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← The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by Al Denelsbeck

OP: Free will - at least the metaphysical kind - has by comparison done little more than stoked human egos and misled people down unpromising avenues. Indeed, it has done what intelligent design proponents have done; offered a pseudoexplanation and worked hard to justify its intellectual laziness, a paradox if ever there was one. It is tempting to blame religion for this, but religion works with what's there, and free will would never have been so alluring if it didn't appeal to people's desires for power and to people's fear for weaknesses that could be exploited.

Actually, it's fairly safe to say that the concept of free will exists solely because of religion, or to be more accurate, from the idea of a world created and/or intended. Free will is the counterpoint to the idea that an intended or designed world would take away the individuality of humans, making us drones or pawns in a grand design. It also came in very handy to explain away the questions about why a perfect being would produce or allow evil. Humans needed free will in order to accept salvation - without it, we would be destined to play the part we did, and our choices didn't matter.

The problem I have with discussions about free will, determinism, reductionism, and so on, is that every last one of these are terms with poor definitions based entirely on assumptions from long ago. The philosophical concepts attempt to put a fine edge on premises that have always been flawed, while the 'general public' understanding of the concepts, as was indicated within the article, is something only loosely related to the philosophical. People are concerned with free will, not as a philosophical idea, not as a reflection of how our brains work, but only because they resist the idea of doing things against their will. That's the only phrase that really needs to be addressed.

But the deterministic/physical concept of our brains reacting in specific, defined ways does not subvert this in the least - even if we might inevitably decide something, because it is our own brains doing this process we are happy with that decision; it is virtually impossible to be otherwise, so determinism actually supports the idea of "willful intent."

The other thing that wasn't covered too well, while likely understood by the writer, is that the deterministic process of our brains is an ongoing program, constantly altered by the input of our senses, which might include even irritation at some unrelated stimuli or lingering euphoria from last night's session with whipped cream and hammocks. These personal experiences are what we base everything that we do upon, and they're completely unique to us, so even if predictable with enough information, they're still our own.

As I'm fond of pointing out, any film that we watch is determined; the ending will always be the same. But it's not our experience until we see it. So? Every coin toss, every sports ball trajectory, is predictable given enough information, but we relish such "chances" only because we don't know the information, and enjoy the surprise and experience. It only starts to bog us down when we begin to feel that we're trapped by events, rather than building an ongoing story from them. Will we, for instance, say or do something which will impinge on others enough to change their own programs? Let's find out!

Thu, 12 Jul 2012 17:39:26 UTC | #948982