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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Philosophy of Chatroulette and Freedom: The Impossibility of Free Will

Have you ever been really bored--I mean REALLY bored--and jumped on Chatroulette (link to Wiki)? You know the nights I'm talking about: Facebook Chat is empty, your significant other is asleep and you've gone and drank 6 cups of coffee, thoughtlessly---And, done so just an hour before your obviously optional bedtime? Think about who you chose to spend time chatting with on Chatroulette (link to Did you actually choose them? Did you sit and think: "this is what I want, this is the specific trait I'm looking for in a conversation, and I'll apply all this in the split second before I or the other person hits 'NEXT'"?  I know I don't.

You click "Start", some oddness draws you in, you realize what it is you're looking at---and quickly click "Next". Despite your permanent trauma, you're onto another oddity, and then another and another. Finally, you settle on a lonely girl from China, or some Wiccan  trying to charge his badly drawn sigils. You didn't think about this; It just happend. So consider this moment of ambiguity in your the moment of decision. Did you chose this? 

In some sense, you could say you chose this little moment of Chatroulette-voyeurism/conversation because it was you who acted.  But, where was your Free Will? Did you choose the reasons out of which you chose that specific person? Did you choose your voyeuristic tendencies, your addiction to coffee or your manic need for company? I didn't. I don't. So what's what my point? 

In other situations, any other situation, there is always this constitutive/necessary element of your choice---that thing that determines what you choose and chose---that  you did not choose.  Just like on Chatroulette, you cannot choose the reason out of which you choose. It's just more obvious on Chatroulette. Free will implies a choice of what causes you to choose. It implies that you are conscious of and constantly in control of everything that determines how you choose. This is impossible.

]This is the Chatroulette paradox: you cannot choose the  reasons out of which you choose or it would lead to infinite regress. Either your choice is completely random (which also implies reasons (for another conversation)), or you have something driving the choice. There's always something driving the choice. You need to bottom out in some reason for acting. And, if a reason for acting is the necessary condition for you having chosen anything at all, then you couldn't have chosen those reasons. 

Chatroulette provides an intuitive "bottoming out". (This is a  double entendre (get it, Rock bottom?)). It provides a bottoming out because you didn't choose the reasons you acted: you simply acted. So next time you're on Chatroulette, consider the choices you make. You can't have free will, but realizing that might make you get introspective. 

Resources on Choice and Free Will: Free Will
Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy Free Will Choice

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