This is a short play I wrote about the nature of free will and the debate surrounding it. Centres around a young man and his friend sitting together in a coffee shop, the young man is trying to remember his solution to ‘the problem of free will.’

SETTING

A round, coffee shop table with two chairs facing each other, perpendicular to the audience. The scene is set in a coffee shop, JIM is seated on the stage right side of the table holding open a large book when the curtain is raised. MARILYN is not on the set.

TIME

Late at night; around midnight.

CHARACTERS

JIM                             Young, college freshman, appears haphazard.

MARILYN                 Young, college senior, well-dressed and put-together.

ACT [1]

SCENE [1]

(JIM is seated at the table furiously reading his book)

JIM

(Muttering)

I had it. I knew the answer. I’m so stupid, how could I have forgotten? It was so simple, but now it’s gone.

MARILYN

(Enters stage left and joins JIM at the table)

Hey Jim, sorry I’m late.

JIM

(Exasperated)

I had it Mari, I had the answer.

MARILYN

The answer to what?

JIM

Free will.

MARILYN

(Chuckles)

JIM

(Annoyed)

I’m serious, I had the answer.

MARILYN

(Joking)

Where did it go? Did the answer simply get up and decide to leave? Free will has a habit-

JIM

(Interrupting, annoyed)

I’m not kidding Mari, I had it. I figured out how to reconcile random acts with both determinism and free will. I found the philosophic holy grail.

MARILYN

Philosophy 201 is really screwing with your head, huh?

JIM

(Slamming his book closed)

It’s Susan Stebbing, she ruined it for me. I’m so confused by all this ‘Heisenberg’ crap I can’t remember the answer. I can feel it, it’s on the tip of my tongue.

MARILYN

Why don’t we work backwards? See if we can reverse engineer your solution?

JIM

(Sighing, defeated)

Okay, where should we start?

MARILYN

How about determinism.

JIM

Good idea.

MARILYN

So, what do you think? Is determinism true?

JIM

Of course.

MARILYN

(Slightly annoyed)

Really, ‘of course,’ that’s all you’ve got to say?

JIM

(Gaining confidence)

Of course not. Determinism doesn’t have to be about predetermined outcomes. The nature of the universe is determined, the history of our individual existences, our DNA, our experiences, they’re all determined.

MARILYN

How does free will fit in?

JIM

Even though the initial situation is determined, and in some sense so is the outcome, we can still choose which direction our lives take. We choose what happens, even if the choices we’re presented with are beyond our control.

MARILYN

That makes sense, but how can you factor randomness into all this? If things happen at random they can’t be determined, right?

JIM

(Putting his head on the table, speaking into tabletop)

I know, I had in Mari, I really did.

MARILYN

(Patting JIM’s head tenderly)

It’s okay Jim, it’s not that big of a deal.

JIM

(Sitting upright, almost yelling)

Not that big of a deal?

MARILYN

(Shocked by the outburst)

Whoa, Jim, I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t realize how much this-

JIM

(Interrupting)

This is a big deal Mari, if I can remember the answer I get an automatic A in philosophy. This is a question philosophers have been asking since Plato.

(Puts his head back on the table)

I had it Mari, I really did.

MARILYN

(Relaxing)

I believe you Jim. What were you thinking about when you found the answer.

JIM

(Perking up)

Chaos theory.

MARILYN

That’s interesting, I can see how you ended up at Heisenberg’s uncertainty.

JIM

It’s stupid. The cats dead, the cats alive. Who cares?

MARILYN

Physicists.

JIM

(Standing, pacing)

It’s the nature of random acts. That’s what I was thinking about.

MARILYN

Go on.

JIM

(Still pacing, ignores MARILYN’s line)

I mean, what’s really random? Maybe things only seem random, maybe they’re still determined.

(Pauses, turns to MARILYN)

That’s just a cop-out.

MARILYN

How does chaos theory fit in to all this?

JIM

(Sits down at the table)

Well, if you know the initial conditions of a system, the true, first state. You can extrapolate what the system will look like at any point in its future.

MARILYN

(Quizzically)

I’m not sure how this fits in, how does this apply to determinism and free will?

JIM

(Exasperated)

It doesn’t.

(Places head on the table)

I’m such an idiot.

MARILYN

You’re not an idiot. Explain chaos theory to me, maybe it will help.

JIM

(Sighs, sits up to face MARILYN)

Well, you know how traffic looks chaotic from above? Car’s all willy nilly, flying down the freeway, seemingly at random?

MARILYN

Yeah.

JIM

Well, it only seems chaotic. The system relies on simple rules to operate. For example, if we knew how the system began, if we know all the rules governing it, it’s not chaos at all. It’s ordered.

MARILYN

Okay…

JIM

(Standing suddenly)

Wait! That’s it!

MARILYN

What?

JIM

I remember! It’s so simple!

(Fade to black)