"selflesness" and "freewill"

Recently, my discussions have increasingly come to center the idea of free will. The existence of a concrete ‘self’, the notion of a “personal identity” and so forth. Of course my stance, borrowed from a few scholars and “personalized” to fit my contexts, is that they are all meaningless structures that we have come to accept as “objective truths”.

Once the arguments that support the idea of a “self made consciousness” and “inborn conscience” are weakened, “free will” just hangs there. Like a cartoon character that has just crossed the edge of the cliff but is still standing.

In an exchange that I and one of my friends were having, I was trying to point to the situatedness of each decision we make. Thus, arguing that “free will” is more or less, a farce. This may not be the most interesting thing you’ve ever read, but the video below makes a very interesting relation indeed.

I was watching ‘BBC world’ yesterday and this news report which lasted for around 3 minutes summed up most of arguments impressively. The news item in itself is about a very interesting (controversial, if you please) issue that is well worth being discussed in a different post. For the fear of dissecting a news item that is actually a metaphor for what I want to say, I'll shut up now.


If you were wondering how I found the video in youtube, I did not. I recorded and uploaded it myself.

13 comments:

Priya said...

What a shocking truth! But how could the reporter go into the hospital disguised as a patient, with a hidden camera? What will happen to the reputation of the hospital? Is such an act ethical in the first place? And do you know that it is very difficult to get a match for a liver? That doctor is actually saying that he can get one without even considering the possiblities.

Is what the doctors doing there in China ethical? Doesn't the prisoner have any rights? Doesn't the prisoner's family have any rights?

I seem to be asking a lot of questions here. I want to know what you think about such issues. That's all.

Anonymous said...

what metaphor are you talking about? it's straightforward undercover operation. There's nothing metaphorical about it.

Priya said...

Hello Suresh,

This person already has your you tube version of theevent i think. When did you upload it? Go and check it out. May be you would already have.

http://tsoldrin.blogspot.com/2006/09/china-selling-prisoners-organs.html

Priya

Suresh said...

{{what metaphor are you talking about? it's straightforward undercover operation. There's nothing metaphorical about it.}} - There is. I'll wait for a couple of days before I cut open the butterfly.

@ Priya - Undercover journalism follows ethics that is applicable to journalism (and not medicine or otherwise), based on what good it serves. So it's ethical indeed.

Yeah I know it's hard to get matching a liver. I'll provide two interesting articles that throw very good questions. I taught them last year for my students. We had an interesting discussion in class. As for the video, we both seem to have uploaded it the same day - Sep 27 (he has got it from BBC News and mines from BBC World). Given the number of people who watch the BBC, it's not a surprise.
Article 1
Article 2

The Individualist said...

**** China. **** suppression. Capital punishment ought to be abolished. I was always of that opinion. *is highly highly terribly pissed about the video. Thanks for it though. Assisted in renewing a continuously increasing hatred against such blatant 'official' crimes.
By the way, you know what one of the significant problems is, with believing that 'free will' is a farce? One of the greatest experiences in one's life. Pride of having accomplished something. Because once you start deconstructing and bring it to ruins, what you believe seems to suggest that 'whatever you did' was not you at all. So, what does one feel happy or proud about an achievement for? Because he was the protagonist in the 'event', that was 'predestined'? Doesn't sound right, does it? Forget if it contradicts what you have started to believe in. But tell me, doesn't it come down to that? And does it sound right?

The Individualist said...

Thought you'd have replied by now.

Suresh said...

@Sudhir - Sorry, I was a little busy the last couple of days. Hope you don't mind.

Suresh said...

The reporter, at a point in the video, says, "...the noose around his neck is to choke him if he tries to call out. Is this man really in a position to make a free choice about donating his organs?” That sums up the state we are in general, in this world.
The Chinese repression of these prisoners (to lesser extent, the people) is just an amplified state of affairs in comparison with other "normal conditions". Family, love life, "social responsibilities" etc., are the "noose" that is around our necks. If we try to get out of it, it will only end up destroying us. So we are making choices and decisions based on how "slack" the "noose" is.

The question "is this man really in a position to make a free choice about donating his organs?", though rhetorical can be answered. I'm sure at least of prisoners would feel proud about what they are doing. They might even deny the influence of their circumstances. If they did, there's no talking them out of it, we can only say, "indulge yourself".
{{Because he was the protagonist in the 'event', that was 'predestined'? Doesn't sound right, does it?}} - The dubiousness of your role in an event doesn't warrant the assumption that it was predestined. Contrarily, it's the opposite of what you're saying. You're put in to a random situation in which all outcomes are random. But all random outcomes follow a pattern of probability based on the nature of the elements present in the set. That is, if you have 5 black balls and 50 white balls in a bag, and if you are to draw one ball with your eyes closed, the ball in your hand is picked randomly. But, the probability of picking up a white ball is higher. Nonetheless, not predestined.
So the fact that you're in the bag is in itself a random occurrence. But because you're a human being who's "conscious" of his/her surroundings you try to "manipulate" the circumstances or yourself to make the outcome of each event favourable to you -- you increase the probability of making things happen. But because you're put in to a set by random choice (say, your birth in Madras), what follows you regardless of your manipulation is still random.

That aside, what does picking up a white ball or a black ball mean? If it does not have an external response, the whole event, despite its arithmetics, is pointless. But we can continue have more experiments of the same kind just for the fun of it (like “playing basket ball"). Or you can give it an arbitrary, albeit unknown, meaning such as "this will keep the human species alive" or "this will make the world better" and assume an evidentially unsupported value.

To connect the metaphor, you becoming "successful" or not is an outcome that happens within an experiment (or a random event) with random outcomes. So as elements with certain characteristics, humans can be proud or happy about their "achievements". But it's just a teleological satisfaction for the mind that is trained to crave it. For a mind that is trained 'that way' (mine included) my claim is antithetical indeed. Other than that, the "goals" are not ends in themselves. For "goals" don't have a known external-meaning (not the arbitrary ones stated earlier).

The question of whether it's right, cannot be answered by one individual for the other. It depends on the nature of his/her mind's constructs at that moment. So it’s up to you to decide (though on a momentary basis).

Last week I got a mail in response to our discussion under 'Love, marriage and sex'. He said
{{Suresh, as you said everything is meaningless, even I feel the same way but any way we have to lead the life. We can’t go and jump in a well or we can’t hang ourselves, we have to lead that meaningless life.} - I replied as follows,

You are not asking it to the right person (I might give you an answer that you cannot digest). Because, I would ask, "why can't we jump in a well or hang ourselves?" You might go, "This is too much. This is nonsense. This is extremely idiotic. Killing yourself for no reason? You must be a psycho!" But think about it. How will it make a difference for the world? Even if it does make a difference, how does it matter? It hinders our progress?
In one of my podcasts I had contested the notion of progress. If we are progressing, what are we progressing toward? Is there a visible goal? Even if the goal is utopia, the purpose for the existence of utopia is still questionable.

The conventional "anti-suicide" rhetoric gives us so many reasons to live. But given the purposelessness of all that, I think there are just about the same number of reasons to do the opposite. Why am I still alive? I'm interested in living, I'm curious to know more. I think it's fun to learn things. It's like a good movie that I want to keep watching.
There's another metaphor. All movies come to an end, but some bad movies are so bad that we cannot stand it. So we get up and leave the theatre in between. That's how I see life. If life gets really bad, regardless of what follows, you end the nonsense. It's not for others to judge if you should have done it. Of course, for one to have the independence, he/she should have minimal "personal responsibilities". Your suicide shouldn't make others life a living hell (like your wife and kids), because they may not be on the same philosophical platform.
---End of mail---

I know, the argument above is a bit too extreme for "conventional thinking". But as you know, I've often contested the nature of "conventional thinking". While survival instincts are injected in our genes to ensure our survival, it has also resulted in
a. Exponential growth of population and
b. Consumption of resources beyond the scale that "survival instincts" probably imagined.
So, the same instinct is also the reason for massive destruction of life (human and otherwise). We have reached a point where we cannot even rely on the so called natural instincts; conventional thinking sinks into oblivion.

Ironically though, if we someday overcome the urge to live, we might give birth to a new system. A system that favours human survival, with relative peace and serenity. That is, in a longer, our "survival instinct" may lead us to massive destruction while our "anti-survival thinking" may lead us to a better world.

That's why I'm convinced that it's all random.

The Individualist said...

@Sudhir - Sorry, I was a little busy the last couple of days. Hope you don't mind.
That's alright. I was just impatient for the reply.
I have a lot to ask now.
I wanted to ask you this earlier.
When you say, 'free-will is a farce', what exactly do you mean by 'free-will'? What is your conception of free-will? Once I know what exactly you mean by it, it'd make my questions or arguments or concurrence more relevant.
"We can’t go and jump in a well or we can’t hang ourselves, we have to lead that meaningless life."
I disagree wholeheartedly with that 'we HAVE to lead that meaningless life.' And I agree wholeheartedly with your explanation. I totally despise laws that prohibit humans from committing suicide and consider it illegal and worse, punishable. It is totalitarianism
at its worst when you endeavour to stop a person from ending his life. It is the person's decision and society, if it means anything, ought to respect it, or maybe if not respect, atleast ignore it.
That cinema analogy is laudable. That is something I can extremely relate to.
"Your suicide shouldn't make others life a living hell (like your wife and kids), because they may not be on the same philosophical platform."
When you say, it "shouldn't" make others life a living hell, I have to ask you why you think so? I have decided to die and why should I care about their lives? If I have decided to die inspite of my death bringing upon misery on them, then, it obviously means that I do not. Where do you take the liberty to say that I "shouldn't" make others life a living hell? If they expect me to keep the 'living hell' at bay forever while they live, it is not my concern and more importantly, none of my obligation. I as a singular entity can die whenever I want to. And no external factors ought to be constraints. And I do not also see the relevance of the impact of their philosophical platform on my decision. Because there is none.
As far as feeling proud of achievements, before I can venture into it, I have to ask you this as well. Are you a determinist?
Fatalism apparently states that we are powerless to do anything other than what we do.
Let's take the ball picking example. Let's assume here that me picking up the black ball would make me happy. (A little analogy to the human happiness when desiring something) Let us assume that I ended up picking up the black ball. I was anyway powerless to pick the white ball, and I ended up picking up the black ball without any choice, even though there was an illusion of choice. So, what do I feel happy about? That I was powerless to do the thing that would make me less-happy? The whole concept of my happiness there banks on 'my ability' fetching me the black ball rather than on my 'helplessness' in not being able to not pick up the black ball.
That is the point am trying to make.
And also, considering that we are powerless to do anything other than what we do, we ought to abolish most of the laws, shouldn't we? A rapist being arrested is totally unfair considering that the rapist was powerless to do anything other than the rape that he committed, isn't it?

I said...

half baked attempt at..whatever.

Suresh said...

lightyears'ku temporal meaning kudutha ara vekaatu pasanglukkellam idhu "half baked"a dhan theriyum :))

Suresh said...

@Sudhir
I think I used 'shouldn't' for a lack of better word, at that moment. Come to think of it, as you say, it does carry with it a sense of decree. But there needs to be a limitation, however contradictory, set to this approach's application. If an individual is made to believe that he/she can take his/her life whenever he/she wants it could have wider ramifications. As I've explained in a different direction, all philosophical assertions have their limitations. Here you have two questions that are very problematic. One is that, what kind of ties shall one regard 'not so significant' or 'expendable'. Two is, is any time a good time (or a bad time) to 'end it'?
I think these two questions need to be answered by individuals for themselves (pondering over what they think is "moral", "right", "ethical" etc.).
If we are to take it to the extreme that any time is a good time and all relationships are expendable, then we have a rather dangerous scenario. A bus driver might have a "philosophical enlightenment" as he is driving by a cliff and he might decide to take his life out (by driving off the road, into the cliff or shooting himself in the head). Either way, he's jeopardizing the lives of the passengers who don't share "the same philosophical platform." I think at this point, you can see the relevance. Here, suicide becomes murder.

Obviously, the state cannot engage itself in a discussion that is so problematic. They would rather make the whole thing illegal (however pointless it is). For me, as an individual who still lives in the world, follows the rules set by other humans, has a sense of "right" and "wrong", I actually don't mind passing the "decree" that "he shouldn't!". Because, all murders are not murders and all suicides are not suicides. The value I confer upon my discretion gives me the nerve to judge what is what. That's what I expect, a critical evaluation of the decision (personally if you do it, or others do it).

I've called myself a "fatalistic nihilist" a few times in my podcasts. So yeah, I'm a fatalist. But that's not all I am. It's not a philosophy that I apply for everything. In fact there's no single philosophy that I apply for everything (probably that's only philosophy that I go by - don't look at everything through the same lens).

{{What is your conception of free-will?}} - I don't know, I haven't given much thought to it. But I meant free will as it's used conventionally, one with the following meaning,
free will
• n. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.
• adj. voluntary: free-will offerings.

I'll restate the paragraph you seem to have missed or didn't quite associate with what I meant

"To connect the metaphor, you becoming "successful" or not is an outcome that happens within an experiment (or a random event) with random outcomes. So as elements with certain characteristics, humans can be proud or happy about their "achievements". But it's just a teleological satisfaction for the mind that is trained to crave it. For a mind that is trained 'that way' (mine included) my claim is antithetical indeed. Other than that, the "goals" are not ends in themselves. For, "goals" don't have a known external-meaning (not the arbitrary ones stated earlier)."

{{Let's take the ball picking example. Let's assume here that me picking up the black ball would make me happy. (A little analogy to the human happiness when desiring something) Let us assume that I ended up picking up the black ball. I was anyway powerless to pick the white ball, and I ended up picking up the black ball without any choice, even though there was an illusion of choice. So, what do I feel happy about? That I was powerless to do the thing that would make me less-happy?}} - No Sudhir, choices exist, but your making a decision is not completely in your control (or random). That's why I had given the example.
1. Even though choices exist, your choosing a particular colour is circumstantial - a point made to weaken the claim that you don't have control.
2. Even though you don't have control on the final outcome, you can improve your chances by playing according to the probability (because even randomness follows a pattern) - a point made to weaken the claim that it's completely random.

In all of this, the fundamental argument is that the very experiment is done because of a series of random events (or probably controlled by a certain external force). What's happening within the experiment is multiple sets of experiments in which some are mutually exclusive and some are mutually dependent. But all experiments, when their outcomes are determined, act as elements of a another set for another experiment and so on. It's simultaneous and non-recursive (though the nature of experiments themselves carry with them recursive characteristics). So, choices are not so much choices for the participant(s) as much it is for the external observer. But, they are.

"choices exist, your making a decision is not completely in your control (or random)" - I can defend this point from a different perspective to (the one based on the 'self’s indefinability; as we discussed earlier).

{{So, what do I feel happy about? That I was powerless to do the thing that would make me less-happy? The whole concept of my happiness there banks on 'my ability' fetching me the black ball rather than on my 'helplessness' in not being able to not pick up the black ball.}} - Power, hence powerlessness, are both relative terms (like freedom, justice etc.). You've already decided that drawing a black ball would give you happiness, now your act of picking up a ball is teleological (goal driven). My deconstruction pertains to the baselessness in the value you ascribe to the goal, not so much in what makes you happy. As I had said, you can either be happy just by playing basket ball (because of the action itself) or by playing it everyday, contemplating the possibility of becoming "popular" (because of the action's outcome).

{{And also, considering that we are powerless to do anything other than what we do, we ought to abolish most of the laws, shouldn't we? }} - I wouldn't necessarily take that stance. My contention is that whatever we do is a result of social constructions -- the meanings that we imbue as we grow up (this view has nothing to do with determinism or fatalism). I club that notion within a branch of determinism (but not entirely) that suggests the temporal precedence of events since the beginning of time (when did time begin? That question can never be answered).
Should we abolish most laws? - May be. It depends on your answer to this question, "are you ready for total chaos and destruction of values that the current system holds?" Even then, nothing's going to happen because you and me say so. As I elicited in our previous discussion with the 'brothel' analogy. The functionality of the sytem, in its entirety, cannot be reversed or even changed. Nevertheless, understanding it is very essential.

{{A rapist being arrested is totally unfair considering that the rapist was powerless to do anything other than the rape that he committed, isn't it? }} - Now, you've brought me to Earth, so the discussion has to become Earthly. I've suggested before not to intertwine metaphysics and pragmatism beyond the point where they fail to support each other (when citing metaphors).All of what you've mentioned have meanings only within a certain human system. My argument has been that the existence of that system itself is a random outcome.
If we can deconstruct everything back to tabula rasa (well, at least to the point where homo sapiens had not acquired "consciousness") what you're talking about would not even be seen as a problem. Just like animals. Is the concept of rape applicable to animals, let alone "fairness"?

Usually for discussions like these I read the wiki article's talk page. Go here,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Determinism
if you run through it, you'll find an anecdote with a robot. It's a very interesting one (quite relevant to your question too).

The Individualist said...

Lovely example @ the bus driver committing suicide.
I agree on that. Because it's clearly a murder. The passengers are helpless there.
But what I find difficult to digest is comparing a bus driver taking his passengers to his death bed and an individual's suicide having adverse (most probably 'financially' but I refrain from being assumptive) effects on the family. The basic difference between the cases comes down to one principal point. In the first case, they don't have a choice to live and even they do, it's terribly minimal. In the second, they do. And if they die, it'd be their own undoing. That is exactly what forced me to think that in that case, you should not have laid down the decree.
I know you said, "Obviously, the state cannot engage itself in a discussion that is so problematic. They would rather make the whole thing illegal (however pointless it is)."
Well, the state, am sure, with all its complex discussions could add one more to its repertoire and come to a reasonable solution on it. If me as an ordinary citizen can lay down the differences, I am sure they, as surveyors of the estate, can bring about better change. After all, it boils down to the amount of liberty you have. At least, to end your life.
I liked the robot example. Very interesting, yes. Thanks for that.

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