Musings

It seems that one of the greatest advantages we have as humans is the ability to question ourselves—to test our own position for validity and strength, to continually refine and sharpen it, or abandon it altogether in favor of a stronger stance.  We don’t need to be purely reactive, as most animals seem to be.  We can be driven by something other than pain, or the harsh forces of evolution.

This assertion requires the existence of free will.  If such a thing exists, then it seems to be wasted in many cases; most people seem to only be willing to change in the face of extreme pain.

I think this might be the essence of strategy, only extrapolated onto an existential scale.

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18 thoughts on “Musings

  1. BTW: Variants on free will include the maze concept in which there are many choices and still limited destinations. Human nature and instincts underlie all our rationality, except maybe if you are Mr. Spock. Try as one might, we cannot escape the society herd.

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  2. I think I lot hangs on how we define “free will”. A lot of people have a kind of mechanistic concept of determinism. I take a systems view. We are all expressions of an unthinkably complex and dynamic interrelated system. Our output (behaviour) is determined by our input (genes, experience, learning, etc.) How could we not be an inevitable product (or rather expression) of our environment? What else is there to contribute to who we are?

    But this is not a mechanistic determinism, because an idea could be communicated to me through you which, over time, drastically turns my behaviour around. The deterministic system of which we are an expression works according the principles expressed in Chaos Theory which show how an infinitesimally small change in a system can lead to a total change over time.

    If we question ourselves it is because something or someone in our environment has raised the question or acted as a seed of doubt, and because our character, which is product of our environment, is characterised at that moment by the tendency to pursue such self-questioning.

    The history of human thought is a deterministic playing out, within ourselves and the network of our society, of possible solutions to the problems which face us. We don’t chose to take up the ideas that work (or those that act as destructive parasites on our society), they chose us.

    But this is not a defeatist view, because, when the right idea grows out of this organic process of experimentation, it will be a power that acts through us in a way that can’t be stopped. The parasitic ideas can bring terrible suffering, even over millennia, but they don’t serve life and therefore they can’t compete in the end with an idea that does serve life, i.e. that works.

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    • Well what seems fairly evident is that we have limited free will. Strong evidence exists that outer factors can affect our mindset. What is as of yet unprovable is whether we have no free will at all. But until that’s definitively proven, I’d say we should act as if we have a little bit at least, because if we have a little and we decide to ignore it, it would be a giant waste.

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      • Yes, to say “I have no choice” would be a cop-out and, itself, a toxic idea. I just believe that the choices we make are a product of outside influences. It’s not something that is particularly useful to think about though when we are living our life through our actions. It’s value comes more in discouraging us from judging others.

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      • I think it’s a good way to form a hypothesis for self-experimentation as well. Sometimes, believing something is solely a function of free will is a bit arrogant; it’s better to examine the causative factors and exert influence on those rather than the final mechanism of action.

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  3. Awesome discussion…
    I don’t question the existence of free will. Based on the data I’ve collected (experience, observation), free will absolutely exists. YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE IN ALL BUT TWO THINGS as a human on this world; the two things are birth and death. You are born as the result of actions taken by others (maybe there is a choice here, but I don’t know), and you die as a result of the way the matter that makes up your physical existence is constructed; no apparent choice there, either. The interesting part about death, though, is that you effectively have a choice about when and how, but let’s not get into that quagmire here.
    The catch with free will is kind of as @aussiescribbler describes things. As individuals, what we choose (act a certain way, speak or not act or speak at all) is based on our perception of the choices we have. That includes feeling, believing and/or thinking that we have no choice in some cases (which is not reality). Our experiences, current situations, desires, peer pressures and all sorts of other things influence our perception of the choices – or lack thereof – we have and, in turn, help dictate the choices we ultimately make when it’s time to decide on something in front of us. This can create the perception of a lack of free will. Is it, though?
    A deterministic system definitely APPEARS to be a possible reality. And there is a ton of anecdotal evidence to support that possibility. But you have to stop and consider the fact that in spite of the perception of a limit or lack of choices, there actually are choices and they are YOUR choices to make. You ARE free to make a choice in spite of what you perceive. Right? 🙂

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    • Perhaps one way to put it would be that we make choices in the sense that mental and emotional processes which go on in us are in a spontaneous interactive relationship with our environment. But there is no actual border between us and that environment.

      The way I view it in myself is that a decision I make is a collision between different external influences in which the more powerful one wins out. I call it my decision because it took place in my body and mind.

      Or you could say I make choices but I didn’t chose the chooser – the choices I make are an expression of my nature and my nature is the product of things outside myself.

      In terms of day to day functioning we have to narrow down our vision of reality and experience our self as a seperate entity, but, as William Blake put it “if the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” In other words there are no actual borders between things, especially between ourselves and our environment. The matter which makes us up was yesterday food and drink and tomorrow it will be shit and dust and rain.

      Most of the ideas in our mind were absorbed undigested from others. To the extent that original thoughts come into being in our mind they do so as a result of a kind of chemical reaction between thoughts absorbed from elsewhere.

      And our dreams provide the soil for our waking life, and we don’t chose our dreams any more than a sea gull has a choice about the waves or the wind.

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      • Honestly, I don’t even know if I’m a real thing or just in a simulation. The way I cut through ambiguity is by doing my best with what’s in front of me. “Live in the present moment” may have grander, more existential implications, but it’s really the most practical way to live as far as I’m concerned. Which gets ironic, because if I’m strategizing about the future, then I have to do my best to strategize about the future in the present moment.

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    • I think making statements asserting the existence or nonexistence of free will are beyond our capability, at this moment, but I do fall in your camp. The most practical and ethical thing to do at this moment of ambiguity is to assume I do have free will but with caveats; I need to openly acknowledge the parts of me that are mechanistic, or my free will becomes minimized—undercut by arrogant assumptions that I am in control of a causative factor when I was in fact in control of its precursors. I’ve shot myself in the foot like this in the past.

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