Of Freedom and Sunsets

A conversation over chez Jerry (in response to one “Insightful Ape”):

Free will (as I use the term) is exclusive to humans only in same sense that mathematics and music are exclusive to humans.

I reject any dualistic antideterministic supernatural notion of freedom.

And I’d be happy to give up the phrase “free will” for the sake of this discussion if it would help. (But the debate really is in the philosopher’s domain, and all philosophers understand the compatibilist notion of freedom that I’m describing, and a great majority of us subscribe to it. So this concession would be something like our allowing a creationist to use the word “theory” to mean a mere hypotheses, just so we could get to substantive issues.)

Let’s pick up your earlier example of the term “sunrise” for comparison. You and I agree that the the Earth orbits the sun, so in that sense the sun doesn’t rise. But now I hear a whole bunch of scientists (and others) saying now that we know that there’s no sunset and no sunrise, roosters will never crow (or at least not for good reason), and people will never go to sleep (or at least they wouldn’t if they were consistent), and so on.

And I want to say, Wait a minute! The relevant bits of sunrise and sunset are still there. It’ll still get light in the morning, the relative position of the sun will change, etc. etc. That’s what *matters* for all the stuff you’re talking about.

Here’s the parallel dialogue:

Insightful Ape: “Surely you don’t believe in sunrises do you? The sun doesn’t move.”

Physicalist: “Sure the sun doesn’t move, but it’s still going to get light at any given location at some particular time.”

IA: “But that’s not a sunrise.”

P: “Well, call it what you like. The important point is that roosters and bedtimes depend on the relative position of the sun. What do you want to call it when someone can first see the sun, and when they can last see the sun.”

IA: “Well, I wouldn’t make any distinction between any of the times; we’re just on a spinning Earth, and the sun isn’t moving.”

P: “But we *need* some sort of distinction to be able to talk about breakfast and bedtime, and to calm down the people who think that no roosters will every crow again! (Perhaps we could call it an ‘un-sunclipse’ if Blake will let us get away with it.)”

IA: “It’s strange. You admit that the Earth is spinning, and yet for some reason you still want to think that there’s a Sunrise. So you think that the sun is moving even though we all agree that the Earth is turning? Why don’t you just admit that there’s no sunrise? Look, here’s a ton of evidence that shows that the sun is basically stationary. No other star orbits around its planets, why do you insist on thinking that the Sun orbits the Earth?”

P: “Fine, the sun doesn’t rise!”

Peanut Gallery: “OMG! It’s going to be dark forever!!! We’re DOOMED!!!”

P: “No, there’ll be a sunrise tomorrow morning . . . “


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