Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free will

The way I see it, free will is attacked from "above" and "below". From below because, you know, physics and stuff. And from above because we're always finding new mental illnesses and ways that our biology dictates some of the things we do. Kleptomaniacs are not free like other people; they feel compelled to steal stuff. We usually think they need to get fixed not punished. So maybe everything we do can eventually be explained by some subtle kleptomania like condition. We don't feel compelled to do stuff but the kletpo doesn't feel compelled either, he wants to steal.

We wish we could change out habits, but we don't just want to change our behaviour, we wish our desires were different. An obese person doesn't just want to eat less; he wants to stop being hungry all the time. It's easy for us to want to distance ourselves from our bad qualities but we like taking credit for our good bits but that's cheating. The thing is that we just are the collection of all these tendencies and desires, take them away and there's nothing left of us. I'm not trying to argue against free will, just that it's crazy to wish to be free of all the things that actually make us, us.

The reason we feel queasy about free will is the sinister sense of compulsion that it conjures, "but if determinism is a straightjacket it's one that fits so well that it allows every movement" (quote from Nick Fearn book).


Tracy Leigh said...

I agree. It still seems to me that free will is an illusion. Surely our lives are determined by the causality of biology, chemistry and physics, and chance?

The illusion of free will is pretty convincing though, so much so that it's hard to get my head around it. Especially when I have a feeling like: I'm going to make the effort to become a better person; or make the world a better place; when I could very easily do nothing and just let myself be. The former, makes me feel like I would be using my freedom, the latter makes me feel like every choice I make is predetermined or random.

Mandy said...

What do you mean 'compulsion' do you mean the thought that we should make an effort? But if determism means that we make an effort anyway, even though it's 'predetermined' - what's the difference - at least if its free will we can feel unique? surely bad qualities like being fat and eating too much are essentially just laziness, we eat instead of work or doing something useful that could improve the world - I agree that genetics may determine how much will or effort we need to exercise to overcome laziness... but at the end of the day, I don't think that we can argue against our own instrincts that we can 'choose' whether to make an effort or not - otherwise surely it is too easy not to make an effort and the world will just fall apart?

mutt said...

I agree, or sympathise, with both comments. I find it very difficult to think about the topic, but I felt that I had some kinda breakthrough in my intuitive understanding recently, but articulating it is hard (which also suggests it was just a fake breakthrough)

In some strict sense I agree with Tracy that without some inexplicable magic we can’t have free will, but lately I think that there's a problem with that kind of free will, it's not the kind that we should care about.

by compulsion I mean that by saying we don’t have free will it sounds like we were compelled. We don’t FEEL compelled so it’s subtle and sinister type of compulsion.

The point of my kleptomaniac thing is that it's not JUST laziness. Some (most) obese people don't feel hungry in the same way as I do and it can be kinda offensive to say stuff like, "I resisted that extra helping, so you can too" It's very easy to imagine us being more or less free in different regards, not all obese people are equally fat.

Part of the answer is how well we respond to incentives. If someone does something no matter what the consequences we think of the person as not being free, but most people adjust their behaviour when conditions change.

For most people money, respect from others and providing for children is enough to overcome the laziness urge, but these factors impact differently on different people (resulting in different actions).

Joan of Arc said...

I agree we have compulsions...

but often we can grab ourselves by the preverbials and force ourselves to change our compulsions.

I like the show `The biggest loser'... that kind of dramatic positive life change inspires me.

There are things about myself that are compulsions/habits I would like to change but don't... but however much I would like to believe otherwise, I am pretty sure it's my fault...

Stuart said...

that's what I meant about free will being attacked "from above". we feel these compulsions. but our ability to overcome these issues or not is also down the way our natural biological selves interact with our environments.

There is no "us" ourside of our desires, compulsions and tendencies. it doesn;t matter it they're good or bad, obvious or subtle.

having said all this, I agree with you. our ability to struggle to promote some parts of ourselves over others is crucial.

sid said...

You make an interesting arguement. The problem I have with simply disregarding free will, is the believe that if everything is predetermined and whatever decision you make will eventually lead you to the same point, then why do anything? Why work harder?

Stuart said...

not believing in free will is not the same as believing that everything is predetermined. the way I see it is the randomness has a very large role to play (and the randomness goes all the way down).

we can con ourselves in that way if we like. but having a good excuse for a crap life is not as good as having a good life (if you see what I mean). it's better to try hard and then later chat about how things couldn't have turned out differently.

The belief that we don't have free will can feed into our decision mechanisms in nagative ways, but we can realise that and thats another input.

(seriously, I'm not trying to be obscure in this comment)