Decisions and experiences

I decided the strawberries were too expensive. Then I bent over to get my purse out, and caught their smell. I had to have them. There is the change of decision.

It does not feel like free will, but more like a series of stimuli producing a response. That was the response from those stimuli. Had I not smelled the rich, sweet, distinctive strawberry aroma, the sight of them would not have been enough. And as so often with strawberries, one or two have the flavour to match that aroma, and others are disappointingly bland, and they go bad so quickly! That thinking response, considering past and future, was overridden by the impulse from the direct sensual experience.

I am normally controlled about my food. I eat sensibly, I buy for meals I think through in advance, I treat myself with a bit of chocolate. I eat the same things and have the makings in, so that I can cook something hot if I need to shop but can’t be bothered. I don’t experiment. I have enjoyed gnawing corn off a cob, and the same day as the strawberries I saw some, bought them, and found how to cook them- boil or microwave, many websites will tell you. Cook them more if they are older, less if just off the plant.

I bought them. That was spontaneous, I suppose.

What would different look like? Learning more about cooking, perhaps.

It felt like a touch of freedom. The aroma assailed me, and I did what I wanted in that moment. I don’t think I could seek out such experiences, as how would I know where to find them? I might bend over in the same way, see an insect or a bit of rot, and be repelled. I said Yes to that experience, when I say No so much. I want more such moments. Being sensible feels safe-
or shrivelled-

Margaretta Angelica Peale, Strawberries and cherries

Free will V

tarot 2For the past, it is better to be determinist; but even though I am a determinist, for the present it is worthwhile acting as if I believe in free will.

Looking back, how could I believe in free will? I resisted dressing female as long as I could. I loathed and despised my inclination to do so. There was huge conflict between my upbringing and indoctrination, and- my born that way natural self? Something-

I look back, and see the choice to present male as not more moral, not even more beneficial even if I could have stuck with it; transition helped me be more congruent, more authentically me, whether I am “female” or not. But transition was not my choice. There was a war in me, until one side won, and my conscious, rationalising mind still thinks it lost.

At least, any freedom does not belong to a particular aspect of myself.

What of something less loaded? It being inconceivable that I would not attend university, I chose to study law rather than physics or English or whatever. I am now unsure what my motives were, but the fact that I needed better results in my Highers to study law was a factor. I cannot remember particular discussions with my parents. I met with trainee solicitors at a tarot 3local firm but did not know what to ask them. I don’t think now that there was a more profitable or moral choice, particularly. I was certainly not following a vocation. As a small child I wanted to be a conductor, but my skill on the piano was completely insufficient for music school. Seeking a dark, cool harbour I little thought it was a riotous prison that I sought.

Looking forward, I should act as if I believe in free will. Though I believe my actions are the results of causes outwith my control, I cannot know all those causes. Determinism is not the same as believing in fate: if it were fate that I got a particular job, I would not have needed to work particularly to get it.

Or, part of the complex of factors which determines my course in life is my belief that I may improve my situation.

And it feels as if my conscious mind is still at war with the world, and my feeling self, which I have to coax along like a bored, tired child.

This is part of Christianity. Getting things wrong- repentance, forgiveness, trying again. Always we begin again. There is the law of God in my inmost self.

Free will IV

File:George elgar hicks23.jpgCan I develop free will?

I am a determinist: following Richard Oerton, I say People act (and choose) as they do because they are who they are.
They have not made who they are. Yet, I am aware of the concept of free will. Can I develop it?

People develop and reject habits. If someone gives up smoking, that would seem to be a choice, but the determinist would say that they started smoking because of social pressure, and give up because of different social pressures.

I want to inculcate in myself the habit of morning meditation (Oops!)
-(That’s better)
and that looks like a choice, in the moment, but is more competing motivations within me: will Seeking Spiritual Nourishment or Cannabebothertness win out? I might observe that it is better to meditate earlier in the evening, as switching off the telly after ten I normally canna be bothert, and ascribe to that apparent observer not free will, exactly, but the power to influence what I do- but its motivation is also a deeper emotion.

This old story- Pavor Nocturnus says it is not Native American after all- “There are two wolves fighting in each man’s heart. One is love, the other is hate.”
“Which one wins?”
“The one you feed the most.”

File:George elgar hicks29.jpgIf I pull myself up- I am surrendering myself to my anger, and feeding it, I am acting on impulse and I should just stop- that is also a conflicting emotional system within me creating the restraint. If I take a breath, and consider, yes I should surrender to the Fight impulse, and do so, subconscious impulses within me are still making the decision, and however finely balanced it seems it is unconscious rather than conscious.

Yet- I can learn techniques like Situation-Thought-Emotion-Behaviour which gives the apparently more evolved, constructive, creative response more power over the basic Fight or Flight. I can develop the understanding which enables me to defer gratification, and control the impulse which may do me harm in the long term.

The voice in my head, which identifies itself as “me” despite knowing that “I” is all that is within my skin, mostly agrees with the part which defers gratification, and wishes to control four-F impulse, and might see that as making free choices. But the choice still comes from who I am, how I feel and react, and what I want.

People talk of being “free” in a different sense: free from reacting in the “base” impulsive manner, able to consider the future better.

A Catholic

File:Pannello di pittura parietale da area vesuviana, miho museum, shiga 02.jpgOh no! Not another bigoted homophobe! Wait a while, he is interesting as a specimen. He shows how thinking within a closed system can completely insulate you from reality, and how brilliant Constantine was in creating an ideology to control his empire.

Here, he is writing on a debate between a Christian and a bishop. The bishop says that there is only one Catholic view on gay marriage, and that those who do not accept it should leave the church. This has Mark crowing in delight: “Booyah!” Never mind that it makes opposition to gay marriage one of the most important doctrines of the church.

It is the comments which display the full horror of the man. Those who accept all the church’s teachings are Catholic. Those who do not are not Catholic. The Church, that is, the real Church, is indeed shrinking and that’s a good thing, for at the end of the day the Lord’s work of separating the sheep from the goats will be made all the easier.

I pressed him on “goats” just to make sure. He replied, Matthew 25:31-46 That’s what happens to the goats. The verse says,

Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

You’re all going to Hell!! gloats Mark. God wills no one to go to Hell, but there are those who are so insistent upon their own will, their own sense of what is right, that they completely reject the things of God, and thus close themselves off from Heaven forever. God loves us all so much that he is willing to honor the choices we make. File:Affresco di giardino da pompei, museo archeologico nazionale, napoli.jpgMark backtracks on this later, possibly having realised how foolish it looks.

This is a simplistic view, but he can take into it all sorts of complexities. Later, he blathers on about what mortal sin is, even though this contradicts what he said about those who accept gay marriage shrinking out of the “real church”. Whether it is mortal sin is between the person and God, and not for others to say. Possibly, he has read Irenaeus: God save us from an educated idiot.

I cannot deduce his answer to Plato’s dilemma “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” He may imagine there are moral arguments against gay marriage separate from his false biblical authority.

In his own eyes, he will always defeat me in argument because he has a moral truth: God and the Church condemn all gay sex, in a LTR or not. He simply does not accept any moral argument against this. No-one can get through to him.

Constantine produced a hierarchy, right down to each individual citizen or slave, and anyone disobedient would go to Hell. Mark shows that the attitudes of slavish obedience and arrogance live on, which with the conspiracy of silence produced the worldwide child abuse scandal. His idolatry of his church insulates him against the promptings of God- he has no ears to hear.


I said I want independence, which is not quite true. I want to avoid dependence.

I do not pursue independence, but flee dependence. Where there is interdependence in my society- I am entitled to ask for X- I do not wish to ask for it. I would rather be separate. Nor do I want to negotiate interdependence. I do not see that I can. All this is a bad thing.

You might think I am beating myself up, but that is not quite it. I would rather be otherwise, but I have just about ceased to blame myself for this, or be ashamed of it. I seek instead to diagnose- to see- to sympathise- to enter in to my own desires- so to accept myself rather than in a semi-conscious state to reject and seek to force myself to be otherwise. Freed from that impossible task-master which is that semi-conscious self, I-

will see what happens, and have faith it will be better than this.


The pool of Hirosawa
 Its waters never intending to reflect:

The moon, itself never meaning to be reflected.

The pond of Hirosawa.

An illustration of no-mind, from John Teramoto’s translation of Genwa Nakasone’s commentary on the twenty guiding principles of karate. I thought it a beautiful thought, worthy of poetry but prosaically expressed. Try the 5.7.5 pattern:

Moon without intent

Water without volition

reflects reflection.

Mmm. “Pond” is a one syllable word, which might do. “Will” is a one syllable word for intent. I would like to refer to Hirosawa:

Moon and pond, unwilled

reflected and reflecting

Hirosawa's pool

Here is another translation:

The moon has no intent to cast its shadow anywhere, 

Nor does the pond design to lodge the moon: 

How serene the water of Hirosawa!

For your delectation, some haiku of Basho:

the moon: 

I wandered around the pond 

all night long

So, I mourn the thought of free will, and crave the state of no-mind. Good job I don’t have to be consistent!

Free will III, a young, high flying executive, is going to a meeting crucial to the next great leap forward in his career. He sees a woman getting mugged, and her handbag stolen. If he stops to help he will miss his meeting. What does he do?

Robert Kane, Professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, says that his choice in that moment is a “Self-Forming Action” or SFA. Kane is a defender of free will, and I bring him to you through the summary of Richard Oerton, a determinist. The SFA is a decision in an instant where “we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become”. Kane’s example is a choice between pro-social and selfish, and clearly it may affect Sebastian deeply, whether he runs for his meeting but, disturbed by what he saw, performs badly and loses his job soon after; or he intervenes and, delighted by the success of his heroism, joins a charity removing land mines from conflict zones.

How is this free will? The sight stirs up chaos in Sebastian’s brain and sensitises it to “quantum disturbances at the neuronal level” opening “a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by influences of the past”. There are hypotheses of parallel universes, and there might be separate “places” where each possible action he could perform has happened, and each possible set of consequences: though whichever we see as the “right” response to me it seems no more than any other choice; and whether to go for a run or spend another half hour in bed, three weeks earlier, may also have far-reaching consequences for his character: it, too, is a decision made in an instant which might be finely balanced.

I went to Dr Dalrymple with logical arguments why I was transsexual, and he refuted each of them, leaving me only how I felt and what I wanted. This was intensely painful, and it freed me to value my feelings more, and seek rational justification less. Had I waited longer for such a change it might have been more painful, and I doubt it could come about in a less shocking or painful manner.

That was July 2001, and from February 1999 I have been conscious of changing my understanding of the world and responses to it, as a process of growth or healing, getting closer to an organismic self or real me. Part of this is in accidental encounters with the world- as in the film Sliding Doors, in one reality Sebastian caught the earlier tube, and did not see the mugging.

Even if there are different Sebastians in different worlds, earning different amounts, doing different things, with different levels of health, we cannot blame any of them. And- as living is better than not-living, and I want to take in more ideas and experiences, I choose to believe that this living being is capable of further growth and healing.

Free will II

File:Lady Mary Coke.jpgPeople act (and choose) as they do because they are who they are.
They have not made who they are.

Thus, in two lines, Richard Oerton disposes of free will, in favour of determinism. Events have causes, and the conscious or unconscious choices and acts of a human being also have causes, in her upbringing and environment: we are not entrapped by remorseless fate against our desires, but our desires themselves have causes.

Perhaps I should not ask a Determinist to define free will, but Oerton postulates an Originator, something outside the causal chain. It is under the control of the person who possesses it, or it would not be his free will, but it is not linked to his character or his desires, which arise from his circumstances. It requires the ability to choose freely between stealing and not stealing, when other circumstances are equal. I will not take a laptop from an unlocked car, but this does not feel particularly like a free choice between two alternatives. Therefore I empathise with the person who does, who might not notice the choice either, just the opportunity.

Could I have done otherwise- that pound I gave to the collector in the supermarket? Yes, I could have walked past him, but- I was not motivated to do so, and the motivation is within me, from a chain of nature and nurture causes. I have done in the past, and it might be that my thwarted motivation to give before became stronger in this case because I had not given the previous time (I see myself as charitable) rather than my generosity wasting away because of a bad habit. about a choice over which I spend a great deal of time agonising? My motivations may be evenly balanced, but eventually one wins out, causing that choice just as they cause any other. If I am desperate to get the best outcome even in my choice of breakfast cereal, every visit to the supermarket will be a trial, but if I reason that of many choices there are several good enough options it becomes easier. That reasoning also comes from my nature, which is to reason and amass ideas.

It seems that there is no such thing as pure chance- if you know the exact force and angle of the spin of a coin its result may be predicted. But if there were pure chance, divorced from cause or personality, affecting someone’s acts, that could not be called his “free will”. Whether I make a decision consciously or unconsciously, it comes from those causes. The unconscious, making a decision 0.35 seconds before I consciously realise I have made it, is still me, with my character. I might want to falsify a prediction, being counter-suggestible- but then the prediction is itself part of the causal matrix around my decision.

“We cannot prove that our minds make sense rather than nonsense, because our only way of doing this would involve us using and relying on our minds, assuming what we set out to prove. But this ultimate uncertainty has to be ignored.” We cannot define what the “mind” is, but we can define and explain determinism. Therefore, the fact that we cannot make any sense of free will shows it does not exist.

Tomorrow: the self-forming action and my own self-forming.

Free will 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. 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.