'Devs': Here's why it's important to comprehend a universe without free will to understand the FX series
Can everything be explained? Is everything we do, every action we have taken up until this very point (and beyond it) be necessitated by antecedent events and conditions? Is there no free will; only the mere illusion of it? Alex Garland (of ‘Annihilation’, and ‘Ex Machina’ fame) grapples with these questions in his new Fx series ‘Devs’.
In an interview last year, Garland had said, “One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. So nothing happens that isn’t the result of a prior cause. And that has all sorts of implications for us. One is it takes away free will, but it also means that if you had a computer powerful enough you would be able to use cause and effect and use determinism in order to not just predict the future but also understand the past.”
And that, essentially, is what is at the core of the plot of ‘Devs’ -- the principle of determinism and a futuristic Silicon Valley company that is using this principle and advanced technology to possibly predict and even control human behavior. Does it sound a little bit like an extended ‘Black Mirror’ episode? Only if one takes a shallow look at it. Yes, the very basis of the show, if it has to be boiled down to a reduction, is technophobia. Unlike the Charlie Brooker anthology series, however, the fear here is not just human intent and capabilities in the time of powerful technology. Nor is it lukewarm tales of the same human failures and flaws over and over again. Rather, it’s a more philosophical look at the potential of such technology and the pragmatism of fearing something like that.
Consequently, determinism and fatalism are very important to understand. Essentially, the roots of the notion of determinism surely lie in the idea that everything can, in principle, be explained, or that everything that is, has a sufficient reason for being and being as it is, and not otherwise.
Pierre-Simon Laplace, the French polymath and scholar, wrote in 1820: “We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes.”
In the eyes of Garland, this core philosophy is what makes everything dangerous. If every decision flows in a fixed path, and free will is a lie, then surely someone with appropriate means would take advantage of that. But there lies the philosophical sinkhole of fatalism. If determinism holds in our world, then there are no probabilities. In which case, the technological dominance the show promises in its plot is essentially inevitable. Mind-bending, isn’t it?
‘Devs’ airs exclusively on FX on Hulu, every Thursday at 12 am.