Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Non-Determinism in our Cosmos, and How That Relates to Free Will

I'm going to have to flesh out this post, but wanted to point something out.

1) Determinism is nothing more than a 19th Century fantasy.

The works of Cantor, Boltzmann, Godel, and Turning undermine this notion.  An excellent (and inspiring) video on this is the BBC's "Dangerous Knowledge":

2) If "free will is an illusion", why is there no way to shake it off?

This is actually one of John Searle's arguments.  We can "shake off" (through analysis) other illusions, but nobody can credibly explain what it would be like to "shake off" the alleged "illusion" of free will.

Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming reports of people who claim to have free will, there are those who will continue to claim it is an illusion -- and that they perceive it as such.  Since we can't discount these persons self-reports of their internal states, we are left with three possibilities:  a) the "illusion" people are mistaken, b) the "not illusion" people are mistaken, and c) some human minds have free will, and some don't.

I think the best way of approaching this trilemma is to examine (c).  If some people truly do not have free will, serious ethical (and moral) questions arise.  For example, how can someone who doesn't have free will be held responsible for their actions?  After all, there was no way for them to decide not to do whatever it is they would be responsible for if they did, indeed, have "free will".

Further, in regarding (c), knowing that some of our unfortunate fellow brothers and sisters on this planet are lacking free will, what could those of us who have free will do to help these poor persons undergo the least amount of suffering as possible?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.

I've written elsewhere, and pointed to articles about, developing a rational set of ethics from game theory.  You can see part of that discussion here:

The crux of _that_ post being that "conscience is innate," and that such a system of ethics would -- thanks to the discoveries of the fabric of our cosmos, as found through studies of game theory -- _include_ the "Golden Rule".  Other than that, I'm not going to cover well-trod ground yet again, and instead, rely on all of us agreeing that a rational, fair system of ethics works much better than in irrational, unfair system.

(In fact, you could also apply "rational" and "fair" to a host of other topics, such as "national defense" and "economics" -- but I don't have time to get into that at the moment.)

So how can conscience -- which includes our sense of fairness -- be "innate", if so many people seem to ignore it?  That's exactly the reason -- our own society is learning (or has learned) to ignore conscience.

Considering that we'd all like to be treated fairly, and the increasing UN-fairness in the world, you'd think this would be a word with frequent use.  But if you watch your U.S. "news" 24-hour talking heads channel, you'll see that "conscience" is a very rare word, indeed.

So I think our world would be a better place if "conscience" was something we considered more and more -- not less and less, as we are now.

And now, I have a confession to make:  The philosophy I've been writing about and systematically refining over the past 7 or so years didn't start with a systematic basis.  I'd like to be able to say that I worked it out starting systematically from first principles.  Yes, I can do that _now_, but I originally started with the bias based on a sense that people are inherently "good", if given the chance.

Some of that sense comes from ignoring the bleak picture painted of our world by legacy media, and relying on personal experience.  And maybe that's anecdotal, and I've been lucky with my experiences -- but I do know that legacy media isn't going to tell the truth about this.  (They also love to foster the myth that "people are stupid" -- another canard.)

So go ahead: call me Polyanna, tell me the world is sh*t, that you can't trust anybody, and all this other nonsense that is accepted as "given" in our society today.  Because even if I'm completely wrong, I still think it doesn't have to be that way, _if_ we start listening to our consciences, and instead, start talking about what they will or will not allow.

Unfortunately, there will still be people who think "the only way to be successful is to be ruthless and greedy."  They choose to ignore their consciences, and we have a name for them:  sociopaths.  And it's unfortunate that our current society can reward that behavior.  In terms of the Prisoner's Dilemma -- part of that game theory I mentioned earlier -- I think we could safely refer to them as "scorpions", those who will consistently "defect" from the behavior shown to have maximum benefit in iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas: cooperation.

So the next time you are faced with a moral question, just ask yourself:  what does your conscience tell you?  And if you're not sure, talk to someone you trust.  Because in my experience, the people who default all those decisions to "ruthless" always end up worse off than those who rely on their conscience.

If anything, I hope this gives you pause for thought.  Thank you for your time.