I’m free, you’re not:
Last week I was into it again.  I was chatting with someone about fertility, and that person said, “It’s all choice.”  Nay, said I, not choice at all.

“It’s choice.”

“If I take a ball and drop it, it will fall.  It will fall every time.  You don’t say that the ball chooses to fall.  If it happens every time, then it’s a law of nature.  Fertility is almost completely predictable.  There is very little choice.”  I was permitted to get away with it that time.

I’m Free, You’re Not (GTC, SCIENCE vol. 331. no. 6015 January 21, 2011 page 265) reviews a study (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 22469 (2010)) that compares the belief of people – they questioned undergraduates and waiters – in their own free will and that of roommates and coworkers.  Needless to say they tended to regard themselves as rational agents and others to be more akin to automatons.  The issues were things like choice of college, major, and where to live.

By doing logical back flips it should be possible to defend the proposition that theses things are biologically determined and hence directed by something that has evolved in the brain having to do with status, survival and welfare of offspring.  Believe as you will.  But the upshot is that people are quite willing to believe that those other than themselves have limited free will.

But if evolution has its fingers into anything it is into reproduction.  If it has lifted anything out of our hands and indicated, “I’ll look after that for you,” it is the one thing that drives evolution – relative reproductive success in the long run. 

So when somebody tells me, “It’s choice,” on reproductive matters regarding other people, I must think, “You don’t really believe that. You don’t believe much in choice anyway, and this one is very constraint heavy.  Why would you tell me that which is not what you believe?” 

I don’t come up with good answers.  I can make allowances for something like nature has tampered with their brains as part of her plan to wipe us out.  But it really doesn’t work.  There seems to be no difference on this point between the close bred and fertile on the one hand and the outbred and infertile on the other.  Any ideas would be welcome.

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