16 November 2011

The Problem of Free Will I: Is anybody there?

"Every human thought is in principle a pre-determined consequence of biochemical processes that are themselves determined by evolution, the course of which is pre-determined by chemistry and physics. Therefore, there is no such thing as free will. In fact, there is no such thing as consciousness. What appear to be sentient beings are just automata that give the illusion of consciousness."

I feel frustrated, even enraged when I hear or read statements like this, whether from scientists and non-scientists. Such a statement is equivalent to saying that the Universe and everything in it is dead — even ourselves. It implicitly permits the most outrageous disregard of everything and everyone, even one's one children. After all, what harm is there in neglecting or even killing that which never was, and never could be really alive?

I'm outraged when people make such statements, because it is that easy and that quick to show that such statements would have grossly immoral consequences, were people to take them seriously. I'm frustrated when people make such statements, because they are wrong. For the rest of this thread, I would like to show you why.

Let's start with basic philosophy. To whom do automata give the illusion of consciousness? This is not just a semantic game. An illusion cannot have itself, nor can an automaton have one. The very idea of an illusion pre-supposes the idea of consciousness on the part of someone. That is, you must be conscious in order to have the illusion (the false awareness) that you are conscious. You might be semi-comatose and in a dream-like state, but that is still a state of consciousness. In fact, consciousness is the prime datum of philosophy, both Western (self-awareness as in Descartes' "I think, therefore I am") and Eastern (a generalized oceanic awareness).

Consciousness is also the prime datum of science. The discipline of science is to get ever more precise and accurate data into one's consciousness, so that one can discover and then test relationships among the data. If you reject the datum of your own self-awareness, then you can claim that anything I do to demonstrate the contrary is unreal, an illusion (which you must be conscious to experience, but since I must be wrong, logic must not apply). That is to say, rejecting the datum of your own consciousness is unfalsifiable, and therefore unscientific. Because science accepts only statements that are falsifiable (capable of being proved wrong), in principle, by some sort of observation (a means of getting data into consciousness) or experiment (a controlled means of getting data into consciousness). Science is thus a way to get to know by successive approximations (trial and error) those aspects of reality amenable to its methods.

In short, claiming that we are unconscious is unscientific, unphilosophic and leads to logical contradictions. And that is, as mathematicians say, "what was to be proven," Quod Erat Demonstrandum, QED.

Of course, it is possible that my friend mis-spoke. Perhaps what he really wanted to deny is the reality of the self. Here he might be on firmer ground, because Buddhism claims that an individual's sense of self is illusory. That is to say, that your own little sense of self is an illusion entertained by part of the Universal Self.

I think what the Buddhists are trying to say, however imprecisely, is that you are not your personality. Indeed, you build your personality on the foundation of your temperament in order to have an interface with the people and the world around you. You use your personality to relate to yourself, as well. The Buddhist koan, "Show me the face you had before your parents were born," is a demand to experience and relate to reality directly, without the intermediary of your personality.

But that doesn't mean that your personality is unreal. If you build a bicycle, the bicycle is no less real for your having built it. If you write a piece of software, the software is no less real for your having written it, or for it being the expression of your ideas. Similarly, your personality is your real creation, more intricate and grander than any art or literature ever created. It isn't an illusion. It just isn't all there is to you. And if your personality changes over time in response to your circumstances, so what? You might want to make changes to the bicycle you built as you grow, or as you age. So too, you may change your personality, albeit with some difficulty, and sometimes with the aid of a psychotherapist.

Having dealt with consciousness, we now turn to the thornier problem of free will. What my friend above should have been trying to establish was not the solipsistic ideas that we are unconscious or have no personalities, but rather the idea that although we are conscious, we only have the illusion of free will. We may be self-aware, but all our thoughts and actions are pre-determined reactions to preceding stimuli. We only think that we actually decide anything. This will be the topic of the next post in this thread.

07 November 2011

A Taxonomy of World Religions

According to their Hermeneutics of Fecal Occurrence
by Author Identity Requested

This has circulated over the net in many versions. Here's ours, with contributions from Scooper, Andy Busch, MM, RF, and others.

TAOISM S__t happens.
CONFUCIANISM Confucius say: "S__t happens."
BUDDHISM S__t doesn't really happen. It is only called s__t happening.
What is the sound of one s__t happening?
SIKHISM Cut that s__t out, or we'll cut it out of you!
HINDUISM This s__t has happened before.
PLATONISM This s__t will happen again.
JAINISM When it happens, s__t gently. Don't hurt the s__t.
SHINTO If s__t happens, put a flower in it. Make a pretty offering.
HARE KRISHNA ...s__t happens, s__t happens, s__t happens...
MOONIES Only happy s__t really happens.
WICCA S__t happens if you will it to happen.
ISLAM S__t happens because Allah wills it.
SUFISM Even though s__t happens, Allah wants you to dance.
PROTESTANTISM Let s__t happen to someone else.
JUDAISM Why does this s__t always happen to us?
CATHOLICISM You deserve this s__t.
Vatican II
If s__t happens, blame the clergy.
PRESBYTERIANISM S__t should happen decently and in good order.
CALVINISM S__t is predestined to happen because you don't work hard enough.
7TH DAY ADVENTISM No s__t on Saturdays.
TORONTO BLESSING Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, s__t happens, ha-ha-ha-ha....
ANGLICANISM Scripture contains all things necessary to deal with s__t happening.
ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM We still favor happenings of state-supported s__t.
FUNDAMENTALISM Unless you're one of us, you're s__t.
S__t won't happen for you until you're totally immersed in it.
S__t happens! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
METAPHYSICS In terms of materialistic ontogeny, we're all s__t.
NEW AGE When s__t happens, channel it. Visualise s__t happening.
S__t happening is an act of the Goddess.
Feminist Separatism
When s__t happens, blame men.
Men's Movement
Drums & fire make s__t happen hot & loud.
RASTAFARIANISM Let';s smoke this s__t!
Bud Lightism
S__t happens... I love you, man!
EXISTENTIALISM S__t is, therefore it happens.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES If you just let me in, I'll tell you why s__t happens.
MORMONISM If s__t happens, make sure you have a 2-year food supply.
RAJNEESH For $1000, s__t can happen for you, too.
HEDONISM There's nothing like a good s__t happening!
STOICISM This s__t is good for me.
ZOROASTRIANISM Bad s__t happens half the time. The rest of the time, it's good.
Don't burn that s__t — fire is sacred!
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE This s__t is all in your mind.
BAHA'I S__t happens to everyone alike.
UNITARIANISM If there is a s__t, let it happen to each in his/her own way.
AGNOSTICISM Maybe s__t happens, and maybe it doesn't.
Who gives a s__t?
ATHEISM No s__t!

Republicans When s__t happens, stare like a deer in the headlights. Or invade a country that had nothing to do with it. Or both.
Democrats When s__t happens, deny it. Or else weasel your way out of it with double talk, as in, "It depends on what the meaning of 's__t' is."
NRA S__t will happen when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
NRA-Ted Nugent Style Before you grill s__t, you gotta kill s__t!      

05 November 2011

Give Cain a Chance

It appears that someone from the Rick Perry campaign has leaked that someone in the past may have accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment. If any other political office were at stake, I would be interested. But this is the Presidency of the United States of America. Neither Herman Cain nor Rick Perry have done anything that Bill Clinton didn't do. In fact, Bill Clinton was accused of doing worse. But Bill Clinton was a pretty good president. So, I give both Cain and Perry a Clinton pass on this one. I recommend that you do the same.

The nation stands on a precipice regarding its power to influence world events in its favor, while the media focusses on the banal and the trivial. The media are not serving us well. There are other, better reasons to reject or to consider either of these men for the office they seek.

And there are other, more important stories to follow, like crony capitalism on the part of both Democrats and Republicans, the gerrymandering that undermines the foundations of our Republic, and the proliferation of rules and laws that undermine the Rule of Law itself.