My dad once said, and I think I am remembering his words well enough, that everyone believes in free will when they’re not examining the issue so closely they get tunnel vision.

My brother once said that free will and consciousness are the same thing. I don’t know if he came up with that himself or what, or if he’s right, but I think at least they can’t be separated.

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Sep 20, 2023·edited Sep 20, 2023Liked by Debra Esolen

I have to say, upon finishing reading and hearing your column here today, my inner mathematician child is dancing a jig. Perhaps that seems a somewhat incongruous reaction, being, on the surface at least, an apparent purely logical reaction to an aesthetic, um, judgement, don't ya know (to make reference to your comments about “liberum arbitrium,” ie, free judgement).

But one of the things that this mathematician loves and keeps a logician's ever-vigilant eye out for is self-referential statements, situations, arguments, or, well, even poems "out there" that, in poetic manner, subtly (or sometime blatantly) make, in "structural" terms, reference to themselves, either intentionally or unintentionally.

And that "self-reference" aspect can manifest itself -- or rather, it's deductions or conclusions, and in truth, or in falsity, or, perhaps the most interesting for inner mathematician children -- in unresolvable paradox. The most famous logical example of such unresolvable paradox is of course the logical conundrum "This sentence is false."

And I wrote intentionally in my first sentence above, "...upon finishing reading and hearing..." because, Wow!, the poem's last line smacked me in the face with -- as Tolkien defined his coined term "Eucatastrophe" -- its "sudden, joyous turn," where the reader has almost (if not literally, as I did) taken a sudden intake of air in recognition that the poem has done for the reader, in that last line, what the "song" has done for the wind. Breathtaking (he said, punningly and self-referentially at the same time).

I hope I'm not out of line here, but I want to post the, perhaps, first sonnet I ever wrote just out of college, not to show it off (it was a first attempt, after all), but because I think it strikes at another important -- perhaps essential -- aspect of free will that I think must be also at its heart of and purpose. (And it is a purpose that I could guess your Fr. Culnane might endorse -- and not at all to imply that he, or you, missed mentioning this aspect, since your comments were directed at the poem's particular sense and intents).

In any case, it is something to do with not separating free will/judgement from its roots in recognizing and honoring and submitting to God, his Love for us, and his purpose in "dealing" with our self-imposed fallen nature. I freely admit that the sonnet is replete (to maybe overflowing) in my mathematician's fascination with, and likely overuse of such "mechanical" things as enjambment, and metrical tricks to adorn the meaning and sense of the poem -- though I might also suggest that (in my opinion) Frost does nearly the same thing in other ways here in his poem (though not in excess, being a possible difference between his greatness and my fumbling efforts :-) ).

So, for instance, my intentional enjambment at the ends of the first, third, fifth, and sixth lines, along with the intentional bumpy ride against boulders lying on the iambic road of the eighth line (and into the beginning of the ninth line) are there to aurally mimic those lines' meanings and actions and eventual effect described in the conclusion. It is, well, classically Stanleyesque, I suppose. And, forty-five years later, all I can say is that it "is what it is," as they say.

I'll also note in passing that it was inspired by the first pastor I heard preach on Sundays after becoming a Christian in my Junior year in college at Berkeley in the 70's (something that shocks most people hearing that origin of Faith at such a radical place -- the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, is all I can say :-) ). The Rev Earl Palmer (not even sure where or even if he is still around these days) had wonderful illustrations in his sermons, and one of his most popular (it ended up in one of his books) told of a fanciful sentient and "self-conscious" kite that loved to fly as high as it could, but was frustrated by an attached string that always seemed to hold it back from soaring to even greater heights. It desired to somehow cut that restraining string in order to pursue its great desire to fly higher. Of course the sermon's metaphorical effect of such desire and frustration was the "restraint" that God, in his Love for us fallen creatures, enacts to "keep us in line," you might say.

And also, at that post-college time I was reading a lot (in disagreement with but mathematical fascination in the subject of what was then referred to as "Strong A.I." (essentially the "pinball-bounces of atoms in empty space" you mention above). And of course the subject of "AI" (though in what I consider a sort of bastardized watering down of its actual earlier intent in order to "simplify" it for popular consumption) is a going concern and quite a bit in the news these days. Thus my sudden recollection and reason for my posting here of that "first sonnet" (it was, you might say, "my first rodeo" in some sense :-) ).

So, with that long preamble, this (again, hoping it is not too far out of line for comments here -- apologies, if so).


Sonnet for A.I. (artificial intelligence)


With freedom, say that souls arise by chance

Collisions, be they atoms unseen dance

Or Evolution's magic (beaten numb

And hidden). Even say conviction comes

Not to our sin-bound minds, the piercing lance

Of God, but only stimuli for fancy

Programs binding our opposing thumbs,

While thy hands, unbound, will elsewhere seek some

New Truth. But thou beware. Before thy hand

Doth loose that precious last restraining strand,

Remember this: the same did, bound, a kite.

And while its path described a wondrous flight,

The naked show was deemed of minor worth

As, soon, it curtly plummeted to earth.

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Stanley, I hope you shared this poem with the Reverend Earl Palmer. That's a pretty good shoe for your first rodeo!

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Sep 20, 2023Liked by Debra Esolen

I love Robert Frost’s poetry and actually got to see him in person when I was a college Lit. Major and our professor took us to Harvard to see him there! I confess, I never saw this poem, to my recollection, before. Thank you for sharing it!

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What a treat to have seen Frost in person. He rises in my estimation every time I read a poem of his. Even a short one like this is such a work of genius.

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