Thursday, July 29, 2010

Determined person, free of will

Today's thoughts:

I have a confession. I am a determinist, unflinching and unapologetic.

While determinism (i.e. a belief that every action, decision and happenstance are determined causally by prior events) might seem an excellent excuse to grope people at parties, I've learnt the hard, painful way that this only works on other determinists. Who are drunk.

So rather than keep digging that hole, here is an examination of free will from a determinist perspective. Free will suggests that I am able to do anything with my mind (not telekenisis, you nonce, but think anything or imagine anything). However, this rather broad statement is immediately punctured by some causal truths - such as the fact that I can only act or think based on my surroundings.

Acting based on environment is obvious (I can only sit on a chair if there is a chair to sit on, etc.) but I understand that thinking would be altogether more controversial. Consider this, however: try to imagine a totally new colour. Not a new shade, but a totally new colour. It's not possible, is it? Now imagine a shade of, say, blue that you haven't seen before. Might be hard to remember all the shades of blue you've seen but it's still possible. This is because:

The mind can extrapolate but it cannot be original.

The new colour example might seem a bit off - I mean, colour is reflected light and we perceive that light only in a limited range, so new colours are not physically possible. But that's exactly my point - our environment, our surroundings, have shaped and limited our minds.

Looking slightly closer, even if I don't have the capacity to imagine anything, I at least have the free will to think and act as I wish, albeit limited by my environment. Surely? Well, consider the way in which environment (be it past or present) influences your free will. Examine your thoughts and where they have come from, and you will see that they are all built on the foundations of previous thoughts and experiences. I can trace the lineage of this very essay back to thoughts I had years ago when considering to what extent criminals were a product of their upbringing. Again, this is because:

The mind can extrapolate but it cannot be original.

The thoughts about criminals and upbringing were themselves based on previous thoughts or experiences, and so on. The big debate between nurture and nature is itself wholly subsumed by determinism, since either one has taken place in the past and is therefore irreversible (time travel and associated paradoxes notwithstanding). I cannot begin to imagine all the minute details, flickers of thought and barely noticed experiences that have shaped my mind and this is a very important point in itself: the human relationship between the macro and the micro.

The macro is what each individual sees and comprehends around them. We each have a very good relationship with the macro because it is the world as we see it. It follows, then, that we have an extremely poor relationship with the micro - that is, the world around us that we do not see. It seems very obvious to say that humans use superstition to fill the gaps between the macro - that is what superstition is - but it is far more widespread than you may think and is used to justify belief in just about any logical inconsistency.

Fate and karma are big examples here. You may think that fate and determinism are synonymous, but in fact determinism obliterates the idea of fate. Fate operates under a kind of waypoint system, where a certain event is fated to happen regardless of what transpires up until that point. This "logic" is often used in time-travelling stories, where the protagonists know they must cause *some event* to happen in the future and set about making it happen. It doesn't matter that it's happening differently to how it originally did: as long as it happens, everything will stay the same.

This is completely ridiculous, if one looks even a little bit closer to examine to micro (sorry to beat you over the head with my made-up terminology). Consider every single minute implication of doing things differently. The world you end up in is very different to the world you left behind. Ultimately, fate implies a series of predermined waypoints that will occur regardless of how a person acts. This is examining only the macro - one event that we notice (say, meeting a spouse or winning a lot of money) is deemed to be fated and the rest simply ignored. But to look at the micro, to examine the minutiae of every action and occurrence, will reveal that it only happened due to prior circumstances (you met your spouse because you were in the same place at the same time - what events led you there? What events led them there? Etc ad nauseum).

Karma, you will find, is even more ridiculous. Not only that, it is entirely self-centered. It presupposes that every event is the result of careful planning on the part of the universe especially for you. Every single person is simply a mindless actor whose entire existence hinges around your actions. I mean, look at it - either everyone has free will which justifies karma but makes it impossible to implement (how can karma use someone if they have free will?) or we have no free will (to facilitate karma) which renders karma pointless.

But people will continue to believe in these things, both from an unerring human aura of self-entitlement and self-centredness as well as from only examining the macro, the readily and unthinkingly observable in the world around them. A short exercise in logic, to examine one's presuppositions and consider that which is not immediately apparent, shows these to be false. As it does for nearly every other superstition out there. Humanity can only benefit, and benefit hugely, from the widespread adoption of micro-examination. Let's get to it, people!

Just to finish on a lighter note, here is a thought I had a few days ago but didn't get around to posting:
If you hold in a fart too long, can it become hiccoughs? Cos.. cos that happened to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment