Ian caused a tremendous amount of damage today. Countless cars were destroyed. Lots of homes and business were rendered unusable. Emergency 911 calls largely weren't responded to, because Ian created so much trouble over such a large area.
If Ian was a person, he'd be charged with innumerable crimes. But Ian was a massive Category 4 hurricane that struck Florida today, so there won't be any jail time for the perpetrator of all that havoc.
Watching cable news cover the hurricane, I was impressed (as I have been with previous hurricanes) with how accurately forecasters were able to predict the path Ian would take and how dangerous the storm would be: wind speed, rainfall amount, amount of storm surge, and so on.
Science makes this possible through computer models, weather satellites, storm-chasing airplanes filled with instruments, and other accomplishments of modern meteorology. But at the root of the capacity to predict what a hurricane will do, or what anything will do, is an understanding that reality is deterministic, governed by lawful causes and effects.
Ah, but most people believe humans have free will. (Not that they have any choice in this.)
One day, I'm confident, a belief in free will shall be viewed in much the same way as we regard a belief that the earth is flat. A product of ignorance that was disproven by science and now is held by just a few cranks.
In her book Existential Physics: A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions, Sabine Hossenfelder tackles the question, "Has physics ruled out free will?" Short answer: yes. Here's passages from this chapter that provide a longer answer.
The major problem with discussions about free will is that philosophers have put forward a heap of definitions that have nothing to do with what nonphilosophers think free will means.
I am tempted to write "normal people" as opposed to "philosophers," but maybe that's a little uncharitable. And I don't want to be uncharitable. Certainly not.
For this reason, let me begin by stating the problem without using the term free will. The currently established laws of nature are deterministic with a random element from quantum mechanics. This means the future is fixed, except for occasional quantum events that we cannot influence.
Chaos theory changes nothing about this. Chaotic laws are still deterministic; they are just difficult to predict, because what happens depends very sensitively on the initial conditions (butterfly flaps and all that).
Our life is thus not, in Jorge Luis Borges's words, a "garden of forking paths" where each path corresponds to a possible future and it is up to us which path becomes reality. The laws of nature just don't work that way.
For the most part, there is really only one path, because quantum effects rarely manifest themselves macroscopically. What you do today follows from the state of the universe yesterday, which follows from the state of the universe last Wednesday, and so on, all the way back to the Big Bang.
...For your will to be free, it shouldn't be caused by anything else. But if it wasn't caused by anything -- if it's an "uncaused cause," as Friedrich Nietzsche put it -- then it wasn't caused by you, regardless of just what you mean by you.
As Nietzsche summed it up, it's "the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far." I'm with Nietzsche.
This is how I think about what's going on instead: our brains perform computations on input, following equations that act on an initial state. Whether these computations are algorithmic is an open question that we'll come to later, but there's no magic juice in our neocortex that puts us above the laws of nature.
All we're doing is evaluating what are the best decisions to make given the limited information we have.
A decision is the result of our evaluation; it does not require anything beyond the laws of nature. My phone makes decisions each time it calculates what notifications to put on the lock screen; clearly, making decisions does not necessitate free will.
...If free will doesn't make sense, why, then, do many people feel it describes how they go about their evaluations? Because we don't know the result of our thinking before we are done; otherwise, we wouldn't have to do the thinking.
As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, "The freedom of the will consists in the fact that future actions cannot be known now." His Tractatus is now a century old, so it's not like this is breaking news.
...The easiest way to deal with it [incompatibility of free will and physics] is through dualism, according to which the mind has a nonphysical component. Using dualism, you can treat free will as an ascientific concept, a property of your soul, if you wish.
This will be compatible with physics as long as the nonphysical component does not interact with the physical one, because then it'd be in conflict with evidence -- it'd become physical.
Because the physical part of our brain is demonstrably the thing we use to make decisions, I don't see what one gains from believing in a nonphysical free will, but then this isn't a new problem with dualism, and at least it isn't wrong.