Selected Fictions I: Free Will and Scotch

Soon, their voices began to percolate through my red old jarrah-wooden door. I changed my
sleeping position, rotated 180 degrees away from the door, and threw my cover cloth over my
head to see if I could reduce the sound waves from balking my sleep.

I failed.

I put on my ear plugs, but, gush, the tiniest sounds are the most annoying. I could sleep under
the influence of a woofer, but not this queasy tittle-tattle. It drove me crazy. After fifteen more
minutes of tussle, I gave up, and walked out of my room drowsily.
“No free will!” He shouted.

That was Abubakar, my dad’s colleague at the university. He teaches foundation of graphical
models, and machine learning at the University of Abuja. 6ft 3 inches tall and a clumsy fellow, except for his thoughts – those are crisp. And, Oh boy! Abubakar is pretty lousy. As in, he is loud,
normally.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” He laughed sarcastically, “what’s your premise?”
That’s my dad, Ibrahim. 47-year-old. Very Muscular. Two PhDs. One in Economics. The other in
African History. Plus, he reads a few books every month – books that I can’t comprehend
beyond the fourth page, and thank God for the ‘is’, ‘and’, ‘they’ and ‘that’. If those don’t exist, I will
be damned.

Now Abubakar tilted forward from our brown leather sofa made from oak, his knee prodded
forward and his feet made a V-shape. His eye lit up. He raised his right index finger upwards as
if pointing to the sky.

“Our actions are as a result of who we are; who we are is determined by the circumstances in
which we grow and find ourselves; and because we are not responsible for the circumstances
that molds who we are, how can we be fundamentally responsible for what we do? Ibrahim, I
don’t see any free will here, except I am blind.”

“Maybe you are” my dad chuckled. “You are throwing words around, determined? shaped? You
are throwing yourself off in one single sentence. Anyways, how do you reconcile the fact that in
several situations we do have the capacity to do otherwise?” Ibrahim asked.

“Doing otherwise doesn’t count,” Abubakar replied swankily, “what counts is the starting point, I
am a prisoner to my genes and my childhood experiences. Any decision, or change I make will
be contingent on such variable. You need to think about this deeply”

After Abubakar finished this statement, it dawned on me, it was no tittle-tattle, I was wrong. I
was glad I was not asleep. Oh! what I would have missed. I love these conversations between
my Dad, Abubakar, and another friend called Jibril. They don’t engage in this type of
conversation all the time, but when they do, they go deep, very deep. I stretched for an aeron
chair, dragged it on the floor, it made a slight high squeaking sound, and I sat comfortably.
My dad thought about what Abubakar  said for a few seconds and digressed

“How do you explain my decision to move my arm at this moment, Abubakar?”
Moving his left forearm forcefully, exposing his armpit littered with scanty hair from his armless
dansiki, and one could see his triceps muscle stood like a mountain.

“Your argument is petty,” Abubakar replied. “How do you justify the origin of such thoughts to
move your arm? You see, it is not fundamentally agent causal, period. Clearly, we got into this
argument because someone mentioned free will on the TV.  And by pure chance, we are arguing
about free will, by sheer randomness!”

“But we could have decided not to argue about free will,” my dad said.

“But we did” Abubakar replied.

“Yes, we did”

“So?”

“So? so, there is free will”

At this point I was confused. I had always heard free will around, but I wasn’t sure what it meant
exactly. I interjected “and what his free will?”

“Oh Ali, the distinction of free will is an action that can be backed up by reason – an action
performed because of a reason, not something unconscious like a knee-jerk.”

He faced me and responded, he turned back immediately to face my dad with a faint cloth rustle from his agbada.

“Back to my point Ibrahim, our decision to argue about free will is fundamentally not agent
causal because we cannot choose not to not argue in hindsight,” stressing the word
‘fundamentally’.

I was confused, “choose not to not argue?” I thought out loudly. My dad was going to respond
but I interjected again. “What do you mean by you cannot choose not to not argue in hindsight?”

“See”, now facing me, “we made the decision to argue about this subject, and that decision is literally in the past. Our contemplation to not argue is only a wish, it’s gone. We already made a decision, and we will never have the chance to make that specific decision again.”

“But you guys can make a decision to stop now, right?” I said.

There was a short silence, and we could hear Flash, our austracian shepherd dog, barking
heavily from the backyard.

“But we wouldn’t be able to decide to stop now if we haven’t started in the first place, and, had
we not had this exact or similar line of arguments, everything scatters with the regress, EVERY
SINGLE THING!”

“Hmm” I thought deeply about what he said for a few seconds.

“What …”

I was going to ask for some clarifications, but my dad interjected “can you get me a bottle of
scotch?”

“Which one?”

“The one with the old bottles, the one I got from the store yesterday.” I stretched for the bottle
from my chair and poured them a glass, about three fingers each.
Did I tell you they both love scotch? Oh my! They do. I have joined a few times, but I don’t know
how that tasteless drink could be enjoyable.
Admittedly some of them have some tastes, kind of smoky, but I am tempted to say, the taste
even tastes like tastelessness at its core. But my dad keeps saying, “it’s an acquired taste, it’s
an acquired taste”. Acquired taste? How long do I have to taste those to acquire the taste? And
why should I drink something if it tastes tasteless the first time?
And what is funny is the description of the taste. Cheesy and wet; aroma of green peat smoke;
Green? Peat? How? Really? Those descriptions crack me up.

“Sorry, Abubakar, where did we stop?” my dad asked.

“I said, we wouldn’t be able to decide to stop this argument now if we haven’t started in the first
place. And, had we not had this similar line of arguments, which could have lead us to the
consideration of stopping the argument, we wouldn’t be able to decide to stop the argument.”
Abubakar replied.

“… you made a insightful point, but, one that is almost completely meaningless at the practical
level?”

My Dad scratched his right cheek haphazardly as if bitten by a red ant, he continued.

“I don’t have problems with a lot of your assertions, no reasonable person will argue against the
fact that our actions have preceding causes some of which are not agent casual, but to throw
free will away completely is not wise, it doesn’t make any sense”

Abubakar interjected, waving his two hands, “wait, wait, wait.” He paused, and continued
“Consider this hypothetical situation: If A causes B, and B causes C, and C causes D, how do
you account for C to D? That is, how would you take responsibility for C to D without the
knowledge of the origin of A.”

At this point they were already wet with scotch, very wet.

“I can take responsibility, because, all that that means is that, my choices are limited because of
the mysterious origin of A.”

“What a bad choice of words?” I thought. At this point I was struggling really bad.

He continued “My freedom which is limited to, say, C to D is just ‘limited’ not IN-EXISTENT,
Gush!”

“No, no, no,” Abubakar shouted, shaking his head with the strand twist of his dread locks hitting
his left and right cheek as his head shakes from right to left. “Sadly, I am not seeing what you
see, that doesn’t make any sense.”

As my dad tried to clarify his assertions on limitations and freedom. Jibril came in. Apparently,
he came to pick them up to watch a soccer game starting in about an hour down the street. The
conversation swerved for some minutes and when they came back. It became too hard to follow
through.

It was just all buzzwords like ‘hard compatibilist’,  ‘non-compatibilist’ , ‘nomological determinism’, ‘metaphysical liberalism’,, ‘psychophysical parallelism’,  ‘epiphenomenalism’, ‘meliorism’. It is a
lengthy list and for space, I will save the reader from the rest.

I couldn’t hold up, I lost interest. Why should such discussion lead to an intense technicality?
However, I find the initial discussion galvanizing. While on the one hand I feel free, Abubakar’s
argument appears irresistible at a deeper level. I thought about it for the rest of the week, and
never thought of it again, until you mentioned it.

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