Class Warfare Blog

May 6, 2019

A Minor Thought on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 11:57 am
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I have been reading Robert Wright’s wonderful book “The Moral Animal,” which I recommend to you as a source book on evolutionary psychology. (I haven’t finished it, so no book report, yet.) Here are a couple of excerpts:

“One could go further and suggest that folk psychology itself is built into our genes. In other words, not only is the feeling that we are “consciously” in control of our behavior an illusion (as is suggested by other neurological experiments as well); it is a purposeful illusion, designed by natural selection to lend conviction to our claims. (This is in a chapter on deception and self-deception. SR).

“For centuries people have approached the philosophical debate over free will with the vague but powerful intuition that free will does exist; we (the conscious we) are in charge of our behavior. It is not beyond the pale to suggest that this nontrivial chunk of intellectual history can be ascribed fairly to natural selection—that one of the most hallowed of all philosophical positions is essentially an adaptation.”

This just reinforced in my mind the problem with all discussions of free will. The vast majority of the claimants are talking about conscious free will while the vast majority of our behavior is unconsciously governed.

Some of the free will advocates offer that if our will isn’t consciously free then we are just robots, with all of our behavior degraded down to chains of stimulus-response. I expect that this argument is simply a yearning for souls and being “special” and unfathomable. If we do, indeed, live in a material universe, then all human behaviors must break down into such chains, otherwise there would be no connection between our behavior and the environment around us. (Think of my people, out of touch intellectuals, who live in a world created entirely in their heads. How successful would such a being be biologically? Not at all I suggest. Such beings are only supported through the sacrifices and protections of others.)

This fear of having a robotic nature, I believe, is a failure of our imagination. We identify as “I” only our conscious thoughts because those are the only ones of which we are aware. In reality I think we are sub/unconscious beings with a conscious overlay, the existence of which offers benefits but whose origin is not completely explained as of yet (or if it is, I have not yet found it). If “I” is my subconscious or conscious plus subconscious minds, then I have free will . . . I think. (I think it is too early to conclude anything. We have talked about the topic for millennia; we are just now starting to understand what we are supposedly talking about.)

We are just starting to understand unconscious mental processing and until we do, no answer is in the offing to the question of whether wills are free. I think we can conclude that our wills are not conscious nor are they consciously free. But even that conclusion is shaky. For example, we are aware of our conscious thoughts . . . but where do they come from? Do we create them consciously? I don’t think so. This is a little like the paradox of our sense of sight. We see by means of light, but light itself is invisible (you cannot see a light beam from the side; e.g. a beam of blue light is invisible when view from a side, that is the light is not blue in itself). We think consciously by means of conscious thoughts but those thoughts are basically invisible/unsourcable, at least for now.

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May 5, 2019

Social Controls and Religion

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:04 am
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Regular readers of this blog will know that I have stated many times my thinking that if a religion survives and thrives that it has become a mechanism to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the secular and religious elites, that is they are or have become instruments of social control. A few honest defenders of religions even claim this “feature” is their primary reason for supporting them.

You may have parsed that statement and concluded that I am against social controls, but I am not. Social controls seem to evolve around our needs as a society. For example, gossip is a mechanism to spread information about individuals that is needed to help people make decisions when those individuals become involved. Public humiliation is something no one cares to accept. We all abhor being humiliated in public. (We do not care for private humiliations either, but when those become public, we are doubly upset.)

I lay the current resurgence of racism in this country at the feet of the Internet. We had reached a point that people rarely made racist comments in public because there was a strong and immediate backlash . . . and it wasn’t positive and it did involve shaming and humiliation. But the Internet has allowed people to communicate anonymously or under an artificial persona, thus deflecting any social approbation away from the person making the remarks. More and more of this freedom to spout racist ideas has promoted racist behaviors. (The same holds for religious bigotry.)

Social controls are desirable. In the case of religions, I object to the end result of the controls, not the controls themselves. The object is clearly to promote the interests of the elites funded by the labor of the masses. Were the object to promote the welfare of all, I would be much less critical.

Also, I am not a fan of delusion-based social mechanisms. Religion, happy talk, the law of attraction, etc. contain the roots of other problems in their solutions to problems faced now. For religions, just ask anyone who has lost their faith in the religion, as to the problems that creates for them.

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:11 am
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As I read I am often presented with the dichotomy of the material and the spiritual, of the head and the heart.

“There is a wisdom of the head and a wisdom of the heart.”
Charles Dickens

And it appears to me that this is a consequence of some simple physiological facts. The sense through which we extract the most information is our vision. This gives us the impression that “we” (homunculus, whoever is driving this vehicle, whatever) reside inside of our heads. This illusion is very strong and quite understandable. Through our vision we may attend the entire world, from near to far and small to large in quiet contemplation. This ability does not seem to be a source of passion, rather “cold” intellect.

When we experience strong emotion, for whatever reason, it tends to affect our torsos in the form of restricted breathing or the reverse, panting, or a feeling of being punched in the stomach, generally accompanied by rapid heart beats. This creates the illusion that something else resides in our torsos. Since breathing is usually quiet, as is our heartbeat, they go unnoticed until their rates are jacked up to high rates and then we can hear them, internally.

Experience in killing animals and other humans points out the importance of the heart and lungs. Break or have a finger cut off and you will survive. Take a spear thrust in a lung and you will die, slowly. Take a spear thrust in the heart and you will die quickly. A hierarchy is therefore created as to which sources of the sounds of our life are most important: life’s blood, the breath of life, etc.

Is this the source of the idea of spirituality? Does anything qualifying as spirituality even exist? What is it really? As much as I love Joe Campbell’s writing on this topic I am still wondering whether spirituality is just an illusion we have become comfortable with, much as a number of philosophers now argue that conscious thoughts are illusions, possibly even consciousness as a whole being an illusion.

That spirituality is tied to strong emotions is no surprise. Using human passion as a lever to control people’s behavior also seems a workable approach for religions. Much of my religion’s tradition was wrapped in the words and imagery of strong emotion (Jesus loves you, the Passion, Brides of Christ, etc.).

Most religions diminish the role of the “head” and emphasize the role of the “heart” (or chakras, or stomach, or . . .). This war between the head and the heart rumbles on today in discussions between religious apologists and “secularists.”

Can this discussion be resolved? I suspect not soon, but it has clearly taken a modern twist, begun I think by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and continued by the likes of Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell, et. al.). These worthies have been applying the tools of science, especially those of biological evolution, to explain the human experience of religion (with much resistance without and within the academic community). Will any of that discussion affect ordinary folks like you and me? That remains to be seen. Possible the rise in the numbers of Americans no longer claiming association with an organized religion (the “Nones”) is a sign, maybe it is not. Please note that an organized religion is not a requirement for having religious experiences. People had these things before organized religions existed and will likely have them after. Understanding their sources is therefore important.

 

 

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