Sebastian, a young, high flying executive, is going to a meeting crucial to the next great leap forward in his career. He sees a woman getting mugged, and her handbag stolen. If he stops to help he will miss his meeting. What does he do?
Robert Kane, Professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, says that his choice in that moment is a “Self-Forming Action” or SFA. Kane is a defender of free will, and I bring him to you through the summary of Richard Oerton, a determinist. The SFA is a decision in an instant where “we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become”. Kane’s example is a choice between pro-social and selfish, and clearly it may affect Sebastian deeply, whether he runs for his meeting but, disturbed by what he saw, performs badly and loses his job soon after; or he intervenes and, delighted by the success of his heroism, joins a charity removing land mines from conflict zones.
How is this free will? The sight stirs up chaos in Sebastian’s brain and sensitises it to “quantum disturbances at the neuronal level” opening “a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by influences of the past”. There are hypotheses of parallel universes, and there might be separate “places” where each possible action he could perform has happened, and each possible set of consequences: though whichever we see as the “right” response to me it seems no more blameworthy than any other choice; and whether to go for a run or spend another half hour in bed, three weeks earlier, may also have far-reaching consequences for his character: it, too, is a decision made in an instant which might be finely balanced.
I went to Dr Dalrymple with logical arguments why I was transsexual, and he refuted each of them, leaving me only how I felt and what I wanted. This was intensely painful, and it freed me to value my feelings more, and seek rational justification less. Had I waited longer for such a change it might have been more painful, and I doubt it could come about in a less shocking or painful manner.
That was July 2001, and from February 1999 I have been conscious of changing my understanding of the world and responses to it, as a process of growth or healing, getting closer to an organismic self or real me. Part of this is in accidental encounters with the world- as in the film Sliding Doors, in one reality Sebastian caught the earlier tube, and did not see the mugging.
Even if there are different Sebastians in different worlds, earning different amounts, doing different things, with different levels of health, we cannot blame any of them. And- as living is better than not-living, and I want to take in more ideas and experiences, I choose to believe that this living being is capable of further growth and healing.