I understand that you can (in principle) measure whether "free particles" (no forces) experience accelerations in order to tell whether a frame is inertial. But fundamentally, what determines which frames are inertial (i.e. what principle selects in which frames free particles will not appear to accelerate)? I've been told that the cosmic microwaves determine the ultimate rest frame of the universe, but that doesn't make sense to me, since one can still ask why that frame is an inertial frame.
Also, I understand that there are no real inertial frames in general relativity, but it seems like there certainly exists approximate inertial frames and we can ask why those frames are approximately inertial and not others. For example, in the frame of a person riding a merry go round, free particles appear to greatly accelerate; while in the frame of someone standing next to the merry go round there are no such great accelerations. Why does the guy (or gal) on the merry go round see free particles accelerating while the other guy doesn't.
And if you're gonna tell me that it's "the rest of the stuff in the universe" that determines whether the person on the merry go round sees free particles accelerate, I'll ask how you know that all that stuff is not spinning.
I hope this question sort of makes sense, it's been bothering me for a while and my study of relativity (most of special relativity and just the outline of general relativity) hasn't really clarified it for me much.