The lines were miles long, another busy Saturday at Wal-Mart. I was on an outlying register, so I couldn’t go on lunch until someone came to relieve me. The customer I was ringing out was buying some Nintendo games, and was absentmindedly shuffling through her purse. Out of nowhere she picked up her head and started to say something garbled. Looking around confused, she stopped mumbling and continued through her purse. She paid me and walked away with her new video games.
She had sounded like an idiot. The sounds she had made were indecipherable from mumbling, the sounds a lunatic makes when they just need to let out their breath. I leaned against the register thinking about why this seemingly random event happened. It occurred to me that it wasn’t random; there must be some good reasons behind it. She must have thought someone she knew was next to her, so she was going to tell them something but stopped when she realized she wasn’t’ there. It couldn’t be random; invariably if you analyze anything enough you find the causes. Before I could get anywhere, my friend Dana showed up with her register tray to relieve me. Lunch time.
After punching in at the time clock, I walked out to my old van through lawn and garden, the same shortcut all the employees take. I go to Subway everyday for lunch, and get exactly the same thing. The customers mumbling kept coming back to my mind. She didn’t do it randomly; I knew that, she was meaning to talk to someone. She was operating under prior assumptions, and those assumptions had changed in the course of her absentmindedness.
I turned the key and started the massive V8 engine. Every time I start it, it seems to get a little older, a little harder to turnover. The ancient van lumbered its way lazily down my well traveled route to subway, and I parked in my normal spot. Why did I park in my normal spot? Tradition I suppose.
As I was ordering my standard 12 inch roasted chicken breast on wheat with cheese, my physics class popped back into my head, as it invariably does. We were covering quantum mechanics. I hated the probability aspect of it. I didn’t want to think that the best way to understand the universe was using probabilities. All those beautiful equations to describe everything, there has to be a description for those little itty bitty particles.
My sub was handed to me by the same red headed chick with the piercing who always works here during the week and I sat down by the window, across the aisle from that weird guy who’s always here. He wanders over from the nursing home everyday at this time for a cup of coffee. Just sort of sitting there, he really doesn’t touch the coffee too much but instead stares out the window at the cars as they pass by. I wondered where his children are, if he had any.
I wondered what awards I would get if I could prove what my intuition said. An equation for everything. An equation for those little itty bitty particles that no one understood. Would they settle with just the Nobel Prize? Nah, it’d have to be something bigger. The Bacon Prize, yeah, they’d have to make a new one in my honor just to compensate.
In my head I threw protons and neutrons together to make some elementary particles. I saw the orbits match and connect into simple molecules. If you knew how the little guys worked, then you’d naturally know how the bigger guys worked. If you knew exactly what was going on with molecules, than chemical reactions would be fairly predictable too. If you got the chemical reactions down pat, simple biological processes would be ho hum. Complex biological processes are just lots of simple ones working together, right? Yeah, if you knew the laws for atoms and were bored enough, you could figure out just what tree a chipmunk would climb up if you chased him.
I made the connection between myself and a chipmunk as I took a big bite of the sandwich. Nearly choking, I took a big swig from my Pepsi. What did I just do? Does that mean I am perfectly and absolutely predictable? Do I have freewill? Of course I do, I must have made a mistake. I reviewed my steps, checking for something I knew was wrong. Only one of two things could be wrong if I was to have control of my actions. Either I have a soul, or there is no equation for the really small particles or wavicles or strings. If I have a soul, then that means that not all of existence obeys the equations I have, and allows for free will. If there isn’t an equation then things aren’t predictable, and the logic I used relies on an equation being present. A soul prevents me from making the chipmunk to human jump.
I put my drink down on the table and stared at it. I don’t believe in god or souls, so I couldn’t debunk it on that respect. Was there an equation? Did I have free will? There had to be an equation, there had to be, throughout history science has found more and more, there hasn’t been anything immune to the scientific method.
The Pepsi cup stared me down, mocking my new found lack of a free will. The cup was half full, making me an optimist, but also tempting me to test my free will. With one hand I knocked the cup over onto the opposite chair, watching the Pepsi flow down the side of the table. That weird guy turned to look at me for an instant, and then continued his study of traffic.
While I drove back I was scared. I had let an idea scare me deeply, let it reach down deep into my head. I had never let it go that deep before, and I’ve never let it go that deep since.