Hey Bill Nye! Do you believe in free will?
Is the idea of “choice” real or is choice just an idea in our heads? Are our brains inventing our own answers before we’ve even thought them through? The answer might surprise you.
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
PETE: Hey Bill. It’s Pete from Atlanta, Georgia, and I was wondering if you believe in free will? It feels like the idea of choice is the biggest argument for free will, but is choice real or is it just an idea in our heads? If I look at my life I feel like I’m here through a series of single decisions and it just kind of feels very linear and kind of on a track. But I’m not so sure. What do you think about it? Thanks.
BILL NYE: So is there such a thing as free will? The answer is clearly “it depends what you mean.” So I am so compelled by these tests where they have brain scans going on, working real time, and then the subject is asked to make a choice. And they can see on the brain scan that the choice has already been made before the person is able to articulate it or even watch the choice had been made have it bounce back and forth and then settle on another choice.
This is a wonderful question, but that there is no free will—that, to me, is an extraordinary claim, because I feel that I have made choices – and this might be what you’re driving at—I feel that I have made choices freely based on things that have happened around me, based on the environment and my experiences and my perception of the experiences of others.
So in other words if there really were absolutely no free will could you then predict what every single person in the universe or on Earth is going to do and where he or she will end up. And then furthermore can that not be influenced by some cosmic force or forces that we can’t assess? It could be. It just doesn’t seem reasonable.
I think much more reasonable is: our brains are complicated, and they got this big or as big as they are organically through evolution, with layer being added upon layer.
So our ability to choose is often confused. Our ability to make choices is often affected by the environment, by our experiences and by biochemistry, the shape of our brain. So I think the answer is clearly “some of each.”
Author, orator, and all-around ‘science guy’ Bill Nye has been asked a lot of questions in his 30 years on the air. But this time around, Bill gets asked a question almost Biblical in nature: is there such a thing as true free will? Of course, Bill gets right down to the nitty gritty and tells us what exactly is going on in our brains as we begin to make any decision. Is the idea of "choice" real or is choice just an idea in our heads? Are our brains inventing our own answers before we’ve even thought them through? The answer might surprise you. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
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