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January 2, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Lessons on Free Will and Determinism at the Movies

Perhaps the Matrix a bit…..although I’m not sure it gets into the big debates.
I think it comes out in the middle of the debate probably.

A Note about Movies about Dystopian & Techno-Dystopian Futures:
Most movies have the implicit belief in the free will of individuals. You can’t have a main character and not have choices. Even movies like Groundhog Day or other movies about being caught in the system point to cracks in the system as well as free choice. Those same movies make the assumption that the audience member will be moved and changed by the movie itself. For instance, in Minority Report, its precisely the belief in free choice which grounds the movie. The reason why anti-dystopian movies exist is to warn the audience of a possible future and ideally one they can move away from.

I haven’t seen Adjustment Bureau, Inception, and 12 Monkeys. Its possible they are on the more determinist side–but perhaps not fully so. Here’s the problem–or the rub if you will–those movies only echo 5% or so of the human population or human existence. Perhaps as little as .05 or less. As such, stood on their head….they don’t hold water IMHO. They have precisely the problem that Tyler Cowen sees in stories–or blind acceptance of stories.

Some also exist as thought-experiments. For instance, Total Recall might be the prime example of the genre turned on its head solely in thought experiment (even if thats not the intent of its writer/authors). It seems to exist as a thought experiment….what would life be like if? But its simply not the life we inhabit–if only because many of these movies lack relationships (everything is described in hyperbole & banal sameness). Step outside and you’ll realize thats not. Even on a rainy day or a snowy day….its pretty freak’n brilliant outside. You could say they could be read as romantic or natural-loving critiques of institutions–not as an intrinsic part of the human experience.

* Note: I’m not 100% down with Cowen’s conclusions….but I think he has an important insight….particularly in relation to this topic. Descriptions of a present we don’t actually inhabit.

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