Thursday, 18 September 2008

ON THE MATTER OF FREE WILL (Or Part Two Of A Triptych In Which Selena Can Be Seen Enjoying The Freedom Of Her Movement In Predictable Ways...)

David B.: “Perhaps it's not that we lack free will but that we merely
choose to exercise it in predictable ways.”

Jonathan: “Maybe free will is more of a goal to attain, as opposed to a
given state for all.”

It is all a very contentious business, but, as you have seen, I have no patience with those who subscribe to that pathetic phenomenon known as free will. Though the tendency in question is I believe more a matter of the past. It has attracted a good deal of attention, indeed, fromphilosophers of all kinds, determinists and idealists alike. Avoiding that debate, it seems clear nevertheless that, according to the universal understanding of mankind, some actions result from effective choices and hence are free, while others do not and are predetermined. But in all cases on record,
the outcome is essentially determined by the number of choices at hand: When the telephone rings, you can let it ring, or you can pick it up. Full stop! Nor does it make any difference to the overall pattern of a given frame of reference whether individual choices and events are causally determined or in any way free, for as long as the ratio created by dividing the sum total of such actions is part of the probability distribution. And this is self-evidently so. One might expect a certain disproportion where the numbers are low, but given a large number of decisions that essentially only fit the logical choice of yes or no, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Jonathan: “Perhaps, though, it depends on what is meant by free will.
Do we mean the freedom to choose between two or more available options according
to our inner promptings and tastes. Or do we mean something deeper and more
truly free than this.”

Nor must we fall into the trap of supposing
that a greater number of alternatives in any way affects the distribution of
individual events. Where issues of principle are concerned, free will perishes
in the finite and predetermined confines of a closed system. The obvious failing
of the idealist is a concern for individuals rather than principles. But, in his
rendering of a sanguine and wonderful faith, neither he nor any possible choice
or event ever succeed in seriously embarrassing statistical method and
contextual constraint. Even to assume it may, is utopian. The measure of the
volitional freedom of human society is to be found at the core - against all his
own intentions - in the limitations of the individual himself. He springs forth
from his mother‘s womb and is ushered onto a stage. He’s become a performer
reading from a cue, a mere player in some eternally revived production. To be
human is to live in the country of the blind, the land of sealed and closed
perceptions. What intrigues one about it, is not so much its apparent
determinism as the air it seems to possess of being both, finite and unbounded,
indicating claims to a personal freedom which is deprived of significance by
limiting the conceptual context in a way which conditions individual responses
and entails actions that are always predicable en masse.

Schopenhauer summed it up: ‘We can will, but we cannot will what we



Crushed said...

Essentially true, in that you have no control over the options.
Of course, even your free will is determined. After all your choice ultimately is made ny neural impulses governed essentially by chemical reactions.

So the choice your free will makes is kind of predetermined....

Anonymous said...

I dont believe a word of it.. no one predetermined that I would be suddenly be writing MEXICAN HAT here.. !!!!!

Anonymous said...

Free will is, i think, an illusion. And yet it is an illusion inseparable from consciousness; perhaps it is the pre-condition of consciousness, to feel you have free will.

About 10 years ago i came to this conclusion and then decided to just forget about it and continue as if i had free will. Not just laziness, but rather me coming up against the boundaries of my consciousness, my thought - i simply couldn't think any further than 'it's an illusion; i can't live without it'.

It is perplexing, as if Truman (The Truman Show) realised that not only was he in a fake world, but that beyond that fake world everyone else was in a fake world too, and no way out of it, and no idea what lies beyond. After a while he'd stop screaming and just go back to his life.

Bob said...

I agree with Elberry that is really does not influence your own life if you have free will or not (unconditional free will as in 'the choice that I make now is totally independant of the circumstances and the history including myself'), because we will never know which was the predetermined path and what happened when we took a turn from there.

Interestingly enough the fact that you BELEIVE whether you have free will or not does influence your choices, as an experiment has shown:
A group of people were divided in two, half of the group were given a text which explained that we have free will, the others were given a text that explained why free will is an illusion. Afterwards all people made a test with questions that had to be answered, where the test provided the possibility to CHEAT. As you can guess, the people that were told they have no free will cheated significantly more on the questions then the others; presumably they beleived that they had no control over their actions and were not to blame for the cheating.

Which in itself is a pritty strong argument in favour of free will.

I have read about the experiment in Der Spiegel, can't find any references online though.

Bob said...

[Update] I just found it:

Selena Dreamy said...

Oooops, nothing under tht link, I'm afraid, Bob. Or am I missing it...?

Selena Dreamy said...

“I dont believe a word of it.. no one predetermined that I would be suddenly be writing MEXICAN HAT here.. !!!!!”

Muts-Puts, now listen very carefully. Like Crushed said, you have no control over the options. Which is to say, of course you can write “Mexican Hat”, or a million other silly Fedoras, but the options are still that you either do it or not. Full Stop. It’s either/or. And if you are satisfied with that as your measure of Free Will, I have no wish to contradict you - but I’m afraid, that’s it!

On the other hand, “coming up against the boundaries of my consciousness,” I think is the relevant phrase here. The man who’s terrified of delving into his own psyche, expressed it well.

Thank you, gentlemen, for your time and your comments. I am very gratified. I shall conclude this Tryptich late this afternoon with what Bob refers to as “unconditional free will” and, hopefully, and finally, come to the actual point of this whole, tedious exercise...

(...going to have some nookie at 2pm - oooops, must

Bob said...

MMh.. You should do a copy-past. I am too lazy to put in the html for the link. Let me try:


Anonymous said...

Before you go I have been wondering what a triptych is - and I perfectly well understand your argument and I find that I dont care about the answer as I have a pie. A steak and kidney pie...

Selena Dreamy said...

Hey Muts-Buts,

Francis Bacon painted a Crucifixion "Tryptich" (comes in three) - quite horrible, in fact. But it sold, I think, for 38m $.

That's why I wanted to use the name as well...

Selena Dreamy said...

...and Bob, thanks for the LINK - much better that!

Jonathan said...

'To be human is to live in the country of the blind, the land of sealed and closed perceptions.'

This is true, but the question is: need it be? And is it anyway, has it always been anyway for all men/women? Perhaps yes in the extreme sense you appear to be demanding for the qualification to freedom - some kind of cosmic sovereignty, for an individual alone, over all aspects of, as if it were to be against, objective time and space. But a) is such an atomised feedom worthwhile anyway, given that we are social beings who should co-operate with each other and b) is there not much evidence across time and cultures of people whose minds are vivid and potent and who do, to a real degree, utilise their consciousnesses for the purposes of self-mastery, marshalling by self-overcoming a genuine self-guidance through the expereinces that happen to them at a fundamental level?

But this is a property of a different, more refined quality of being, as Gurdjieff says, not something one can just demand through the vigorous discharge of the untransfigured will.

But speaking of total freedom from all contingency. Is this desireable anyway? It would presuppose a lack of any resistances, any relationship with an 'other'. It would be a cell of loneliness on which one painted mere images of ones fantasised sovereignty. The power of liberty of a madman who connected with nothing but himself.

Btw, Hi from China...I appear to be able to leave comments! It's bloody humid here and the manufacturers of air con need to take lessons from the Kuwaitis.