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Virginia Postrel is an author and speaker whose work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture, commerce, and technology. Postrel[…]

Randomness is not free will.

Virginia Postrel: Oh my god. People who are a lot smarter than me have thought about this. I don’t think . . . What do you mean by free will, I guess is the question. Randomness is not free will. I’m not a dualist, although we all are instinctively from childhood dualists. We think there’s a little man in our head or a little woman in my case. And that person is acting and choosing. And if there’s not really a little person in your head, then you don’t have free will. But how can that be? That doesn’t make any sense to me either. So I think you just kind of . . . however, what . . . I’m not a philosopher as I say. And people much smarter than I am have dealt with this. But the way I think about it is you just . . . it may be your biology is telling you to do these things or whatever; but you act as if you have free will. And then the real interesting question is then when do you come to modify the biochemical processes that direct your behavior? And I have both sort of a professional interest in this question, and also a personal interest because I have suffered from depression. And I . . . to me . . . and I’ve had a happy childhood. I have no traumas in my life. You know, if we were back in the days where we understood depression in some Freudian way, there would be nothing . . . I couldn’t account for it. Why should I have this depression? It’s like the flu. I would be perfectly fine one day and then terribly, terribly, depressed the next day. And I do take, not so much anymore . . . but not so much _________ anymore. I have taken Prozac and it helps. And it makes me what I think of as the normal me. Sort of like Claritin D cures your allergies. It’s the same. To me, I experience it in the same way as I would experience any other kind of medication. But that does raise . . . People love to think about these issues. Well is the real Virginia the despairing, depressed Virginia? Or is it the happy-go-lucky Virginia? Most people who know me would say it’s sort of the cheerful one, and actually people tend to be surprised that I’ve been depressed. But that’s an interesting question of “Who is the real you?” And when you’re in an era when you can sort of modify the real you, I would argue that the choice to modify or not is a sort of self-fashioning choice. You’re deciding what kind of person you want to be and who is the you . . . It’s very deep. Far too deep for me. Far too deep for me.

Recorded on: 7/4/07