An Old Man From Jersey Explains: Does Free Will Exist?

This is a mini-series of comics about a naive but curious ten-year-old boy who pesters a crude but wise old man while he sits on the steps to their dingy New Jersey apartment building trying to read the newspaper.

 

An old man sits on the steps to his dingy New Jersey apartment reading a newspaper. A naive but curious ten year old boy stands on the grass nearby pestering him with questions.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

KID

Hey, mister!

OLD MAN

What do you want, kid?

KID

Is there such a thing as free will?

OLD MAN

Would it change the way you live if I say yes or no?

KID

I’d feel a lot better if you said yes.

OLD MAN

Then yes, free will exists.

KID

You gotta prove it first.

OLD MAN

Okay, I’m 100% positive that free will does not exist.

KID

But you just said it does exist. What gives?

OLD MAN

The more convinced a person is that they’re right the more likely it is that they’re wrong. So if I’m 100% convinced free will does not exist then it probably does.

KID

OMG! How many logical fallacies were in that statement? Give me some hard evidence.

OLD MAN

Suppose I did make an elegant, logical, convincing argument one way or the other. Supposed you spent the rest of your life trying and failing to disprove my explanation. Suppose I won a Nobel prize for my theory and had it certified as God’s truth by the pope and the Dali Lama. Would any of that make my theory true?

KID

…close enough anyway.

OLD MAN

Wrong.

KID

You’re not going to tell me whether or not free will exists, are you?

OLD MAN

Flip a coin. Heads it does, tails it doesn’t. Either way, life goes on.

KID

Well I say free will doesn’t exist. Our decisions are the product of the casual nature of our environment. Our choices only appear to be ours because we can’t see all the cosmic dominoes hitting us in the back, pushing us this way and that.

OLD MAN

You’re free to think that if you want.

KID

No I’m not.

 

 

OLD MAN

Hmmm. Funny that you just admitted you don’t have total knowledge of how the universe operates yet you’ve completely convinced yourself that you know how the universe operates. I wonder what the chances are you’re wrong.

KID

I see what you did there, and I don’t like it.

OLD MAN

If you’d already made up your mind I don’t see why you came and asked me in the first place.

KID

I figured there was a 50/50 chance you’d reinforce my preconceived expectations. Anyway, I’m still set on the conclusion that free will doesn’t exist. So how do I go on living with the weight of my insignificance ever on my shoulders?

OLD MAN

Do what you were going to do anyway and blame it on fate when you screw up?

KID

Genius!

OLD MAN

Just know that that excuse isn’t going to get you out of trouble with your mother for getting home late tonight.

KID

Curses.

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