30 September 2010

Hell Is Other People:

I don’t believe in Free Will.
That’s not to say I’m a nauseatingly romantic believer in nebulous “Fate” either. I just don’t believe in Free Will.

Sartre said “Existence precedes Essence.” You exist before you are a person thinking on your own. You define yourself by the decisions made; you can constantly redefine yourself with new actions. One may think that I have just proven Free Will: “If I posses the capacity to define myself by my own decisions and actions, then obviously I am exercising my freedom to do that.”

You were not born into a vacuum.
The world is already populated with people, all of whom carry around their own sets of values. These people were making decisions and acting upon those decisions long before you arrived. When you arrived, some of these people projected their values onto you. (This could devolve into a Nature vs. Nurture debate, but I’ll leave that alone.) These values, both those forced upon you and those you forced upon yourself, give you a sense of responsibility, thereby effectively limiting your freedom.

When one realizes that the only thing keeping us from being Free is our self-imposed values, we could choose to abandon those values. Unfortunately, it is not that simple and most of us cannot do that. Our past defines who we are today. If I stand at the edge of a cliff, I could choose to jump off the precipice, or turn from the drop, and walk back home. I could fool myself into thinking that I actually posses the freedom of will to have a 50/50 shot of doing either. However, I don’t. Either because I don’t like heights, or I have a natural aversion to dying, the likelihood that I will turn around and walk back is much greater than the chance of my taking the leap. My self-imposed responsibilities keep me from being truly free to make that decision.

Considering the concept of Free Will in the light of concrete human experience is better than considering it in a vague academic sense. One could debate the Freedom in Choice all day long, but when presented with an actual decision, humans instinctively make decisions based upon their values systems and/or their past experiences.

Hell is other people because we continuously act upon each other, purposefully or not, and impose responsibility and judgment on each other.
There is no complete and total freedom. Claiming to live otherwise is claiming an inauthentic human experience.

There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.
–Albert Camus

All paintings are by Asher B. Durand (1796 - 1886), Hudson River School


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  2. As someone who has spent a great deal of his time working with the public, I embrace the title of this blog wholeheartedly.

    As far as the content is concerned, I'm something of a fatalist, myself.

  3. The question to ask yourself is, at any given decision, if you had it to do again, and if all the variables (including your mood) were exactly the same, would you have made a different choice? I think we have to honestly answer: no. Therefore, the essence of a "choice" is a deterministic algorithm for which there is only one output for any given set of inputs. Life then is an immersive, experiential movie where it feels like free will exists merely because we don't understand the deterministic algorithms and don't know the ending. Whether randomness exists or is a figment of our ignorance is irrelevant. There also need not be a director of this movie. The universe doesn't care if you like the ending.

  4. While I don't buy into technical determinism (e.g. that of the algorithmist above - a sort of mightily extended materialism), there are strong sociological arguments for the notion that our choices are constrained by the times and places in which we live.

  5. No real choices because of my value system? I wouldn't have it any other way.