Will computer models refute free will?

What awaits you inside?
What awaits you inside?
Amy Guip/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

A large, glowing box awaits you on a warehouse floor. It has been there all your life, its door sealed by the supercomputer that created it. Nothing has entered it since the day you were born. No agent, living or machine, has tampered with its contents. You once saw this strange box as a child and now, at long last, you return to it as an adult.

The door opens, and the interior chamber sucks in fresh oxygen for the first time in decades. The rushing air flutters a neat stack of papers on the floor -- the box's only contents.

You step inside. You kneel down and take the documents in your hands. As you leaf through the pages, you realize they contain every detail of your existence. One page presents a timeline of your shifting goals and ambitions over the course of a lifetime. Another page accurately predicts the dates of all your important events, from the day you decided to switch careers to your first kiss, your first love and the first time someone broke your heart.

More shocking still, the pages detail future events as well. It's all there in fading ink: a summation of your life in full, compiled by a machine the instant you were born.

What does it mean? If all the choices in your life were this predictable, then did you ever have a say in what occurred and what is still to come? Are you really the autonomous soul you thought you were, or are you but a cog in the gears of an invisible machine?

You may never set foot inside such a box, nor hold such a document in your hand. But is such a thing possible? Could a supercomputer refute free will as we know it? Let's read on and find out.