Saturday, July 10, 2004

on Free Will

I think free will might be a myth. That doesn't mean one can't still believe in it. However, I think this possibility is important to examine because this might provide a little bit of insight into human behavior. This is important to me in light of our world's continued political bickering. I've given it some intense thought, and this is what I've come up with.

Before I continue, I should add that I will refrain from any theological issues for the sake of time and "virtual" energy. Now, on with the post...

You can't choose the conditions of your birth and the start of your life. You CAN choose the end of your life, but most people fear this, and therefore, surrender that choice to time and entropy. Subconsciously, we often do things which threaten our lives, like, driving a car, flying, smoking, eating foods high in cholesteral, saturated fat, and sodium. Some people start fights, use drugs, and drink alcohol, often all at once, and then hop into a car to drive home... "I can make it..." they say. Let's say one brave sole does all of this and gets into a sudden accident and dies. Did this person choose their death? What motivated this person to do all of this activity in the first place? Was it some sort of instinct?

Humans are often defeated by disease, either through the genetic mutation of a human cell, or through the overwhelming force of biological parasites like viruses or bacteria. As a side effect to certain types of infection, feverous dillusional states of mind produce vivid hallucinations wherein the sick cannot distinguish actual reality from the dream reality. I myself have experienced this once when I was sick. I was very young and I remember seeing thieves walk into my room and steal pictures from my wall. All of this to me suggests that much of how we understand the world is determined nuerologically within the chemistry of our brain. We all "create" reality in our minds. Each mind is unique because each human is genetically unique. Each mind has it's own interpretation of reality, but together, we build society based on the collective agreement of our definitions for the exterior world. Most of us in America do this using the English language, the symbols of math, and a tremendous amount of subconscious body language. All of this is dependent upon our nervous system for "data crunching."

How many of our daily decisions are made instinctively? When I get hungry, the focus of my consciousness becomes seeking food. When I get sleepy, my consciousness begins breaking down, running a bit slower, until my eyes droop and I fall off to sleep. If I'm smart, I'll decide to go to bed before that happens. Once I'm asleep, I have a tendency to walk in my sleep. I don't do it as often as I use to, but sometimes I'd wake up in mid stride to find myself in the hallway. I would think "what am I doing?" Did "I" make the decision to get out of bed and walk to the front of my house? Not that I'm "aware" of...

I read an article by Scott Lafee entitled Undead Heads (unfortunately, you have to buy it now, but it's a good read). In it, he talks about how the majority of our CONSCIOUS activity is still determined by our subconscious minds. He says, "people talk without thinking all of the time." The author then quotes a Cal Tech nuerobiologist who says,"We all do things every day, virtually every minute, that do not involve conscious thought, from tying our shoes to driving to work or working out, to cooking dinner. These actions are essentially routine, automatic. You do them without thinking and often have no direct memory of them afterward." At times, we are all wandering zombies...

And then there's the sexual instinct. Oh, how that shapes the way we live. My point is, if free will exists, what is the nature of choice? What element of the human mind makes the decisions of one's life? Certainly*, it is not always the conscious mind. I'll wrap up with this...

Our nervous system, which carries information from the exterior world to our brain, is not perfect. Because each human is genetically unique, each nervous system is unique. Some are more "efficient" than others. Recently, President Reagan's death has illustrated the effects of Alzheimer's disease. My Grandmother herself is suffering from this, and it has made me aware of the tragic fate of this affliction. As the disease progressed, her behavior went through a retrograded process where she mentally went "back through time" to an infantile stage of life. As a result, she couldn't even feed herself, and needed constant care. My Grandmother didn't choose that life, it just happened.

I cherish all parts of my life, but I am not always in control...

*I will soon post my thoughts on why I think certainty is also a myth...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear SourMonkey,
Your article on Free Will raises some interesting points. I especially appreciate the observation that there is much in our lives that we have no control over. This is certainly very true. However in some places in your article you seem to suggest that perception and reality are synonymous. One's perception is not one's reality. While perception certainly does shape one's reality it can only affect your interaction with reality. As an example a person that has suffered from dementia, they may think that they are in another time, that may even be their perception it affects the way they relate to others in the present but it does not change the present reality.

I have a professor who regularly stresses you can have your own opinions, but you cannot have your own facts. Reality is shared by all. One's perception will to some extent color your understanding of reality but it does not change reality.

I am not sure the significance of the many actions people take without thinking about them. You didn't list the most important actions that we do all the time such as, breathing, circulation, or blinking. The machine has to work for us to live part of our design. But I think there are higher actions in life. Love, Faith, Hope, Wisdom, Courage, Justice, Self-Discipline, these the body does not do automatically and must be learned.



8:08 AM  
Blogger sourmonkey said...

"But I think there are higher actions in life. Love, Faith, Hope, Wisdom, Courage, Justice, Self-Discipline, these the body does not do automatically and must be learned."

I agree. I think we do express a certain range of choice in life. In this way, we are able to shape our lives as we progress through time. But, I am unaware of how much of that "choice" is subconscously determined by nuerological design. What if we believe in the above concepts because we are programmed to? We use the symbols of English (for example)to communicate the parameters of these ideas, but our brains are hardwired to utilize language in a specific manner. Maybe it's a part of God's design, maybe it's a production of natural selection (or a combination of the two). Anything within reality that has no concrete semantic definition remains ambigious, and therefore, mysterious. We all know what an apple is, but what is space? How about matter? And energy?

Although I agree with you that there is a difference between perception and reality, I think that difference is quite small. What is perception? At the root of perception there is the mind, but science and philosophy have yet to accurately describe the mechanics of consciosness. What is reality? Is it the universe, the world, my home? Is it matter and energy? Once again, the best (so far) that science can do is say that EVERYTHING contains a wave-particle duality. In other words, everything exists as a wave (like light), simultaneously, it also acts like matter (with mass). Curiously, it is "perception" which defines the two properties as distinct and separate. The wave-particle duality is the product of perception. Maybe what is in "reality" is only determined by perception. Without perception, there is no "reality."

Obviously, these are heavy topics requiring broader argument. This little post can not contain all the possible ideas regarding the nature of reality, but I hope it inspires some curiosity. Life is a miracle.

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