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In Search of Free Will

May 12, 2008

Freedom is a complicated notion, and many people wonder if human beings have a ‘free will’ at all.  Is there any way to prove, rationally, that free will exists?  If so, what is it?

Many complicated problems arise.  A lot of the time, people find themselves unable to do what they want to do.  Take falling in love for instance.  Sometimes people fall in love with someone they don’t want to love.  Othertimes, they want to let go of someone, yet are unable to do so.  If people are “free”, then why can’t they love who they want to love?  Do people actually “choose” who they even love to begin with?

We can’t choose what kinds of food we like to eat.  We didn’t choose our favorite color.  We can’t choose what temperatures are comfortable to us, or not.  We can’t choose what styles of music we find appealing.  The list goes on.

Can a homosexual or a heterosexual choose their sexual orientation?  Can a bisexual choose to go straight?  Can a man love the body of an ugly woman?  Can an intelligent man admire the mind of a dumb woman?

Free will certainly is a mystery.  It most certainly is not as simple as people choosing what they want out of life, and pursuing that.

I wrote a journal entry a while back on ‘Decision Making’ and I posed the question whether people can simply make decisions out of thin air, or whether there has to be some sort of motivation before they can do so.  The debate went on for some time.  The entry was so long I couldn’t even post it on the site without breaking it into parts.

To a large extent in that entry, I was hoping to make a point that sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish which part of ourselves is us, and what part is mechanical.  If we make decisions, then how are we to define what these decisions are?  It all seems to come down to this:

If I believe there are causes as to why people do what they do, I can progress in knowledge of their behavior.  When I simply assume that their free will generated the decision, I cannot progress, because their uncaused free will made the decision to do the action, and there is no more to be said.  So I continue to assume causes exist to people’s decisions, so I can continue to progress in knowledge of human behavior.

It’s similar to a dynamic I saw with a kid in the church parking lot.  He asked his mother why the rocks shined.  His mother said, “God made it that way.”  I could see this same child ask, “Where do babies come from?”…”God makes them”.  “Why is milk white?” … “God made it white.”  In this case, one singular cause is assigned to every circumstance, and no new knowledge is ever acquired.   If people assume “free will” causes each decision, then no progress is made in the area of human behavior studies.

The main problem with this dynamic is that if you believe a person is caused, you make them into a machine, and you lose the very notion of responsibility, ethics, and decisions to begin with.  But you must assume they are a machine to progress in knowledge of the person, or at least, that causes exist which motivate their behavior.  If you make them into a complete free will, which makes decisions only due to their “spirit/mind”, then there is nothing to say about human nature other than people make decisions.  Since psychology exists, behavior is to a large extent predictable, and people do not seem to be random, there seems more truth to the machine aspect of mankind than the “free will”, but that supposes that free will has to bow to reason, which I have serious reasons to doubt.  Reason only seems to exist to help us realign reality back to how we want it, not define desire itself.

When reading Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations”, he made a comment on free will.  You cannot define your free will, until it is thwarted and you are startled.  After reading this book, I remember I was out in the yard doing lawn work, riding in a trailer pulled by a tractor.  We were riding around the field when all the sudden we hit a large bump and I was almost thrown out of the trailer.  At that point I reflected and thought, “Hmm.  Yes, I must have been willing to ride in the trailer, but there is no way to define that I wanted to ride in the trailer, until I was almost thrown out.  Do I will to ride in this trailer?  I cannot seem to say.  My mind seems to run endlessly in circles and gets nowhere.  My brain and mental experiences cannot seem to tell me what I will to do, since that seems up to me to decide and control. But I can say most definitely that I DO NOT wish to be thrown out.” It was obvious to me at that point that something had disturbed what I wanted, because a negation must always be a negation of something.  Whatever this undefinable something is, it is free will.

When getting into the trailer, I wasn’t thinking anything.  No words seemed to shoot around in my brain, and say, “Jason, you’re now choosing to get into the trailer.”  My body just moved and got in the trailer.  But when I was almost thrown out, my decision that I had willed to get in there seemed to manifest itself to me, because I had to protect it.

Another time I was in the kitchen, grabbing silverware.  I was grabbing a knife off the counter to use for some reason, and then I dropped it.  I was startled.  I then became conscious of the fact that I wanted to use the knife for something.  (I get overjoyed over silly things like this.  I drop a knife and scream to myself, “I’m alive, and not a machine!  See, I did not want to drop it!”)

In other words, free will seems to be of a higher order than our language.  Words, and mental processes only seem to come into play when something goes wrong, otherwise, reality is in a state that we are pleased with, no need to bother the mind, or waste energy.  We think in terms of words, and describe the situation to others, and even to ourselves, in words.  We become conscious of the problem, first by words linking together the situation (words being linked to unconscious mental ‘objects’), and we then use our free will to move these words and thoughts around in a certain way to try to realign reality back to how we desired it to be.

Words are almost like chains and cables which link various aspects of the body together, in the conscious mind.  Our free will then pulls on these words, which sets off a chain reaction in physical reality, and causes movement.  By words, I simply mean comparative experience.  Words as we think of them are simply very abstract and simple comparative experience, stored in the brain.

I think this is a pretty solid argument for free will.  It convinces me, a hard-going empiricist.  Of course someone could argue about my own subjective sense of certainty I experience when I tell myself, “I DO NOT want to fall out of the trailer.”  After all, that’s just a feeling too.

To that I say this.  Nature operates in terms of efficiency, and I see no reason why free will shouldn’t be the same. If reality is in a state which the will is satisfied with, then there’d be no need for it to interact with our physical world.  It would only be needed if and only if something needed changed.  And since we only talk about free will when people change a situation in a certain way, I am satisfied with this argument, for now anyways.

Free will seems to be like some sort of mystical energy, which enters our dimension and reality, gives reality a little small push, and then leaves just as quick as it came.  Reality doesn’t even have time to notice what happened.  It just reacts, and a chain reaction happens based on whoever made the decision.
I don’t think we can define what “free will” is, but I don’t think we can define what anything is, really.  Let me explain.

I hold up an MP3 player.  I ask them, “What is it?”  They say, “It is an electrical device, which can play mp3 music.”  Does that say what it is?  What about all the electrical gadgetry?  What about each individual change in charge in each circuit?  What about all the software logic which decompresses the compressed audio information?  How much information do we have to tell about the device before we’ve defined what it “is”?

The same applies to reality.  The subject of epistemology has confused so many philosophers because they do not understand the concept of purpose.  I think purpose is what drives free will, and is what moves this world.  To most people, saying an mp3 player is a device which will allow you to download thousands of songs from your computer, and put them on this little keychain, and listen to them all, is enough information.  That’s all they care about.  Do they know what it “is”?  We’d have to be specific as to how specific we need them to be before they’ve defined what it is, but that’s strangely circular isn’t it?  How specific do our specifications have to be?  How specific must the specifications for the specifications be?  Eventually you just have to hit a point where you’re satisfied.

This may sound like some abstract philosophical problem, but it’s very practical.  Some people constantly argue what “love” is, what “friendship” is, or what “peace” is…Such arguments can go on indefinitely.  You can break something down as far as you want.

Don’t look for truth, look for satisfaction, and whether or not reality is how you like it.  Truth will reveal itself to you based on your purpose.  If you have some further purpose, and current specifications and definitions do not fulfill what you’re needing, then you can be more specific, but otherwise, you’re done for the time being.

I think there’s infinite “truths” and “logical possibilities”.  Truth without purpose is useless.  It’s like knowing that some wild animal in the rain-forest used the bathroom on January 6th, 1885.  Who cares,  unless you’ve found that this extinct species poop will cure cancer, and you’re hoping to find this deeply buried dung heep.  But if that’s the case, then you have a purpose.

This same topic applies to God.  People think God is the only undefinable being.  Everything is undefinable.  We can compare one thing to another, and link words to things, but what a “definition” is, is hard to even say.

Words don’t communicate what things are.  They never will.  A blind man will never understand what red is, or a description of a blue sky with white puffy clouds.  Puffy to him will only be the feeling of a cotton ball in his hands.  That’s as much as he’ll know.

If God doesn’t reveal to you the objects of this world, nobody else ever can.  I can’t hand a person the beauty of a late evening motorcycle ride.  I can’t give a person the experience of seeing a beautiful woman’s smile.  I can’t even give a person the sound of an orchestra piece if they are deaf.  I’m powerless in this respect.  If their sensory organs are only partially damaged, and I can repair them, then maybe I have a chance.  Even so, reality gives them the experience, not me.  The experience of me giving them the experience is simply just another consecutive experience, which is linked to that experience.  Even I have to be given to them, to give.

Words are simply one experience linked to another, and we rely on memory and internal mind processes when describing things to each other.

Truth is revealed to us by our purposes. We change things we dislike using free will.  Our free will, upon wanting some change, starts to reveal things to our physical brain which we dislike, and we align reality to how we like it.  This disruption of energy fields gets thoughts flowing, and we perceive these disruptions as words bouncing around in our heads.  By words, I simply mean comparative experiences.  The mind starts comparing experiences, and analyzing.

The only thing I dislike about this discussion is that it does not allow much difference between us and other life forms, such as animals and insects.  What confines this “free will” to our physical existence, as opposed to some insect, or a rat, or even some other form of inanimate matter?  To this, I have no answer.  I simply exist in this form, for the time being.

This philosophy could easily migrate to a reincarnation mindset very easily.  But at the same time, to act as if free will is a spatial and physical reality, like the reality we’re in, is stretching things.  To act like our “free will” energy field would float around spatially after death, then get trapped in some other life form is taking things pretty far, though I don’t deny the possibility.

Also, if you hold to this view, it’s hard to describe what it would mean to survive after death.  A free will is pure decision, and has no constraints, and therefore no identity.  What distinguishes one free will from another is completely undefinable.

Identity will still have to be rooted in someone’s physical existence, to have any meaning to us.

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