It’s really amazing how many simple but fascinating thoughts have never crossed my mind so far. Take e.g. the issue of free will. As pretty much any philosophical issue it’s first of all a question of definition. Probably something along the line of “being able to make choices” comes to mind.

But which of the following systems/things (if any) can actually make choices:

A ball rolling down a bumpy road, a pocket calculator computing the digits of the square root of 2 one after another, a robot in a T-maze (just a single intersection where the robot can turn left or right), a chess program.

It’s actually not as trivial to tell as one might think. At least not if one honestly thinks about it for more than just a split second. “Repeatability” partly comes into it (so that you can verify that the same system would have behaved the same/differently in the same setup). The difference between randomness and choice is also not completely trivial. Somehow, there needs to be a “conscious” decision. But how can you detect consciousness from the outside without introducing a cultural bias (… it has to “think” just like you …)? It also depends on details such as if the chess program “learns” from its past mistakes. The funny thing with many of these phenomena is that when you become very concrete/specific and give very strict conditions on what it means to have a “free will” then suddenly even certain computer programs (maybe using some random sources) have free will, but then you realize this is actually not what you meant by “free will”.

Every day I wonder more and more where this whole “self” which believes to have a “free will” comes from.