Monday, December 03, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #447 (December 2nd, 2007)


A good analogy-of-scale for why determinism and free will both exist might be that we are all of us walking around on this miniscule spherical chunk of rock way out in the cosmological boonies – we all know and agree that that's the empirical reality. But because we as individuals are microscopically quantum levels smaller than the miniscule chunk of rock, our perception is that we inhabit a gigantic and variegated world with such a multiplicity of inhabitable and uninhabitable locales that it might as well be an Infinite Context in which to conduct our lives (no human being, no matter how well-travelled will ever come remotely close to seeing every place on earth during his or her lifespan), we tend to favour the latter subjective perception as being the more accurate even though in the Larger objective Context it couldn't be further from the truth, if you mentally picture the earth relative to everything else we know of: the sun, Jupiter, the Milky Way, the solar system. In our smaller subjective context we are unable to grasp the sheer immensity of the earth and in the larger objective context, we are unable to grasp the sheer infinitesimal smallness of the earth.

Free will, I suspect, is an analogous illusion that, for all intents and purposes, becomes "real" if the context is small enough, which we and our context are. The earth is huge relative to us and so conducts its own life in a far more limited and strictly regulated sense. As long as the earth exists, it will be revolving around the sun and rotating on its axis. Even the most limited human who ever lived isn't going to spend his entire lifespan repeating one prescribed flattened oval trajectory around a fixed object and doing nothing else. The larger you are, the more obedient to God you are. God sets you on a specific trajectory and ordains that you will stick to it for umpty-ump billion years and do nothing else and you do. In order to escape that context

(and I suspect that's what we, what our souls, are is The Dissatisfied, the Would-Be Escapists. So Dissatisfied, so bent on escape that we would settle for nothing less than an absolute cradle-to-grave chaotic and haphazard existence in total rebellion against what the sun is, what the earth is, what the moon is, what reality is, what God is. I suspect God's question was, Why? Why would you want to be a) that small because you'll have to be itty-bitty in order to have that kind of mobility and b) that chaotic? And knowing in His omniscience that it was a rhetorical question. The Dissatisfied want what they want and won't be happy `til they get it and then won't be happy when they DO get it so you might as well give it to them.. God even arranged for us to occupy a context where we are completely unable to perceive Him except through inference. Net effect? We spend a good chunk of our existences fretting over the reason for existence and whether or not there is a God)

To cite what I would consider a demonstrable example of free will: I thought that I would be able to write everything I had to say on this Time article in a couple of pages and then I could get back to my capsule reviews of the Day Prize submissions. I could have made that choice. I could have said, "This is running way too long, I better just comment on a quote or two and then ditch and get back to the Day Prize submissions. I've only got two more days until I have to get this to Jeff Tundis." Well, I'm not programmed that way anymore. I've programmed myself, through my choices, to recognize No, I think it's more important that I deal with each of Einstein's quotes, however long that takes. My faith in God is irrefutably the most important thing in my life so refuting (or "refuting") Einstein the Atheist is far more important than getting all of the Day Prize submissions out of the way or (the larger point when I started this) to get back to working on the second issue of Secret Project #2.

Now, you can argue that in the Largest Possible Context, I always made that choice: I have always chosen to refute Einstein instead of just capping the whole thing and "moving on" so my choosing to refute Einstein is an example of determinism, not free will. But the choice to do so also, irrefutably, resulted from a cumulative effect which in turn resulted from eight years of keeping submission to the will of God at the top of my personal list. And those eight years are made up of billions upon billions of free will decisions from not having a drink to not breaking Sabbath to not missing as many prayers as I might have to not passing on Ramadan, etc. etc. And I still make the decision to use up a whole week with this even though I know it is going to alienate a large part of the Blog & Mail readership: possibly even Matt Dow who suggested it ("I meant one Sunday Edition – not a whole week's worth") If that's what happens, that's what happens. If the sales on the trade paperbacks sag as a result, they sag as a result. If I end up having to spend 99% of time arguing instead of 90% of my time arguing, that's just what will have to happen. The eight years I have invested in making God pre-eminent in my life made the choice a no-brainer. But I needed that eight years of making those choices in order to make this choice. That's free will.

"A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills," viewed properly (as I see it) points in the direction submission to the will of God. If you run contrary to the will of God, you will pay the price. You'll get a warning and then a more severe warning and then an even more severe warning and then you'll get a consequence. You can ignore that if you want, you can explain it away if you want, but that, in my experience, is the nature of reality. The hospitals and morgues are full of people who chose to do exactly that: ignore and "explain away" rather than submit. You can't fool an omniscient being. It's intrinsically stupid to even try. God knew Albert Einstein far better than Albert Einstein knew Albert Einstein. Whatever consolation Einstein drew from Schopenhauer's saying, I suspect there was always a more obvious reason for Einstein's hardships whereby they could have more easily been avoided just by submitting to the will of God and making better choices rather than adopting a grim fatalistic attitude towards the limitations of your own will.

Tolerance is fine, a very good thing, except for tolerance of your own evil or bad choices. Einstein evidently had an "unfailing wellspring of tolerance" for his own decision not to observe the Jewish Sabbath. But I don't think his tolerance for that decision was particularly wise and I'm sure he suffered many consequences as a result. You can't fool an omniscient being.

I am compelled to act as if free will existed because if I wish to live in a civilized society, I must act responsibly.

Well, that certainly isn't true. There are any number of people (and I suspect more all the time) who live in a civilized society and who act with complete irresponsibility. If determinism really was the overriding reality in our context then there would be no distinction between responsibility and irresponsibility. We wouldn't even have terms for the dichotomy. If Einstein, after writing the above quote, got up and went out and hired seven hookers and went to a hotel room, well, that would just be what he had had always done. If he announced that hiring seven hookers and going to a hotel room was his universal panacea for what ailed the human race and if a large number of men took him at his word and that philosophy spread far and wide until everyone was doing it, well, that would just be the way society had always gone.

He undermines his own argument. He holds that if society is civilized it is civilized because determinism had established that it had to be so. If society was uncivilized it was uncivilized because determinism had established that it had always been so. Einstein acting responsibly or irresponsibly in a determinist world could, by the definition of determinism, have no effect for good or ill. The world was always the world and Einstein was always Einstein.

However the fact that he sees, clearly, that individual responsible behaviour has a direct causal relationship to society being civilized or uncivilized means that the only question he was really facing (or, rather, avoiding facing) was "What constitutes the most responsible behaviour in which I can participate, given that I believe that the degree of civilization in a society rises in proportion to responsible individual action?"

He ruled out any kind of religious observance -- that is, any outward and/or overt expression acknowledging a Scriptural God -- and in that I think he made a fundamental mistake. My own view is that submission to the will of God constitutes the purest and most absolutely responsible behaviour in which any individual can engage and that all other behaviours issue from that seminal decision and choice. Everything else is just everything else.

Tomorrow: Meanwhile, back at the Day Prize submissions


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2