Monday, December 27, 2010

Optimistic equivocations

I want to elaborate on the last paragraph of the previous post. I said that I don't believe in free will, but I also said that I'm not a determinist. What gives? Briefly, I don't think that consciousness could exist in a deterministic reality, as in such a reality everything would be "given at once", and consciousness occurs in an unfolding present that defies a timeless reality. Consciousness exists, therefore reality is not deterministic (and another bad argument is added to philosophy's pantheon of failure).

Where do we fall into this indeterministic scheme, given the incoherence of free will? It may be the case that the indeterminacy of reality is incidental to the human decision-making process, but I wouldn't give up on the idea just yet. For one thing, I think that human brain function is sensitive to indeterminacy in some way, or it wouldn't be sufficient for conscious experience. More importantly, even if the indeterminacy of reality isn't directly exploited by neural processes, humanbeasts get along by imagining possible futures and making efforts toward those we value most highly on balance. The better we understand ourselves and our world, the closer our imagined possible futures will be to actual possible futures, and the greater will be our power to select our own destinies, in the long term, barring the inevitable occasional hideous accident. This isn't full-blown free will, but it's still an extremely valuable tool. If we think of it as a weak form of free will, we also find ourselves faced with this point: free will is something that is achieved by degrees, through learning, through rationality, and through mental and emotional discipline, rather than something that is shared equally by all and can simply be taken for granted.

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