Thursday, May 1, 2014

Does Knowing the Future Eliminate Individual Free Will?

The events of The Blessed Man and the Witch take place over the course of about a week and a half in early April of 2016.  Obviously, that hasn't happened yet, so I had to do a bit of prognostication.  Nevertheless, I'm reasonably certain that none of the major events I wrote about will ever come to pass, including a Heaven vs. Hell kind of Armageddon.

Predicting the future is a tricky thing; meteorologists do it all the time, and when we don't get snow or rain when it's forecast, it's very easy to just throw up our collective hands and say, "Well, it's not really an exact science."  The psychics (or "bleeders," as Megan calls them) in the novel see visions of the future, but early on I show that it's no more an exact science than forecasting the weather: the visions come true, but interpreting them can be difficult.  Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels does an extraordinary job of describing the pitfalls of prognostication (so to speak), so when you're finished with The Blessed Man Etc, take a look at them if you haven't already.

In addition to the fictional aspect of predicting the future through seers, I attempted to extrapolate from current events what might happen a few years hence.  One of the ways I used to describe how the world, particularly the United States, was falling apart was by quoting fictional news articles at the beginning of some of the novel's chapters.  I'm a student of current events and politics (the two are now inextricably intertwined for reasons that go beyond the scope and purpose of this article), so I examined certain trends and posited worst-case scenarios to write news articles about.  In some cases, I was completely wrong, which is fine: I'm quite happy that the terrible things I predicted aren't coming to pass.  One somewhat amusing example was when I quoted a transcript from a future Piers Morgan Live episode, only to learn a few weeks before I'd planned to publish the novel that the show had been canceled.  Compared to skyrocketing gas prices and mass shootings, it's pretty small beer, but there you have it.  I also failed to predict Russia's annexing of the Ukraine.

A question that's always fascinated me is, "In a universe where there's an omniscient God, do any of us have free will?"  Put another way, if God always knows what you're going to do before you do it, do you truly have volition?  And that's the trap of seeing the future: it shows you where you're stuck.  It shows you what you are going to do.

Or maybe it doesn't.  One character in the novel shows us how a clever, motivated person can cheat the visions, as long as he can act on them before they happen.  In that case, is he really seeing the future?

TL;DR: Predicting the future is hard.

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