Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free will as a gilded cage 1

A friend linked this article on Facebook with regards to free will. I had several highly conflicting thoughts on this.

The first is that I think maybe only certain kinds of amateurs, hacks and dilettantes, like me, or people whose professional ethics are constrained by an actual set of ethics, like a neurologist, should be allowed to comment on free will in public. People who get paid for their opinions should be out of the discussion. It's too important a topic to have any economic bias at all inserted into the conversation because it dictates how some people feel about themselves.

The second is that there is a margin of stupidity in the discussion of free will. Free will is self evident. It doesn't matter how or why a decision is made. It's just important that a decision is made. I think the topic of free will should be up for consideration, I just that I think the conversation should be about what it is, not if it is. "If" makes the entire question into a bong conversation.

Like the "question" of existence. If we didn't exist, would we be having a conversation about existence? There is always an appeal to higher reality involved in the question of existence, a la the Matrix. If there was a higher reality, it would be full of gun fights and harrowing escapes and dastardly villains. Of course. Or a sublime understanding of the entirety of the universe. Or maybe not. Maybe that's wish fulfillment, and whatever scale of reality you live in has economics to hold you back. But that makes for lousy pop culture.

The question of free will is really a discussion of consciousness. And not if, but what. Because if this relationship that I have with the universe isn't "consciousness," if I can really only be reduced to some really baroque lichen on the face of the earth, the question becomes "who cares?" What we know about the universe seems to indicate that the only thing consistent is change. Stabilizing your little corner of the universe so that it is more fun is a useful goal. It's probably necessary to existing, because without some sensation of fun now or delayed, there wouldn't be much reason to exist.

The question of whether will is free or not seems Manichean in nature. We want to make decisions totally free from economics or conditioning, as opposed to marginally free. But being as we exist in a universe that consists of inconsistently distributed matter and energy, that is of course, impossible. There will always be a tariff on will, whether it be perspective error or resource needs. The question of "free" will is impractically, mystically Utopian.

So determining the "what" of consciousness is a very useful goal, because at the very least it will allow us to game this corner of eternity to enhance the fun quotient.

The question of free will then becomes effectively irrelevant. And, at the end of the day, any random phenomenon that results in Kim Stanly Robinson's Red Mars Trilogy, or the artwork of Jack Kirby, or the counterculture, has to be appreciated for the... sheer fecundity of it. Consciousness, free or not, is a base condition of humanity that deserves to be admired and cultivated the way color is in flowers.

***

An armchair speculation, inspired by Freakanomics and The Tipping Point, and all the research they stood on first.

I think that there are probably three parts to a personality: Your genetic predispositions, your learned or conditioned behavior, and the part of your personality that does it's best to respond to the world.

None of these parts are subconscious: We use all of them to make conscious decisions. We even use them to rationalize our behavior to ourselves. But humans are monumentally bad at recognizing cause and effect, so it will come as no surprise that we often mistake correlation with causation when we think about ourselves. This means we often attribute decisions made due to the long-standing behavior patterns to spurious emotions.

Depression and Anxiety disorders, I think, are especially relevant to this conversation because they mimic natural emotions but make choice less effective. You can effectively fail to solve a problem because anxiety or depression results in you focusing on a temporary conflict while ignoring another source of stress that is causing ongoing distress.

1 comment:

Mer said...

I'm pretty sure everything I do is being run by the parasites in my brain. Also, my parasites think it's cute that you think about this so hard.