetts

*Hashem - "The Name", a word used in the observant Jewish world as a term for God.

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