Dr Manhattan and Free Will

Watchmen is a graphic novel by the author Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons. It has been turned into a film by Zack Snyder, and frequently makes lists of greatest works of literature. In the book there is a character called Doctor Manhattan, a human who has been transformed into a super-being by an accident in a laboratory, and has power over physical reality to the extent that he can destroy and recreate atoms. He also sees into the future because his perspective is such that he sees all of past present and future as a single moment.

Powers such as these have traditionally been associated with God in the theistic traditions. But what interests us in particular is his attitude to free will and choice. Because he knows intimately the very atomic structure of everything he also knows the causal conditions by which things occur, and the things that happen are shown by him in the book to be inescapable. This belief that everything is causally determined through previous events is called determinism, and is usually seen as contradicting beliefs in free will.

One thought on “Dr Manhattan and Free Will

  1. To be sure he sees his own future and past… but no one else’s. He is truly a citizen of the universe however he is not a creative nor destructive force within the universe (unless influenced by man as seen in Watchmen’s parallel to Vietnam). He knows free will doesn’t exist as he sees his own future yet he doesn’t know why he must exist to simply carry out the predetermined. He posits there is no greater reason than his own, moreover his better, human, half. He thinks that there may be no reason. Just because. Just random. A perfect clock with no craftsman. “Too late… always has been. Always will be.”

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