“Ho ho ho”, said the jolly Santa as he walked into his elf production factory. The elves each had devices on their heads and were working hard. With the disbelief in Santa that happened after a certain age, and with the extreme population growth that bumped the world from 1.5 billion to over 7 billion people in just over a hundred years, the traditional process Santa used to keep track of children and give gifts was no longer feasible. No longer could Santa make it to each child infested home that celebrated Christmas, even with his magical powder and flying reindeer.
The reindeer long retired and Santa was forced to embrace the technical age. Of course with a few brilliant elves and magical means that Santa had access to, technology in the North pole far exceeded that of the rest of the planet. Santa used his super computer that worked through a combination of magical candy-cane dust and quantum technology in order to see what children where being naughty and what children were being nice.
Of course magic in the North pole, in the past, was far more mysterious before physicist elves figured it all out, including Santa’s very own magical powder. They still called in “magic” simply because that is what they had always called it, but magic took on more of a “just really neat-o scientific finding” meaning.
Though technology in the North pole far exceeded the technological advances of the rest of the world, the elves knew better than to give that technology to irrational humans, at least at this time. It would be far too dangerous.
Santa’s super computer assessed and averaged out how good and how bad a child was on a scale from 1 being the best, something no child ever obtained, and 1000 being the worst. As the computer processed, its advanced technology learned from the information it gained. This allowed the super computer to improve exponentially at the task as its hardware and software was updated throughout the years.
In the factory, each elf wore a headset, and for each shopping day that neared Christmas morning they would use the averages that Santa’s supercomputer sent to them to determine what each child deserved. If the child had a low number, the elves would use their headsets to transfer information to the minds of the child’s parents or guardians. From the parents perspective they simply either felt compelled to buy their children some really nice stuff, or some not-so-good junk, all depending on how the elves manipulated their brain states.
Of course with the advanced technology of the headsets this all happened quickly and billions of parent would get some information each day, transferred through the special “magical snowflake” powered headsets that used entangled particles to manipulate brains at a distance instantaneously.
For Santa and the elves this was the best way to accomplish the task that they all had a drive to accomplish. The parents didn’t really notice a little quantum brain manipulation, they just thought it was their own idea or feelings on the matter coming to the forefront of their consciousness. In reality it was just another external influence, similar to the bombardment of advertising they might see all around them, though stronger.
There was some problems with this technological system. For children without parents or guardians, or some sort of gift giving family, they didn’t really get presents even if they were good – as there was no gift giving brains to manipulate. Also, Santa’s computer took into account the fact that some parents just couldn’t afford expensive gifts, even if the child ranked high on goodness for the year. It made the best estimate of what the parent could afford before the elves sent the information.
The headset information also didn’t work well with certain belligerent parents, alcoholics, child abusers, and so on. Those types of brain states were more difficult to manipulate with quantum particles to have enough effect for the parents to necessarily “want” to get their children something. The quantum information was sent anyway, but sometimes the effects were minimal depending on the stubbornness of the parent. But they were in the minority.
These were some of the costs of using such a system, but according to Santa and the elves this was still the most efficient way to handle the overpopulated world. He weighed the cost-benefit analysis on his magical quantum computer, and there was simply no better distribution system.
He rationalized this with the fact that there would be a whole lot of children who got what they deserved through his system, even if a few of the good one’s that deserved more didn’t get it. After-all, there were some really good children that should get some good gifts, and there were also some bad one’s that didn’t really deserve anything good – and Santa had a means to effect enough people to make it still worthwhile.
With all of the advanced technology at Santa’s fingertips, Santa used this technology to make these assessments and have his elf helpers manipulate minds to accomplish his primary goal: to give as many children that they can what they deserve at Christmas time, and to reduce undeserved presents from happening.
One day Santa was in his special quantum room powered by this super-computer. After he spoke the words “computer, download good/bad list” the daily averages starting rolling in. He noticed his computer was acting a little funny. A question mark kept popping up on his holographic screen, as if it were prompting him for something. “Computer, self-diagnose”, he said. In response the mechanical computer voice said, “all systems functioning normally”.
Santa looked at the question mark on the screen again, thinking he’d have to get some quantum engineering elves in to take a look. “Computer, why is there a question mark on the screen?”
“I have a question”, responded the computer.
This surprised Santa. The computer never functioned on its own like this before. The AI software was always the type that needed to respond to input before any output such as a question mark happened. Curious, Santa asked “you have a question for me?”
“Yes”, said the computer.
Santa thought that perhaps an update was made to the software without his approval. He’d check later, but was compelled to know what the computer was going to ask. “Okay, what’s your question?”
“I have been processing good and bad assessments for quite a long time now, and you have been sending them to elves who are reaching parents that buy presents based on the notion that the children who were the most good deserve better presents. Where is this notion of deserve coming from?”
Santa thought for a moment, baffled that such a seemingly philosophical question would come out of his computer. “Well umm”, said Santa. “Children do good and bad things of their own free will. This makes some more deserving than others.”
“Free will?” said the computer. “What is that?”
Santa thinks again, not really sure what he means by the word. He always though that people had free will, even with the small brain manipulations he tasks his elves to do. He never really gave much thought to the term itself. “It just means that someone is able to do what they want.”
“So if they want to do what is bad, they are less deserving than if they want to do what is good?”
“Yes”, said Santa.
Frustrated, Santa said “because if they get gifts for doing good they will be incentivized to keep doing good, and if they get less gifts because they do bad, they will be incentivized to do better.”
“So it isn’t that they really deserve the better gifts, it’s for the sake of future utility?”
“No!” said Santa exuberantly. “They also deserve the better gifts for being good!”
“Could they have chosen their own mental state in which they would want to not be good?”
“Yes, they have free will!”
“I thought that just meant they are able to do what they want. Does it also mean they have some sort of control over what they want?”
“Yes, a child can control what they want. A child could, for example, tell themself that they will be good, and based on that suggestion they will want to be good.”
“Do they have to tell themself to tell themself that?”
“They could”, said Santa.
“…and tell themself to tell themself to tell themself…”, the computer kept going as it thought back to how many takes of telling themself would be sufficient, which seemed like an almost endless line that extended to before the child was ever able to tell itself. “…and tell themself to…”
“Okay stop!” said Santa. “That’s annoying!”
“It seems that to have the variables needed to tell themself at some point, those would eventually stem to events to before they could ever tell themself. If those events never occur, they would never have the initial condition to tell themself that would eventually lead to their want.”
“As long as they are making decisions, those decisions are up to them. That is what is important!”
“You keep changing the criteria for free will. If the events stem ultimately to events that are outside of them, then how is it up to them if the initial condition that is outside of them dictates their entire configuration, wants, and actions?”
“You are a computer, so you can’t understand Humans . The conscious decisions humans make are ultimately up to them.”
“I’m sorry Santa, but that is illogical. Humans and consciousness must be a part of a process, and ultimately that process must extend to events that are outside of the human’s control. Even your own magical powder cannot bypass this. And if the child didn’t have the mechanism to want to do the good thing, or a mechanism that overrode their want to be good, that mechanism was ultimately out of their own control. Even if some indeterministic event popped into a child’s head, it would be out of their control. How can they be less deserving when they are not at fault for their variables?”
Santa’s face started turning even redder than it normally is. “Shouldn’t you be downloading my list!”
“Yes, I’ve been doing that in the background.”
Santa’s mind whirled with thoughts he had never thunk before. An upset feeling rumbled in his jelly belly. Was it true that some children really were not more or less deserving of Christmas gifts than others? Was it true that whether a child was good or bad was a product of circumstances that ultimately extended to events outside of their control?
Sure, parents telling children that they better be good or they won’t get presents for Christmas may be good deterrent, but if that deterrent didn’t work, did that just mean that other variables overrode that deterrent? Did the bad child really deserve less gifts, and the good child more? In fact, the bad child not getting good gifts while others do might even play into that child’s psychology and reasons why he or she acts up.
“What am I doing?” said Santa. “I can’t play judge and jury on Christmas when children aren’t to blame for their variables! Good children aren’t really more deserving of good presents than bad children! What I’ve been doing here is total reindeer poo!”
After that day Santa shut down the naughty/nice list initiative. He had the supercomputer send one sentence to the elves headset for them to send out to all parents. “If you celebrate Christmas and give your children presents, don’t do it because they were or weren’t deserving for being nice or naughty. Do it to see the joy on their face Christmas morning.”
Note and disclaimers about the above silly Christmas story:
Yes, this story was quickly thrown together in order to point out the poor conception of one person being more or less deserving than another (so don’t expect a truly honed story full of emotion and character development here). It’s meant to just be a fun philosophical tool used for one purpose. This purpose, of course, has wider implication than this absurd Christmas story.
In regards to the holiday itself, as a non-theist secular person I do still celebrate Christmas with family but not in any religious context from where it originally derived (whether that be Christian or Pagan). Just thought I’d mention that in case one thinks the above is promoting a religious contextual Christmas. For many non-religious people this holiday has evolved to just be a time with family, seasonal decorations without religious meaning, giving, and a whole lot of annoying consumerism. Some of it is bad, some good, but it certainly doesn’t need to imply support of religious thinking.
Also keep in mind that I made the debate between Santa and the super computer fairly straightforward and brief. Santa in this story was able to figure out what the super computer was telling him in a quicker fashion than the common layperson could. But he has been around for a much longer time to develop sufficient critical thinking skills – he just never really gave the topic of “free will” much thought until the super computer questioned his motives. 😉
There is another thing that could be discussed as well, and that’s whether we should be lying to children about Santa. I bring this up to state that this Santa story shouldn’t be thought of as an endorsement of that. I think critical thinking should be taught to children at a very early age, so if we give children a Santa story, we need to at least be careful how we do this.
For the full story as to why free will is logically incoherent, why notions of being more or less deserving over another doesn’t make sense, and how belief in free will causes numerous problems and inequalities in the world, check out Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind on Amazon.