Philosophical Conundrums Part 1

Here’s a philosophical problem I cannot figure out for the life of me.   It’s times like these when you just have to find some help.  I decided to send an email to the smartest man I know, Littlejohn.

10/4/2008

Thoughts On Free-Will

Littlejohn,

How are you?  I hope all is well.  I have not contacted you in some time because I know you have been busy helping with science projects at the school.  I am doing well, but I have a philosophical problem which has been troubling me for a while, and I was wondering if you might have some insights.  It is regarding free-will, decisions, control over our lives, etc.  I have a “gut instinct” that some sort of freedom exists within man, but when I rationally think it all out, I come to the conclusion that we are not free in any sense.  Let me explain the problem.

Oftentimes we find the state of affairs in this world unsatisfactory.  Imagine if we were to come to God and tell him, “You are not doing things well.”  To this, God replies, “What would you like changed?”  To which we respond, “Our bodies are not well made for the harsh environment we live in.”  God replies, “Fine, I will let you all choose your body.”

Immediately God strips that “divine spark” (“spirit”) from your body, and disconnects you from it.  Then you argue to God, “I do not like this spirit.  I do not want it.”  To this, God says, “Fine, I will remove your spirit as well.”

So now we’re in a situation where we are nothing but a free-will.  We are an undefinable “force” which can “choose”.  Completely undetermined, and free.

God brings out every form and type of body and every possible environment to place it in in front of us.  One body is a lizard, another an alien being with a big head, another a cat, another a cow, another a human female, another a human male, etc.

Upon thinking this over, I first consider that if I was in this bare-bones state of existence, being nothing but a free-will, I would have no preference whatsoever for any of the bodies, nor which environment it’s placed in.  You may think, “I’d want a beautiful body”, but what is beauty?  What we find beautiful as humans is based on our physiology, and various chemicals firing off in our bodies.  You may think, “I’d want a body which is strong”, but what is strength?  That’s relative, and presupposes a desire to do something with the strength.  You may think, “I’d want a body with a quick mind”, but that presupposes that you want to know something, and for some purpose.

It seems to me that the choice of a body by any bare-bones free will put in this situation, for lack of a better way of putting it, would be random.  So I end up “choosing” one of the bodies.

Now that I have a body, “I” could choose an environment which is preferable I suppose, but now the argument steps in whether “I” really chose anything.  The body, by its physiological nature, chose the environment it prefered to be in.  “I” had no preference for an environment without first existing in a body.  Then my “preference”, whatever a preference may be, was the body impelling me to do this action, as opposed to another.

If we were to examine the free-will, which somehow still exists “within” this body, its actions are still supposedly undetermined – not impelled by something telling it what to do.  If that’s so, then it still would have no preference, and for the most part, we can still consider its “decisions” random.

I’ve been pondering this and other thought experiments like it, and I keep coming to the conclusion that freedom does not exist, or at least, I cannot find any sort of satisfactory way of identifying what it is, or how it operates.  I can’t even explain PAST manifestations of decisions, or what they are.

Hope to hear from you soon.  Take care Littlejohn.

– Jason

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3 Responses to Philosophical Conundrums Part 1

  1. Jason says:

    When we understand why we have made a decision
    “free will” is lost. But why did we choose to
    understand in the first place?

  2. Silkccut says:

    Hi Jason,

    First things first. Why in the heck you think there is GOD. So here you made a first choice i.e. there is such a thing known as God versus there is no such thing as God.

    Second, IF God exists, then why did you go to God? Why not try someone close by to help you with selecting your “avatar,” say a plastic surgeon? So here you made a second choice.

    Third, why “One body is a lizard, another an alien being with a big head, another a cat, another a cow, another a human female, another a human male, etc.”? Why not an elephant, a horse, or a camel, or a fish. So here you made another choice. But let me give it to you because you said “every form”

    Fourth, why do you HAVE to pick (select) a body? If you do not have freewill then you should not be able to contempt a body you are residing in. So, you made any other choice.

    Fifth, what made you think that I was going to think about beauty, strength and quick mind in your body choice? So here again you made a choice.

    Sixth, what made you think that I was Littlejohn? So you came up with my name too? Is this not a choice.

    Seventh, do I need to keep going on your stupid conundrum? Because as you quite foolishly chose to think that I was busy with my school projects and you said you “knew” which was utterly a lie which you chose to make.

    By the way no need to thank me because it would be a “choice” too and since you have already elected to conclude that freedom does not exist; I do not want to prove yourself otherwise…

    Yours truly,
    Littlejohn!

  3. Silkccut,

    Thanks for your comment. God was used in the thought experiment because the idea is familiar, though as you say, it could well have been a plastic surgeon, I suppose. It seems possible to me that I could have contempt for my body without having made any decision to do so. A robot could have contempt for its own existence if it was programmed to act and feel that way (though you may argue it doesn’t “really” feel). But what if subjective consciousness is passive and simply receives a feed from a body which evolved to have contempt for itself? It seems possible, doesn’t it? Why do you need to have choice to have an experience? Reading your arguments, you seem to give great power to your free will. Are you trying to say we can’t have any experience at all unless we choose to have it? Did you choose every single thing you’ve ever experienced? My experience with my feelings of freedom have been much weaker. Life throws things at me all the time, and I had no choice about many things that have happened. It does feel that I’ve had choices on some other things though, but that still doesn’t mean it wasn’t my brain and its chemical processes simply making a “decision” by the laws of physics and chemistry.

    We can watch movies and have no choice as to how the plot develops. Our lives could be similar, simply “watching” them take place with no choice and no freedom. When I spoke of strength, beauty, and intelligence, I was talking about the body wanting to be more than it currently is. Most people find themselves with those thoughts and feelings, intrinsically born inside of them. A great many of us wish we were younger, more intelligent, free of diseases and sickness, stronger, and healthier. Maybe some have reached some sort of Buddhist nirvana, but most people find life full of suffering and wish many things were different. We still have desires in us. But why would so many people find the same things painful and miserable if it were nothing but a choice? It’s because we have nearly the exact same DNA, in such similar bodies, finding the same things miserable. We have no choice about a lot of things, such as what we find painful. We share a common pain. That’s because we’re human. If we could choose not to be, then we’d be something else. Something greater. But we’re human. That’s what we are. Maybe when we die we revert to some former state which is more like what you’re speaking of, but for now, we’re human. My argument is that the body evolved to have certain desires which impel it in different directions. It wants certain things and wishes avoid other things, and since we just “woke up” in our bodies, we didn’t choose those things — they were given.

    Unfortunately Littlejohn died about a year and a half ago. I did know he was working on school projects when I wrote this because I visited him. He gave me a tour of the school and showed me the labs he was setting up.

    When I wrote this years ago, it wasn’t so much that I denied freedom entirely, it’s just that I couldn’t make sense of it at all. For example, how would this “freedom” influence the brain to make the body move? As a physicist, I couldn’t figure that out. I now think it’s possible that freedom exists, but it seems to require parallel universes to make any sense. In that sense, cause and effect would still work. Your “free will” wouldn’t have to influence electrical currents in your brain to make your decisions — you’d jump between parallel universes with each decision. I’m still thinking about all of that though.

    Best wishes,
    – Jason

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