Wednesday, 17 September 2008

ON THE MATTER OF FREE WILL (Or Part One Of A Triptych In Which Miss Dreamy Can Be Observed Reading From Her Book...)

If mind is a property of the brain, and human behaviour a result of cultural conditioning, can there be such a such a thing as free will?

The idealist is necessarily affirmative: he avers the possibility of more or less fundamentally defying constraint and substituting human determinism for an act of volition. The realist acknowledges an encoded process of
development which he is powerless to change. To him a human being is a finite and dependent being: He cannot fly, he cannot make it rain on demand, he doesn’t get to decide if it’s day or night, he doesn’t even chose the language he’s
going to be born into.

If physical reality, then, can only be predicted by invoking the
mathematics of probability, human behaviour, too, in terms of probability, can
always be predicted en masse. As has already been noted, it is an intriguing and
inexplicable fact that - in the matter of spontaneous nuclear disintegration -
there is no criterion for deciding which atom, on an unprompted impulse, is
going to decay. For while observation has shown that the time it takes for a
given quantity of radioactive material to decay is precisely that predicted by
theory, by any measurement we can make, the process itself is random. And
admittedly, on the basis of mere supposition, this aimlessness hardly seems true
of the individual human activity. No collective rule or pattern seems quite to
apply. We may speak of a baby-boom, or a suicide-wave, but only by the
deliberate resort to free will, the reasoned determination of persons pursuing
their own fate, can one define individuality.

And yet, the supposition is wrong: collective behaviour displays
symmetry with a rate of conformity proportional to numbers!

In their aggregate capacity, when large collections of people are
considered, free will plays none but a statistical role. Human behaviour is
fundamentally pattern-forming. Indeed, as soon as one begins to look into the
subject, one is confronted with the idea of co-ordination of human activity by
means of systems of impersonal or collective patterns, within which alone
spontaneous situations may arise. Beyond that, the question of free will does
not admit of a single exception. And once this is realized, it is difficult to
avoid the conclusion that single events, by the inevitable pressure of numbers,
must occur with a predictability so close to certainty as to appear an



Anonymous said...

First! Snow Angel! Snow Angel!

David B said...

Perhaps it's not that we lack free will but that we merely choose to exercise it in predictable ways.

Jonathan said...

Or maybe some of us have more free will than others. And that this depends on the nature of the consciousness had by the differing peoples; the degree to which one is in control of, as opposed to being controlled by, ones automatic physical and emotional associations and responses.

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

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 than this. The freedom to choose how we will choose, how we will desire, what kind of being we will be, and in what kind of world, moreover, we will live. That presumes an order of consciousness that is transcendent and beyond naturalistic deterministioc systems, as I see it. Easier thought to have attained than to have attained, I grant.

We may be both free and not free, surely then, depending on what we mean?

I agree with david b's point too.

How are you? Well I hope. To China with me it is, very soon.

Selena Dreamy said...

Thank you gentlemen for taking the time to read this. I shall address your comments in Part II of this Tryptich.

May I say, David, of the noble house of The Spine, what an excellent blog you have...


Selena Dreamy said...

...and Jonathan, do they have PC's in China? I hope so. We need to know how you're getting on.

I enjoy your contributions!

All Shook Up said...

I feel certain you're wrong!

This the bit I think I disagree with, "human behaviour, too, in terms of probability, can
always be predicted en masse."
, well the significance you give it, anyway. And the word, 'always'. It depends so much on the strength of the stimulus and, even then, is open to conjecture far more than are events in physical reality.

It's possible to say that free will is heavily influenced by fundamental (inherent) human traits and, indeed, if we couldn't make some informed guess as to the likely outcomes of our actions based on our knowledge of those traits, life would be impossible. So maybe....

But hmmm.. I'll read parts 2 and 3 before I jump in two-footed. (Was I that predictable?)