Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reflection #4 - A Defense of Free Will

By now I have proposed a simplistic four-quadrant model of how most people view the Universe and I have dismissed Theism (one half of the model) as being both unnecessary and ill founded, based on far more than the summation of my life's experiences, but rather through hours and hours of disciplined study, thought, sensory experience and reflection.

To dismiss the 3rd of the 4 quadrants requires an exploration of the concept of Free Will.

On the surface, it appears to most people that Free Will is the prime mover of our every day lives.  Why would the Universe care which socks I decide to wear in the morning or whether or not I brush my teeth before or after my shower?  These seemingly inconsequential acts, topically support the idea of Free Will and do so in such an apparently REAL way that most people rarely think about, let alone discuss or debate the existence of Free Will, Choice or our Active Participation in outcomes that impact the space and time around us.  Certainly, we impact the immediate space and time around us, if not much, much more.  Our existence seems to be predicated on a series of events that "brought" us to this current moment and many if not all of these events were so obviously influenced by ourselves, our fore bearers and eons of humans and other life forms before us.

Defending Free Will in a Blog Post seems almost too easy.  The fact that I am writing this blog post and you are reading this blog post certainly cries out that we are both exercising free will.  I am choosing each word to include and which words not to include in this post.  You are choosing whether or not to read these words and you are further choosing how to internalize, contemplate or simply forget them.

Is that REALLY the way that the Universe works?  Can you really choose to forget something?  What motivates me to write anything at all, let alone these particular words?

Most people will say, "shut up, that is just nonsense".  Of course the act of writing a blog post and the act of reading a blog post are fully the result of each of us exercising our Free Will.  Isn't it?

Theistic Free Will:

Theist that also believe in Free Will argue that free will is exactly the magical "thing" that separates us from the "animals" (or in some systems plants or rocks) and allows us to live eternally in the grace of god.  Somehow, god or the gods set everything in motion and planned everything out according to THEIR will, but left just enough room for humans to manipulate their own fate within some magical space, that ultimately determines how our eternal soul or souls (if you believe in re-incarnation) will live and evolve.  Free Will is this wonderful "gift" that god or the gods give us that allow us to make the right choices, build our karmic bank account and either mature to be forgiven and loved eternally or to be damned to an eternity of suffering.

Atheistic Free Will:

Atheists who believe in Free Will, more or less hold the same construct as the Theists mentioned above, other than they leave out the god part.  This consistency with my writings in previous posts is intentional. They believe that there is a space within which humans may act on their own accord and that those actions have little or no impact on the Universe as a whole, even though those actions may have a significant impact on our species, our planet or even our solar system.  Many classical arguments by atheists who believe in Free Will conclude with something like, "It just makes practical sense.  Don't ask me how it works, just know that it works."  Unfortunately for them, that sounds a lot like dogma, religion or faith to me.  They are choosing to believe in common sense or what their senses tell them and not allowing themselves to abandon wrong ideas, simply because the alternative (and possibly correct) ideas feel weird. 

I said this earlier in this post and will say it again.  It is very easy to assume that Free Will not only exists, but is apparent in our every day experience.  Questioning something so obvious seems like a fool's errand.  It is truly difficult to argue that point when I look at life or the Universe from a human's perspective.  Our brains, so powerful and difficult to understand are a true feat of evolutionary engineering which do not cope well with uncertainty and a lack of control.  Two things MUST be true in order for our brains to function normally.  First, time must progress forward and Second, we must have some control over our actions, thoughts and feelings.  Even prisoners in the worse conditions, undergoing torture, rape and other brutality will (if they survive) tell accounts of how they "tricked" themselves (and sometimes their captures) into believing that they had small gaps of time and space where self control, choice and free will still existed.

Such a powerful, innate and obvious thing can not possibly be rationally questioned, can it?

What if we turned the question upside down and instead of starting with our favorite topic - me (I mean us, you for you and me for me, our SELF), we start with the beginning or end of the Universe or even this exact present moment in space and time or space-time.  When we take humans in general and the human mind in particular out of the equation, the need for Free Will starts to rapidly evaporate.   Please think about that for a second or ten.  All the emotion and surety that Free Will exists magically disappears when we talk about the orbit of comets or the mating rituals of birds.  We gladly and easily suspend the entire concept of Free Will when we make these observations.  We don't need Free Will when there is gravity or innate/primal brain behavior going on, so why do we so desperately need to have Free Will in our lives?  Think that over and over and again, one more time. Why?

In my next post I will begin the process of my explanation of why Deterministic Atheism makes the most sense.  Notice that I didn't say it was the right answer, just that of the four quadrants of MY model, I can demonstrate the thought process that I went through that convinced me that the quadrant of my choosing (ironically) is Deterministic Atheism.

That really is a paradox is it not?  I am saying that I "believe" in something unknowable (but that something is atheism) and that I chose to believe it, even though I have no choice (determinism).  For some people, that argument alone would win the day !!

Something that wildly paradoxical must have a grain or two more of truth in it than the others and that is really how I got to this point in my thinking.  I just used the good old process of elimination technique or deductive reasoning or as Sherlock Holmes would say, "...... that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth".  

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