To Catch a Bullet
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Politics and Activism

To Catch a Bullet

The problem with the philosophy of determinism

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To Catch a Bullet

Determinism is one of the more pervasive philosophical attitudes of the modern world. Its basic thesis is that, for every possible outcome, there is a set of perfect conditions that cannot allow for any different result. This is a basic tenet of scientific thinking. Over the course of time, this has been applied to concepts of free will. The idea is that a human’s decisions are only a product of environment, experience, and genetics. Free will does not even enter the equation. Every decision that has been made by any person can ultimately be explained by logical and scientific thinking. This is especially prevalent among many scientific thinkers, which does make sense.

On its face, determinism seems to follow logic. If the laws of the universe conform to a singular outcome given a specific set of conditions, then why wouldn’t human nature? It makes sense that this would be popular in scientific fields, as they are more inclined to think of events in this capacity. The predictability in science could be expanded to the unpredictable realm of human interaction, and thus lead to the conclusion of determinism. The very existence of science could be argued as proof of determinism. The laws that bind outcomes to conditions seems to be all-encompassing. Furthermore, the implication of determinism could lead to a revolution of psychology. Imagine being able to predict every single decision that a person makes. Through a combination of studying genetics, environment, and experiences the human mind could be broken down into a simple game of cause and effect. To a certain extent, we already do this. We make judgements about people and anticipate their reactions to our actions. Logically, determinism makes sense. However, under logical scrutiny, the philosophy is somewhat impractical.

There is a particular moment in the graphic novel Watchmen when a character catches a bullet. This character is said to be so intelligent that he can perfectly understand the trajectory, force, and physical nature of the bullet. He is then able to apply enough force in exactly the right places to this tremendously fast object. The lightning-fast process allows him to actually catch the bullet while it is hurling toward his body.

Now, can you catch a bullet? You theoretically could. Given the proper knowledge of how the bullet is going to act and react, maybe you could. However, can you actually catch a bullet? In the practical world, this feat is impossible. Ultimately, you are limited to what your brain can process. The amount of computation required is ridiculous, and it is made more impractical by the speed at which the process has to occur. Knowing that perfect clairvoyance and knowledge would allow you to catch the bullet, you still wouldn’t be able to. Understanding the theoretical possibility does not help you practically. You would stand just as much of a chance trying to outrun the thing.

Herein lies the problem with determinism. The bullet is the actual human decision, and catching the bullet is predicting the decision exactly. What good does it do to know you can theoretically predict any and all decisions, if that action is practically impossible? Like the bullet, it requires total knowledge. To exactly predict a human decision, one would need to know every single aspect of that person’s life. One would need to know it down to the littlest detail. Furthermore, one would need to know the full extent of the person’s genetic makeup. Even with all that, one would need to know exactly how every one of those experiences and genetic details would factor into that particular decision. The mathematics required are staggering. To some extent, we do this already, but to absolutely know the outcome and to just have an idea of what the outcome might be are completely different. Determinism demands that there are absolutes. It is built on the idea of a perfect equation for human behavior. It disregards free will in favor of the possibility that this equation exists. Theoretically, it does exist. Practically, it is far too complicated.

In essence, the pragmatic difference between free will and practical determinism is non-existent. The computation is so ridiculously complex, it might as well be free will. Saying it isn’t makes no difference. In the end, determinism and free will look pretty similar. If there is a perfect human equation, can we find it? Can we even comprehend it? We probably can’t. It is beyond our grasp. We can get some glimpse of it through looking at personality and experiences, but we can never find the perfect answer. There is no practical application to determinism. It’s like trying to catch a bullet.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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