I’ve just received a response from the fair lady with whom I’ve had the pleasure of debating the existence of “free will” with and it would appear that I haven’t been as entirely convincing as I’d expected. Despite methodically deconstructing the meaning of the term into the more tangible components of desire and predictability, it seems that the matter of fundamental wants and needs, and their source, is now the subject.
It seems that we agree that agents have agency, and therefore the ability to decide where to dine on a Friday evening or whether to vacation in Mexico or Costa Rica, but that “free will” is, to her, a matter of how our multiplicity of desires comes into being. To her mind, with no thanks to the pig-headed author she’s been reading, it’s this inability to control our genetic predispositions as much as the laws of the natural universe that rob of us our freedom to make unpredictable decisions.
This then, seems to evolve the conversation of “free will,” distorting the meaning of the term to the point where two ships are now passing in the night, despite my efforts at clarification. The conversation now moves to the basis for our desires, which to my mind is rooted in our own personal development. Here’s my response :
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Free Will book
From: Peter Dushenski <email@example.com>
To: Ann [redacted] <[redacted]@hotmail.com>
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 2015 11:26:54 -0600
Firstly, thank you for your thoughtful response and for continuing to add substance to this debate.
Secondly, you paraphrase the author in saying that “we are free to do what we want, but not to want what we want,” and in doing so you unwittingly affirm free will. “Free will,” after all, merely implies that the world contains some quantity of variable parameters that are within our actual control – not just our apparent control – from among the possible set of universal parameters; the rest being, of course, constant and fixed. You’ve already conceded the point that there are at least some things in the world that are in the domain of actual control in agreeing that you’ve chosen to reply to my last e-mail.
The author is trying to turn the age-old debate over free will into something else entirely, let’s not allow him this freedom to abuse our fair language. “Free will” is to do with desire and predictability, not the power to treat every last parameter of the universe as if it were a variable. No one could possibly make that claim, and so no one is, least of all me.
As to parameters, they fall into the two aforementioned camps: variable and constant. Examples of constant parameters include the force of gravity on earth, the brightness of the stars that shine their ancient light across the dark night skies, and the wavelengths of light that daffodils absorb that result in their distinctive hue of yellow when the remaining part of the visible electromagnetic spectrum ricochets off their precious petals and strikes our retinal photoreceptors. In contrast, the domain of variable parameters is the domain of free will, regardless of the scope of the options available to us, as we’ve already explored and agreed upon.
You must agree that while we don’t have the ability to alter the 40-week-long biological process of fetal development, the neural tube will invaginate when it wants to according to a pre-determined plan (as much as such a thing can ever exist), not when we want it to, we do have the ability to catalyse this process, and many people choose to do so quite explicitly. In this way, we see the interaction between variable and constant parameters and the influence of free will.
Yes, we have choice, no it’s not absolute, and no, we don’t get to control all the eventualities of these choices (making them unpredictable). Such is the nature of the known world. Granted, the number of variable parameters available varies immensely from person to person, but some number of variable parameters exists for all agents possessing free will.
To deny “free will” as you construct it, being the ability to treat every one of the universe’s constants as variable, is to deny omnipotence in man, which I’m all too happy to concede, seeing as how not even the soulless Faust could reverse the earth’s magnetic polarity… but this isn’t what’s either typically or in this particular instance meant by “free will,” regardless of what this particular author might claim.
Thirdly, claim that “pre-determined” and “predictable” aren’t the same thing here, but they most certainly are in this case. If everything is “written in the stars,” and if we had the infinite resources needed to create a “god computer” that could understand all the possible constants of a given system (as you deny that there are variables), then it must be possible for this computer to make predictions. What’s more, if everything can be known and this computer is as infinitely powerful as we hypothesise, it shouldn’t make any mistakes in its predictions either. How could it be otherwise ?
All in all, your/the author’s construction that all is pre-determined because our desires are pre-determined, despite recognising that both variables and the free will to choose between them exists, is little more than, in the language of logical fallacies, an argument from ignorance. What results is akin to arguing that UFOs exist because no one has proved they don’t exist, which isn’t at all how proof and disproof work by any scientific measure. The onus to prove rests solely with he who proposes the conjecture, so if you want to say that everything is pre-determined, you must then prove it, and in doing so you head for a straight-on collision with the fabrication of an omniscient entity, nay, *deity* that knows everything that can be known. Creating complete determinism must create this omniscient God, and I’m not sure you want to travel down the path towards religion.
This being so, it now appears that the conversation shifts from the freedom to act, what we must necessarily call “free will,” to the fundamental basis for our wants and needs, so let’s keep our gunsight pointed at the target and… fire when ready.
I agree in principle that we’re not in control of our desires and that there are environmental influences that shape and guide our behaviours. But make no mistake, they are *our* behaviours, not those of some manifest destiny.
To approach this new discussion, as to where our wants and needs are derived from, we must first turn to Mircea’s Hierarchy of Needs (warning: foul language ahead), a more realistic interpretation of Maslow’s platonic pyramid. In summa, it’s essentially:
I. Homeostasis. This means, drink when you’re thirsty, food when you’re hungry and a warm place to shit in. This is purely biological, and shared with all life on Earth (and probably beyond).
II. Material domination. This means, the ability to move around in the environment at will, at a minimum, and is a part shared with most lifeform models that came out more recently than slugs. For more advanced animals it includes specific environment structures. Cats want a perch. Men want tools they can use, and the use of which is effectual, that’s to say changes the environment. That’s why boys were so excited when 3D shooter makers finally got enough juice to be able to make bullet holes. Stuff like “enough stimulation to not get bored” also ends up in here, which is why solitary confinement is so scary to your average John : it has absolutely nothing to do with “society”, as naive socialistoid theorists readily imagined. It has everything to do with stimulation, as long as they have the flickering screen shutins are just fine without people around.
III. Sexual domination. This means, the ability to pin a female of the species down long enough to stick it in her. Strictly, strictly that. This is shared with all mammals, for that matter, and while some people may consume a more refined version of the above, nevertheless the need itself is quite as raw as stated. Whether you eat pressed duck or mcshit, whether you order your wife to bring in the maid on a leash or run around groping girls on the campus, it’s still number 3.
IV. Social domination. Making other males (and sexually uninteresting females) kiss your feet and thank you for the privilege. That’s it : the humility of others, their inferiority readily acknowledged is need #4. Obviously, most people don’t get to satisfy need #4. Tough and fuck you.
V. Mystical domination. This isn’t even a need, most everyone can live just fine without even touching it, however it does yield some bitter pathology. This is all about being right when you shouldn’t be, or there’s no reason to be. It’s what makes the compulsive gambler, incidentally : “being lucky” is not merely winning some money, but it’s satisfying #5 too, which is why people readily play -EV games : what they get when they win is slightly more than the cash. This is also what makes the religious believer, and if one absolutely has to satisfy this idiocy, religious belief is probably the cheapest approach.
With this in mind, we see that what we desire is dependent upon our own personal stage of development and achievement. This can hardly be disputed, but nor does this framework deny that variables exist in the universe and that we have the dominion over some subset of them.
There’s a spectrum between omnipotence and impotence. It’s not black and white. Where each of us stands might be outside of our control, but what we do with the power and opportunities we’re given is our responsibility.
Where we end up is on our shoulders.
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