WIP excerpt from the Preface of ‘Tarot for Atheists’

If we take as an opening and basic assumption that we have no free will, it does not mean that we can’t make meaningful choices.  Learning that we don’t, at bottom, have free will, both as a consequence of the way the universe is currently constructed, and as a consequence of how we evolved in it, is no reason to bail on ethics, morality, law, virtue, character, curiosity, contract and manners.

These are all things that have been sieved out of the free will gold pan. Up in the sifter remain the fundamental laws of physics and the probabilistic realities of our own bodies and brains.  What comes gently dusting down is what’s left after we remove free will from the equation, and there’s plenty to work with in there, culturally, morally, creatively. The wonderful thing about learning that nobody really has free will is that it is liberating.  It is another way, yet another way, that all human beings are in this life and learning experience together.  To what extent can we acknowledge how we are constrained? Can we with humility and love and a sense of humour acknowledge biases, fight against the strictures of our physical beings, challenge the siftings of a hundred thousand lifetimes; how can we reorder our understanding of ourselves so that we may absorb the reality that free will ain’t free?

To look at it another way, our lack of free will makes perfect sense.  If we are products of the laws of physics, everything about us belongs to that sphere.  Inside that set of rules, we can run our own little fractal programs, dense and layered and deep and startling; some days boring and some days very busy.  If you enter +1 at the beginning the results will be completely different that if you entered −1, but the rules don’t change.  They play out without reference to their initiators. That initial number is a tiny input that makes a huge difference. We are all enmeshed in a reticulation of the still-playing-out consequences of those initial inputs, and that entanglement prevents us from having truly free will.  The web itself is immense and complex and encompasses virtually all we can see, and we move inside and along it, some of us faring better than others at describing its status and makeup and scale.  It is this web we are all stuck to.  The best among us makes the conceptual leap of standing outside the web to observe it, and within minutes or hours, the sticky concepts and words and folkways which bind us to the web reassert themselves inside our minds, and we’re back, stuck on the web again.

The ways we don’t have free will are myriad.  They are shot fractally through the entire fabric of life.