20.1.09

Just to hear myself type...

In the last few days I have had a few chances run-ins with philosophers of the mind. The first was an Australian lawyer getting his doctorate of philosophy in philosophy at Oxford. He mentioned that his semester had been devoted to addressing the mind-body problem, and something about Merleau-Ponty. I resisted the urge to say something about how Merleau-Ponty was so much cooler the Sartre, as I didn't actually know anything about his theories except in the context of his refutations of Sartre's foolishness.
I later met a Spanish girl who is also studying philosophy of the mind. At this point I was able to pedantically name drop, because language differences would likely hide my ignorance of the actual subject matter. "Ah yes, Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein and the Austrians and all the jazz?" and so on and so forth. She was duly impressed.
To research the various points of view, I went to my source of knowledge for all things philosophical: Wikipedia. Apparently determinism features prominently somewhere in the mix, something about reducing everything to synapses and sodium ions and whatnot. Determinism is a word I understand, and have thought about a lot in the context of the Calvinism vs. Armenianism debate. And I am rereading Slaughterhouse Five at the moment, not of my own free will, but because it is the only novel I have in English at the moment. Kurt Vonnegut is of the opinion that free will is an illusion. He also has some not very clever commentary on time, but that is neither here nor there.
I can never decide if it is the smarter ones or the stupider ones that propound determinism and then have the sense to not make pretense of living accordingly. Because it seems readily apparent to me that a human being can never grasp determinism. It's like trying to imagine another color or a dimension, we might demonstrate theoretically that they exist, but then we have to explain them in terms of known dimensions or colors or numbers or types of cheese (you are welcome Joel), and at the end of the day there are things we seem to innately grasp and things we cannot.
It is a self evident fact that humans have free will. Some might argue for it in terms of quantum indeterminancy, but I think the theoretical question is very much separate from the existential one.
And therein I also find what seems to me to be the wisest point of view to take of the matter. Because on some levels we can understand our lack of free will, in terms of helplessness in various situations, with addictions, when you only have one book and nothing else to keep you occupied at a cafe, etc. Man is both free and a slave. This of course breaks the law of non-contradiction (one of my favorite things to do, by the way) and therefore divests itself any last vestige of philosophical credence you might have given this post (admittedly, it never had much). But I find contradictions a very necessary aspect of any system of beliefs. Knowing that we are machines and knowing we can't know that we are machines seems to me a much clunkier paradox.
We are at the same time free to make all decisions, in all things to do that which we want to do. But we are slaves to that which we want to do, and we have little control over the situations that we must respond to. So let's accept the necessity - for lack of a stronger word - of free will. And let's accept the level on which we can understand our own helplessness and slavery. And, just for kicks, why don't we throw in a really smart and kind being who can transcend our feeble understanding of slavery and freedom, and who can direct us towards participating in edifying situations and wanting what we want to want, and in whom we might find what we percieve as freedom.
Perhaps this freedom needs a better definition.

1 comment:

Dwielz Camauf Descartes said...

By the principle of explosion in classical logic everything can be proven false or true from contradictions. So you could write a post saying the exact opposite of this and it would still be internally consistent or inconsistent... I personally find no contradictions in the fact that man is free and a slave. Man is free to choose, yet man is not free because everything he will choose has been decided in advance. This can be realized coherently when you take a look at the universe outside of space-time. The universe, and all that is in it, like a roll of film. If you are in the theater you see the story unraveling, if you are in the projection room you see the story all at once. The universe has already happened if you look at it from the projection room. We have already decided what we will do, we just need to actualize those decisions. However saying that we have "already" decided isn't totally correct, since our decisions did not take place in time but in the magnificent void that we arouse from where there was no time. I think this is possible because we are transcendent beings. We must be transcendent since in the universe we cannot be totally free, time being a dimension itself makes change an illusion. Our decisions must be made somewhere else for us to be truly free.