“Jason! You’re late,” Merriweather barked, as he flung my jacket onto a chair and impatiently ushered me to the sitting room. I wondered why he had called me there. Presumably, it was because we were colleagues and he needed my professional opinion as a nanotechnologist.
“Not by choice,” I said. “The traffic was heavy. I got here as soon as I could.” I looked around the room in surprise. The whole gang was here. Chuck Feinstein (excuse me, Doctor Feinstein, now a bestselling author), Professor Nate Maxson (Head of the Philosophy Department at New Sallee University), Hiroko Nagati (arguably one of the most intelligent men I had ever met) and Elias Merriweather. All of us college buddies reunited at last. They all sat sipping at their brandies or scotches, sitting on the Corinthian leather couches and Koa chairs. Merriweather was never one to scrimp on luxury, and with his kind of money, why would he?
Merriweather handed me a drink and motioned to me to take a seat. He stood in front of us, rubbing his hands together— his way of expressing excitement.
“So glad you could make it. So happy you decided to come.”
“What is it, Merriweather?” Feinstein asked curtly. “What mad scheme have you dreamt up this time? Have you cooked up another love potion?” he snickered, glancing at Maxson.
Maxson revealed only a hint of amusement. We all remembered Merriweather’s love potion. He had spent unknown millions of dollars studying human pheromones to come up with a perfume that would supposedly be irresistible. Unfortunately for Merriweather, the end product was a scent remarkably akin to body odor, and was singularly unsuccessful. It was one in a long line of crazy ideas Merriweather had entertained.
I had never quite decided if Merriweather was a borderline psychotic, or a truly brilliant scientist and inventor, but I leaned toward the former.
“I’ve done it,” he announced. “They’re going to rank my name among the greats. Socrates, Plato, Descarte… and me, Merriweather. You see, my dear friends, I have solved one of the greatest dilemmas of the human condition, something that has baffled the world’s greatest thinkers ever since the dawn of humankind.”
Merriweather paused for dramatic effect. Here it comes, I thought. What insane thing has he thought of this time? I took a big swig of brandy.
“I’ve proven that there is no such thing as free will.”
Feinstein began laughing, nearly choking on his drink. Maxson groaned and put his head in his hands. Nagati remained calm, but narrowed his eyes. The mystery man eyed us all, studying our reactions. I admit I was shaking my head in disbelief. Merriweather had really come unglued this time. How could anyone disprove free will?
“You’re out of your mind!” Feinstein roared. He surged to his feet and began pacing. “This is why you called us here? I knew I shouldn’t have come. What a waste. Free will, Elias? You’ve proven that there’s no such thing as free will? And exactly how have you done that? There’s no way.”
Merriweather beamed, “Ah, but there is. And if you’d all just think about it for a few moments, I think you’d remember.”
“Fine, this ought to be good for a laugh.” Feinstein sat down and folded his arms.
“This is no laughing matter, Charles. I’m totally serious. I’ve done something that nobody else has ever been able to do. Not that I had any choice,” he added. “There are forces greater than us that control our every move. Nature or nurture, it doesn’t matter. Both are valid and neither makes one iota of difference. Our behavior is one hundred percent pre-determined.”
Feinstein scoffed and threw his hands up in the air. He looked around at us for support, settling on Maxson. “Are you just going to sit here and take this?” he asked.
Maxson sighed. “We’re here. We may as well just hear him out. Come on, Elias. Get on with it. Exactly how have you proven there’s no such thing as free will?”
“What? None of you remember? Philosophy 101. How do you disprove free will?”
We all looked around at each other dumbly, except Nagati, who was turning a shade pale.
“Jesus,” he said. “I think I know. Please tell me, Elias, that you’re not planning on doing… the forbidden experiment.”
“Very good!” Merriweather smiled. “That’s it exactly. And no, Hiro, I’m not planning on doing it. I already have. And the results are undeniable. There’s no such thing as free will.”
“Jesus,” Nagati repeated. “You’ve crossed a line here, Eli. If you’ve actually done this, well it’s immoral, unethical… probably illegal.”
“Ethics aside, how is it even possible? The cost of it alone would be prohibitive.”