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This is the first "blog" of any kind I've ever had, so it's probably not the greatest...

Just a little snippet about me:

I'd like to consider myself relatively tech-savvy; obviously I use Linux (Arch to be precise; K.I.S.S. FTW), and I enjoy learning new things about computers in general (both software and hardware-related).

This blog is mostly just for whenever I feel like telling the world about my experiences with computers/Linux (or just life in general), or just posting for the hell of it.
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Finally got a little perspective...maybe

Posted 08-26-2010 at 05:13 PM by MrCode
Updated 12-28-2010 at 09:25 PM by MrCode

As you may have guessed from my previous two posts, I've been constantly arguing with myself over the old (very old, apparently) "free will vs. determinism" debate. I've done a little more reading (not just on Wikipedia) about it, and I've come to realize that my perception that there's "determinism everywhere I go" is rather a false one. Sure, there are many scientific and philosophical theories which try to discredit free will as a viable reality, but at the same time, there are also many other theories that attempt to do the same for determinism, and still others which attempt to make the two "kiss and make up", as it were (i.e. compatibilist ideas). This debate has serious implications; there are many things upon which our society is founded which depend on free will as an axiom. Take human morality for example: if all is predestined, and choice/free will is an illusion, then how can anyone be held responsible for their actions, since their actions were ultimately the result of previous causes, genetic predisposition, and social conditioning? If it was ultimately inevitable that they would make the decision to do the misdeed of which they have been convicted, why hold them responsible for it? Or better yet, why not just imprison someone based on their genetic structure and/or upbringing, because of their potential negative impact on society?

This leads me to the whole idea of "nature vs. nurture". Just how much does genetic makeup factor into a person's personality, as well as social conditioning? At what point do we say that a person was genetically predisposed to have a certain personality trait, rather than it being the result of social conditioning and/or something else?

...this is a question that deeply disturbs me. If all of our personality traits are determined strictly by genetics (which I personally don't believe), then one could say that all the decisions of one's experience are predetermined, because that would imply that there are a strictly limited (and strictly rigid) set of outputs to a given set of inputs. If you apply this notion to the whole of society, it would really not be much different from a network of computers communicating information between one another.

My personal beef with this is that if we're nothing more than machines, then that rather precludes there being any real significance to living existence. If life is meaningless, then why bother living at all? But of course, my asking that question was predetermined; the result of my genetic makeup, social conditioning, and previous motives, right? If that is so, then why bother asking the question at all? Why bother asking any questions?

...why bother doing anything? But all the same, you really have no choice as to whether or not you'll "do" anything, because it was predestined anyway.

This is the conundrum I have been going through: I feel as though I shouldn't bother with anything, but at the same time, if that was predetermined to begin with, then I can't really say that I "felt" that I shouldn't bother with doing anything at all. That "feeling" was an illusion of my conscious existence; an artifact of the notion that I am somehow "free" and "unconstrained".

This brings me back to the whole "genes are the foundation of psychological being" topic: it's almost as if we're genetically predisposed to believe that we're free, i.e. the perception of free will (for some of us, at least) is almost necessary in order for us to live our lives in a healthy manner. To not believe in choice is (IMO) a rather lazy way of looking at things, because one could use the excuse of "I was predestined to make that decision" to explain away their responsibility.

Now we come to this very blog entry: was it predestined that I would write it? Some would say yes, because I have determinism angst, and, based on that motive, I searched Google for "free will vs. determinism debate", read some essays/articles/papers/etc., formed a rational conclusion, became aware of the possibility of sharing my conclusion with others, and out of my (possibly genetically predisposed) desire to share my viewpoint with others, decided to write this blog entry.

Others might say that I could have just as easily not have written it, or not even read the articles in the first place, and that it is only when one looks into the past do things seem deterministic.

Here's where the real fun begins (): many could argue that if one looks into the past often enough, and sees the same (or a similar) pattern often enough, then one can conclude that the same pattern will happen again in the future. Others could argue that this knowledge is only ever approximate; you can't 100% accurately predict the future. But, do you need to be able to predict the futrure 100% accurately to be able to draw a conclusion? Some would say no, others would say yes, for various reasons:

a) No, because approximation is the foundation of rational logic, and therefore any "randomness" or "unpredictability" in data is irrelevant.

b) Yes, because that uncertainty can, in the end, shape that data into something which the approximate findings would seem to find invalid.

c) No, because not all uncertainty or "randomness" can "shape" the data, and thus approximation is accurate enough...

...and so on. Surely you can see where this hurts me so much emotionally: the notion of not being in control robs me of a sense of "self", in the sense that there is something which distinguishes me other than simply my life's experiences and/or genetics.

...and this is the part where you people in the comments write things along the lines of "there is no such thing as 'soul' or 'spirit', because there has been no scientific evidence for it" (I believe the fallacy here is that it's equating lack of evidence with lack of existence), or "there is too much evidence against the notion of a 'spirit' or 'soul' to even consider it a valid, logical alternative to the 'culmination of genetic predispositions, social conditionings, and life experiences' idea" (this, on the other hand, seems pretty solid, unfortunately for me ).

Well, I must not be a very "logical" person then, because here is the part where I start to do this:

...and here's the part where you start labeling me a "whiny crybaby". Don't you have beliefs that you strongly uphold, even if there's no ultimate, objective, logical basis for them (or there simply can be none, as they are a matter of opinion)? Please, learn to respect other people's beliefs, even if you don't believe in them yourself. I respect that some people believe that we're all basically highly complex machines, but at the same time, I don't want them to force their opinion on me, and I try not to force my opinion on least when I'm not emotional.

I'm often told that "if a (philosophical/religious/whatever) belief makes you feel good, then go with it". However, I'm inclined to believe (possibly through genetics ) that just because something is "comfortable" doesn't make it "right". I want to be "right" and "comfortable" at the same time, though, and that's why I'm having this huge conflict with myself. I don't want to give in to determinism, but at the same time, I want things to make sense in a causal, rational way. Without free will, I feel powerless; like a pawn of logical causality. But without a notion of causality, I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and just plain wrong (logically speaking), as well as being afraid that I won't be able to do the things that I like (e.g. working with computers). Not only that, but there are also things that I wish could happen that rationally speaking, I pretty much know will never happen, because of their seemingly utter impossibility. But at the same time, I have these tiny shreds of hope and rationalization for those hopes and beliefs. I choose not to share them here, as it may end up causing people to question my sanity...I often question my own sanity for having those hopes and dreams.

Anyway, this is one hell of a blog entry isn't it? Probably belongs more in an essay than a blog (on LQ or anywhere else)...

TL;DR: I've done some extra reading on the free will vs. determinism debate, and have gained some extra perspective, but I'm also still very confused, and the reading seems to have done nothing more than add to the confusion.
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  1. Old Comment
    First of all, I'd like to say that that is an excellent blog entry, essay, whatever-you-choose-to-call-it.
    Obviously you're a deeper thinker than I've ever been on these subjects. I chose to believe in free-will, because of the negative moral implications of determinism, and because I couldn't see how everything we do could be predestined. As for nature vs nurture, it's probably 20% nature (physical appearance, predisposition to certain diseases, etc) and 80% nurture. But the truth is that nobody knows, nobody can say which is the absolute truth. So, until they do, I shall choose what suits me, and **** everybody else's opinion.
    Posted 08-26-2010 at 07:12 PM by brianL brianL is offline
  2. Old Comment
    First of all, I'd like to say that that is an excellent blog entry, essay, whatever-you-choose-to-call-it.

    After getting over the gratification (the "" factor) of actually having someone respond positively to my little piece, I started thinking of this: apparently there were experiments done to show that free will is imaginary. Whether or not those experiments really prove anything, I don't know. Basically, they hooked up patients to an EEG (or whatever device they used to measure brain activity) and had them flick their wrist at "random" moments of their choosing. When the results came up, they found that there were signs of preparation to move the wrist before the patient/test subject was even consciously aware of making the decision to do so. This makes me tend to think that it totally demolishes the idea of free will, because it means that no decisions are really *made* consciously; that our decisions can only be realized, not changed, by our conscious mind.

    Like I said, I don't know whether or not I believe that fully, but it seems like a rational, valid argument against free will to me...and I'm too afraid to check that link again to find out of the article's been edited/changed. The last time I looked at that article was some time ago (think weeks, possibly longer), and it scared the ever-loving $#!t out of me; it fuled my fire (which was weaker at the time, but still hot and miserable nonetheless ).
    Posted 08-26-2010 at 08:39 PM by MrCode MrCode is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Dumb experiment, that. I just reached for my cup of coffee - at random, it wasn't planned in advance: "I'll reach for my coffee at 08.03." I didn't consciously think about it. But I was aware of doing it as it was done. The decision to do it would show up as activity in the frontal cortex, doing it a fraction of a second later in an area of the parietal lobe. All low order stuff. It doesn't demonstrate anything about more complex things, such as creativity in human beings. If I'm not making decisions, who or what is? Who or what is determining our actions, thoughts, and feelings? Who desyded I would misspell decided? I'll say (or write) this again: nobody knows the absolute truth about these things, probably never will. So choose to believe what suits you, preferably the option that doesn't make you miserable.
    Posted 08-27-2010 at 03:27 AM by brianL brianL is offline


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