Thursday, June 7, 2007

Free Will

As you might have noticed in the sequence of posts showing up on this blog, I have been thinking about evolution, intelligent design, life, god and consciousness (sounds like a long winded way of saying life universe and everything, doesn’t it?:)). I have come to realize that all these questions are hopelessly entwined and I cannot isolate and formulate any one of these concepts separately at a given time. And every time I try and put them all together in my mind, I find myself carrying out the logical exercise that is called “chasing one’s own tail”. Therefore I have decided to take a break from these thoughts and let them simmer in my subconscious as a manner of speaking.

But before I do that, one final thought. I had said in an earlier post, that the thing that we cannot yet accept and hence bring into the realm of natural science is the fact that our consciousness is nothing but chemistry. But, this is a vague statement and I would like to dwell on this for a moment. Some aspects of our thought process we are readily able to associate with chemistry. For example, the thought that I am hungry or I am sleepy or I like a sunny day or I hate rainy days, I can accept are originating from the chemistry of my body. So, one needs to identify those thoughts in our conscious mind that we under any circumstance cannot believe come from chemistry. If you think about it you will be able to see that those are the thoughts that originate from our free will.

Every hour of every day we find ourselves making choices. And if we examine the choices we make, we find that we cannot always explain it by chemistry (or biology if you prefer) as some of them are clearly the opposite of what chemistry or biology would have made. A simple example would be that I have the ability to starve myself if I chose to. That is my free will. My stomach can tell me it is hungry as much as it wants. But I can always choose not to eat. And this is the aspect of our minds we do not understand. And this lack of understanding is the root of all existential angst that we feel.

Once I had this thought, i.e., our inability to understand the apparent existence of our free will is the root of all of our problems, I also realized that this is not something new I have come up with. All of us already know this. And the best example that demonstrates this is the ubiquitous expression of this thought found in our pop culture. Find below a few instances that came to my mind.

1) The Architect telling Neo, “As you so adequately put, the problem is choice”, in my favorite sci-fi trilogy of all times, The Matrix movies. A clip of this movie is below.

2) Next, Bruce Almighty. Morgan Freeman playing God tells Jim Carrey playing Bruce Nolan that he can do anything, but he cannot mess with free will. A clip from the movie below. (Ok, I should confess. The creator of this clip cut out the part about free will when he made this. But it is 10 minutes of Jim Carrey and he is always fun to watch, so I am embedding it anyway!:))

3) And last but definitely not the least, my all time favorite writer Douglas Adams in his book “Restaurant at the end of the universe” tells us about the intelligent elevators found in the technologically advanced civilization in the Sirius star system.

“Modern elevators are strange and complex entities. The ancient electric winch and “maximum-capacity-eight-persons” jobs bear as much relation to a Sirius Cybernetics Happy Vertical People Transporter as a packet of mixed nuts does to the entire west wing of the Sirian State Mental Hospital.

This is because they operate on the curious principle of “defocused temporal perception”. In other words they have the capacity to see dimly into the immediate future, which enables the elevator to be on the right floor to pick you up even before you knew you wanted it, thus eliminating all the tedious chatting, relaxing and making friends that people wee previously forced to do while waiting for elevators.

Not unnaturally, many elevators imbued with intelligence and precognition became terribly frustrated with the mindless business of going up and down, up and down, experimented briefly with the notion of going sideways, as a sort of existential protest, demanded participation in the decision-making process and finally took to squatting in basements sulking.

An impoverished hitchhiker visiting any planets in the Sirius star system these days can pick up easy money working as counselor for neurotic elevators.”

Ok, that is it for all this deep stuff (I wanted to say s*$@#, but my mom brought me up well:)). I am now going to spend what time I have in the next two weeks catching up on my movie watching. Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and Shrek 3.


Patrix said...

Whoa! really been thinking a lot, eh? But honestly sometimes I think in the age of extreme advertising, free will is overestimated. Like given the right words and persuasion, you can be made to choose anything and after all, it would still be free will. Much like the liability form they get you to sign in the U.S. before you even pee anywhere.

CuriousCat said...

Of course you are right patrix, in the economic aspect of society, advertising is all about manipulating free will and people are getting extremely good at it. And I see what you are saying about liability forms (when I went to sky dive for the first time, I almost did not, after reading the forms I had to sign). But I was thinking more along the lines of the role of free will in my existential angst and so on...

Anonymous said...

I have been "chasing my tail" for a while too, especilly after reading your blog! And my thought is that, free will (from what I understand of the word as you write it), comes from our conditioning, millions and millions of years of "conditioning" I think if you are not conditioned, you will not "choose", right? For, example, animals cannot choose "not to eat" if they are hungry! I don't know at what point in evolution, human species started thinking, but that's when the trouble started, I guess!

By the way,
none of the movies are better than than their previous parts. Shrek 3 is good, Spidy 3 is ok, and Pirates is the worst!
enjoy ur movies, hope to read more of ur posts....

CuriousCat said...

Dear Anonymmous: 1)You are probably right, that we can trace the origin of free will to evolution and all that has happened now is that it has become excessive (to the point that it is only biochemical noise as far as survival questions are concerned). But somehow, that does not quite sit right with me yet.
2) If I am making you chase your own tail, tell me why and we can have a robust discussion of sorts.
3) I have to watch pirates three, even if it is abysmal for I am in love with Jack Sparrow and did not see enough of him in edition 2!:)

MICKY said...

Our moral freedom, like other mental powers, is strengthened by exercise. The practice of yielding to impulse results in enfeebling self-control. The faculty of inhibiting pressing desires, of concentrating attention on more remote goods, of reinforcing the higher but less urgent motives, undergoes a kind of atrophy by disuse.

CuriousCat said...

Hey and I come from different worlds. What you say about "The faculty of inhibiting pressing desires, of concentrating attention on more remote goods" I call maturity or adulthood. But thanks for pausing here to share your thoughts.

MICKY said...

CuriousCat said...
I call maturity or adulthood. But thanks for pausing here to share your thoughts.

Greetings CuriousCat
I suggest you get down on your knees and ask Jesus Christ to for give you for the above DIATRIBE (sins).