Monday, December 14, 2009

Blogger is making me grumpy.

Delicious reader "tsoureki" (Brioche in greek) commented on an old entry with the following:

"What is the functionality of adopting a fully deterministic point of view as far as free will is concerned? People usually act automatically but you make conscious effort not to act automatically. Of course you believe that this decision of yours is predefined but wouldn't you end up in the same behavior(s) you currently demonstrate in your life if you pretended that you act freely on some level? Also, how do you define chance?"

Blogger turns out, doesn't have built-in comment search, so I had to go through Google Custom Search and browse my own blog for the word "determinism" for 30 minutes before I could even fish out the comment. So now if you don't mind I'll take a whole blog post to reply to your query, tsoureki, just to justify all the time I spent looking for it.

(It's becoming increasingly apparent that I might have to switch from blogger at some point)

For other readers interested in this conversation, I urge to read the comment backlog in the Small Shames post linked in the foreword.

Well, tsoureki, to answer as straightforwardly as I can, there is no practical functionality for adopting any sort of a priori worldview like existentialism or determinism or whatever else because - half of the point is - you'll end up doing what your machine was made to do anyway. That is, interface with vast complex structures in order to survive, create, kill, and eventually die. It's very often that thinkers on the issue of Free Will convey this: it doesn't practically matter if you think your actions are predetermined or not, you're still doing what you're doing, right?

So on that level there is no function. On another level there is, though, it has to do with how I, as a semi-conscious being, look at my own mechanism and categorize the processes it's going through. From a free will point of view the focus is constantly on the rational, conscious, surface-thought part of the machine, the one we give a name to and say it's a human being. There is this feeling for Free Will thinkers that the subconscious is something like a dirty little secret, to be swept under the biochemical rug because nobody wants to face up to it. And one can see why, it's the part of the machine that makes us do all these illogical, impulsive and often really morally wrong things. So, a free will adopter will have effectively cut himself in half, given all the import on the part of himself he's proud of and vilified his other half, hidden it away and marginalized its importance. Urges are only there to be contained by the higher, rational being that is called "Nick" or "Jane".

From a deterministic point of view the machine is one single thing, consciousness and subconsciousness are reacquainted and a more holistic sense of self is introduced, one where you're allowed to face up to that you don't know why you do what you do and that you have desires that you cannot rationalize even. Determinism is then useful for psychological wellbeing. To be allowed to be a whole person again, to accept everything that's going on inside, to try to gently internalize the whole situation that is the "I", your fingernails as much as your brain, your volition as much as your intention.

So in your scenario above between the one that is acting automatically and fighting it and the other who is acting automatically and is aware of disparity between his conscious rationalizations and his subconscious volitions, the end actions will be automatic still. But ask yourself, which of the two stands a chance to be more psychologically equipped to deal with the fallout of awful actions?

Free Will vs Determinism isn't a debate that has to do with what we're going to do tomorrow. It's about how to come to terms with what we'll inevitably do tomorrow. It's about assessment of guilt, regret, crystallized memory of everything that has gone wrong. It's about giving up on these dysfunctional concepts of causality that lead us to constantly search for whom to blame. It's about a reassessment of core components of common language. It's about finding a way to let it go and just exist, like a cat on a bed licking its fur until it doesn't feel like it anymore or like a tree swaying in the wind without any 'because' at all.



tsoureki said...

Hello Helm and thank you so much for making all this effort in order to reply to me. :)

So, adopting a deterministic point of you makes you perceive yourself as whole and stops you from dividing your impulses into higher and lower ones. Thus there is no dualism and because no "whys" are allowed ("your machine was programmed to do so, that's why!") you don't have to deal with existential problems and fall into continuous vortexes of vanity. What is more you don't have to deal with guilt and meta-guilt and all of the sudden there you are, you have solved the issues self-consciousness brings to our kind!

Hopefully I somehow approach you point but then again I wonder about something. How do you combine self-improvement and personal growth with determinism? Do you perceive this attitude of yours as an impulse you have to satisfy?

P.S. Also, I'd like to comment on a technical aspect of the blog. I think you could make a better use of the labels. You're supposed to use them in order to band together posts which have a common aspect and make the search easier. It would be more helpful to have a specific number of labels rather than coming out with a new label in every post. For example if I were to see all your "philosophical" entries ("This is interesting" and the likes) where would I go?

Helm said...

Hi, delicious delicious Brioche.

Yes to your summary paragraph. Hopefully that's how it'd work. Of course it doesn't (because I fall into other patterns of thinking often), but slowly inching towards this model has kept me more sane than any other so far. As you can see I'm not existential-crisis-free given how uh, every comic I've ever made deals with existential issues.

Your question about self-improvement on top of that is a very astute one, it's exactly the next thing that comes to mind when I consider the implication of determinism too. "Will I find myself just giving up if I adopt this viewpoint?" The way I untangle the thread is this: I become better at what I do as a machine because what I do gives me positive returns. When I fail myself, it hurts. It seems my machine isn't happy enough yet, so it's trying to become so. Before we even get to what "I want" to do, you see we've already described the human condition pretty well. If I ever become happy enough and I find myself lacking the impulse to improve and grow, well, I guess I've arrived (or most probably am dead).

About labels, I mainly use them as a joke. The comic was supposed to be about comics mostly so the only useful tag is 'COMICS' really. The rest is supposed to mirror how a brain makes connections, not useful shortcuts for the reader. I take a lot of pleasure into making these disparate and often cryptic connections. Keep in mind my blog has a secondary purpose of an psychoemotional archive so I may read some entry 10 years from now and the tags help a lot into reminding me of my emotional situation at the time.

Usually philosophical-such stuff is tagged "Helmspeak" or "Information" or, hilariously enough "Determinism" if you want to browse back.

My aim is so that people attempt to use the tags for a little while and then go "fuck it" and just read the whole blog from the beginning to the present entry.