Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Time May Not Be Linear

One theory posits that time, as part of space-time, exists at every point, always, in conjunction with space, so that what we think of as the future and the past exist simultaneously with the present.

Your birth and death are already written into space-time; you just haven’t experienced the latter yet. Every decision you make, every action you take, is already plotted on a four-dimensional graph such that a being (say, God) could look at your life from outside that graph and see it all at once.

There’s your fifth birthday party, and that’s the time you had to go to the hospital. And there’s your wedding and the birth of your first child. This is when you lost your job, that over there is when you will suffer your first heart attack, and that other point is when you will enter a nursing home.

It’s just difficult for us to understand this concept because we perceive time in a linear fashion, passing from events we remember to those we can only imagine. For us, time appears to be flowing like a river, from the source to the sea.

If this theory is true, and there’s a good chance it is, then there may be no such thing as objective free will. Our lives may be preordained by whatever power created the universe, whether that be a deity or some unknown causative factor like a simple explosion.

But even if there really isn’t true free will, I would submit that there still is a kind of subjective free will, an individual free will that’s personal to each and every one of us. We have the ability to decide our lives and even if they’re already locked in, we don’t know that, so for us, it still seems like free will.

If you don’t know that you’re going to pick up that apple and eat it, then it still feels like a choice when you decide to do it. And in fact, it still is a choice. It may be one that “God” has already seen, but you yourself haven’t seen it. You don’t know, going in, that you will make that particular choice. So it’s still a choice freely made.

Only something outside the space-time continuum would be able to discern that the choice was inevitable. Everyone inside the continuum would have imperfect knowledge of your actions. We might guess that you would choose to eat the apple, but we can’t know.

For us then, not knowing the inevitability of the future, our will is essentially free. We perceive that we have free will just as we perceive that time flows from past to future. If we knew we were destined to make a specific choice, that would be different. But even if you know that you will make a choice between eating and not eating the apple (without knowing which you will choose at any given moment), that is not the same thing as knowing you will eat the apple.

Thus, our imperfect knowledge, our limited perception of the universe, makes our choices, for all intents and purposes, free from predestination. Our limited ability to understand the universe actually benefits us. Since we, trapped inside space-time, don’t know what we will do at any given point, we get to choose.


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