Free will

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/La_Giuseppina%2C_the_Ring%2C_by_Walter_Sickert.jpgIs the World getting better?

Until 1485 in England, 1745 in remoter parts of Scotland, fighting was the ordinary pastime of gentlemen, and murder, sometimes by show-trial, as the way of politics lasted later. These practices are now gone. Over coffee after Meeting, as so often, we are on darkness in the World. You can turn your TV off, we suppose. You do not have to watch the news.

And- I found through Madame Weebles about a man getting away with murder, through a Texas law, and that was the news story I wanted to pass on. He was acquitted because he claimed he was protecting his property, which appears to be worth more than life in Texas, at least the lives of poor people. It is a story calculated to make us feel angry, miserable and powerless: why should I want to share it? Even though I know the news can make you depressed. Perhaps: I know we will share feelings of shock and horror, and the sharing is what I desire.

Why so much violence, now? The human drive which produces that violence, it seems to me, also produces the fire of our creativity. British foreign policy is like British imperial policy- do-gooding, and a ruthless drive for the Money, both more or less brilliant or incompetent. There is that range in humanity, from our pacifism.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Harold_Gilman_portrait_by_walter_sickert.jpgThese thoughts merge with the book Terry pressed on me, “The Nonsense of Free Will” by Richard Oerton, a lawyer. When young, before Inclusive language, Oerton decided

a person acts because he is what he is
he has not made himself what he is

I do not like this. I am tempted to invoke the two slits experiment, but beware new agers spouting Quantum mechanics: I do not understand it. Perhaps in an alternate universe I am a famous TV star. If one night I meditate, then go to bed at a reasonable time, and another night I stay up until two pawing at my mouse pad “playing” spider solitaire, the different competing motivations have different strengths at that time.

In an SF novel, the invaders possess hapless natives who, fully conscious and aware through the senses, but unable to affect their bodies’ actions at all, observe the invasion in horror. Competing motivations: the smoker gives up- and lapses, and may feel horror as well as relief on that first drag. We have these competing drives, for instant and deferred gratification.

Is it enough that I have a drive to be who I am, to what pleases me, and to create what I see as Good? As we progress, we create greater and greater complexity, and have choices even if our decisions are moulded by the past. So legislators can move towards the society in which a man can shoot a woman for $150, or a society where he would not have a gun. Our society is built, and we have no more freedom than a microbe in a stromatolite, yet we build it.

4 thoughts on “Free will

  1. Laplace’s demon knew you’d post this, and how I would respond to it. Or, perhaps we’re free. I like to think I’m free, but then what else would I think? And thank you for eschewing “new age” quantum mechanics bloviation.

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    • Though I am determinist, I can take pleasure in your comment.

      With the knowledge and abilities to predict every one of our acts even down to time of breathing, doesn’t Laplace’s demon have anything better to do?

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  2. I see it mathematically, so in my view ‘freedom’ (as we think of it) is an illusion. For example: action A + action B + circumstance C will only lead you to result D. When we look back, we can generally break down events in our lives and see how it all fits together.
    Why do I read what you write and vice versa? It’s not a random ‘choice’. Our life experience and interests somehow intersect. Someone introduced you to art, and then me to art. We lived in worlds where people discussed politics, we watched the world change from neighbouring countries. We speak the same language. That equation would not be possible with me and an extremist Muslim who only speaks Arabic- right?

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    • What an excellent argument for teaching the whole world English. I hear that some Dutch and German universities, and even Italian, teach some courses in English. Then that Muslim and I could tell each other quite how much we disgust each other. I am glad you and I read each other, we can encourage and amuse each other, even make the other think.

      Giving up smoking is a good example. At one point the craving strikes, and you resist- but it is still one brain process craving nicotine, and another resisting, and which wins out has been caused.

      More on free will tomorrow.

      Added: I love your homepage, and the insouciance of le detail.

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