Archives for posts with tag: fatalism

The law of causality basically says that shit can’t happen without some other shit happening first. Everyone knows what cause and effect are, but I just really enjoy saying “shit” to describe things. If something happens, something necessarily had to happen before in order to cause that event. We base not only science on this, but religion as well. The Unmoved Mover, or the First Cause, is the very beginning of the causal chain. If everything has a cause, the idea is that there has to be a beginning tethering the causes to an initial… something or other. In some circles, that “something” is theorized to be God.

So everybody agrees that the law of causality is probably true. However, things get a little tricky when we consider Free Will. Free Will is humanity’s innate ability to choose our actions. Since we feel in control, normally most people assume that we possess Free Will. But when the law of causality is applied to our choices, our actions must have a cause, and that cause must have a cause, and that cause must have a cause, and so on. Given that that causal chain would continue back to infinite along with all the others (or to the First Cause, whatever) then it seems highly unlikely that there was an autonomous “choice” at all.

This is not a new idea. People often wonder whether or not we are but slaves to our instincts and our environment, and if the law of causality is true and universal, then it would follow that humans are nothing but a mold going through its familiar phases. This raises some issues; if we are not free, then we are not responsible, and ethics just fall to the wayside. Any sort of meaning to our existence sounds a little hollow as well.

However, if there is Free Will, then the law of causality becomes called into question, and every scientific theory becomes a lot more correlative than it was before. Humanity, America especially, needs its freedom, but is it willing to do away with cause and effect just to keep it?

There are other options. There is the idea of the Causa Sui, or the self-caused cause. These are indeterminate causes that start their own, new causal chains. Quantum physics has these a bunch, where things on the atomic level are popping in and out of existence like a whack-a-mole game, seemingly without cause. However, if there are an infinite number of quantum reactions happening in the consciousness part of our brain that are the Causa Sui for our actions, then again, we are not choosing, but our actions are determined by random occurrences. This leads to the same problems of responsibility and meaning as in a deterministic universe.

Or possibly the Will itself is the Causa Sui and is perpetually creating new, causal chains. This, however, leads to the question of how?

It is possible that the human Will exists outside of the causal universe, thereby cancelling out the paradox of choice within a deterministic or random world. Those with a religious background are likely to exclaim, “Something that transcends the material realm!? Surely you can’t be serious!” but if Free Will is to be maintained, this is a consideration not to be taken lightly.

Remember, this is philosophy. There is never a satisfactory answer. Whether or not we possess Free Will all comes down to your perspective. Maybe humans are just special and that’s why we’re able to freely make choices. Maybe we live in a world of anarchy and chaos. Maybe we live meaningless, responsibility-less lives. Who knows? But always remember, whether or not Free Will exists, we must act as if it does.

There is a common philosophical methodology called reductionism. It’s where you cast aside all presuppositions until you have one, irrefutable fact about life. Then if you’re so inclined, you can build your philosophy from there. “I think, therefore I am” is one such example. Descartes chucked out the entire material world as possibly untrue, because you know what? We could be living in the Matrix with our brains hooked up to a bunch of wires that feed information to our senses. Descartes is suggesting that even if the material world doesn’t exist, there is still the brain in that gooey pod thing being fed information. Because I am thinking, there at least has to be some form of me somewhere to think. Now is Descartes right even on that assertion? Maybe we’re a mindless void being filled with alien television shows. How can we judge the validity of any claim?

And there are a lot of claims in this world of ours. There is a God. There is no God. Nobody loves me. Everybody loves me. Paul is a nice guy. Oh wait no, Paul is a dick. Pretty much all of our observations make some kind of claim towards the truth, and there must be a truth, right? Paul has to either be a dick, or  he’s not. These are two contradictory statements, and they can’t both be true. (Note: we’re going to live in a world of black and white here. There is no middle ground where Paul is just an okay guy. He’s either a gigantic prick or a saint, k?)

Say you’re walking down the street, and you see Paul coming down the opposite way. As soon as he sees you, Paul flips you the bird, turns and runs away forever. Heartbroken at realizing that Paul is a turd, you rush home crying to write about it in your diary. It seems the truth is that Paul is a dick.

Next day, you meet up with Paul’s nameless friend, who explains to you that Paul was actually flipping off some guy right behind you, who was about to stab you until he saw Paul’s judgmental middle finger, and spared your life out of shame. As it turns out, Paul saved you from certain doom, and it looks like Paul is a saint after all. The truth comes out for realz this time.

Now, what would happen if Paul’s nameless friend was hit by a bus and was brutally killed before they got around to telling you about this simple misunderstanding? The truth, for you, would still be that Paul is a dick. In your mind, this truth is unshakable. Your whole worldview revolves around the fact that Paul is a douchebag worth hours of indignant rage. You never figured out that other truth, and so your version of reality doesn’t line up with objective events. How many truth claims do you think don’t line up? Reality is experience combined with perception, and both of those things are heavily biased and flawed in many other ways, so I expect there are quite a few.

Now I can imagine you pushing up your thick-rimmed glasses with your index fingers, ahem-ing a couple of times, and nasally explaining to me that science and math prove that there can be an observable truth. 2 + 2 is always 4, and no amount of philosophical bullshit can disprove that. Except math and science aren’t truths, they are definitions. They are a creation of humanity used to observe our universe. 2 + 2 = 4 because one day a long time ago, some Greek dude named Pythagoras had two rocks, and then added another two rocks, and went like, “holy fucking shit, I now have four rocks!” Saying math proves truths is like saying language proves truths. Pointing at a spot on a colour wheel and exclaiming gleefully, “that’s green!” only proves that you have eyeballs and a concept of language and colour, nothing more. The scientific analogy here would be rubbing two sticks to make fire and witnessing the birth of Tom Hank’s movie Castaway. You understand the concept of combustion, congratulations. Science doesn’t make any kind of claim towards the universe, it just tries to define ones that already exist.

It’s easy to say, “Well objectively, Paul is a nice guy. You just were living a lie while you thought of him as a complete asshole.” And maybe that’s true. But how would you ever know? Everything that you had experienced pointed towards Paul being a dick. And the only reason to think that Paul is a saint is because of some claim that the nameless friend made, and what the hell do they know?  Have you ever been so sure of something, only to have some new piece of information come up and explode in your face like a hot load? What if you never got that hot load to the face? Can we as people ever make any claim to an objective truth?

There is a saying in regards to free will that goes something like this, “Even if there is no free will, we must act as if there is.” What this means is that if we are bound by God’s will, or we are part of some great destiny, or we are slaves to our biological impulses, for one thing, we would never be aware of it. We can’t know if our actions are our own, or if we’re being driven by some other force. But we have to act as if we are responsible for our actions in order for society to function, regardless of the truth.

What I’m suggesting is that, yeah, maybe there is some objective reality out there filled with all the truths you could ever want. Maybe we might even catch a glimpse of it every now and then. But there is no way of ever being able to tell what is the truth and what isn’t. If people lived under the rule of “maybe there is no truth” instead of the hard-lined, “I own the truth, fuck you”, society would function just a little better. Maybe you’d treat Paul like he was an okay guy, instead of like he was either a dick or a saint. I’m not saying throw all your beliefs out the window and live in a world filled with crippling doubt, but simply be aware that maybe things aren’t quite the way you think them to be.

Most people believe in some form of free will. It makes sense; we don’t feel as though something else is making our choices for us and we feel in control of our lives, for the most part, so how could it be any other way? Even some of those who believe in predestination and fate can’t always give up the notion of free will.

Let’s look at a fly. It flies around in seemingly random patterns, and has an interest in poop. Does a fly make choices? When it is flying around, is it thinking, “left, no left! Right, I mean right! PULL UP! PULL UP!!” or is it being driven by an instinct that forces it to fly erratically in order to avoid predators? Does it choose to be attracted to sweet, succulent feces or is it some fly hunger that is driving it towards the dung? Does the fly have free will, or is it a slave to its instincts and metabolism?

Let’s move up brain function ever so slightly and look at a chicken next. Again, not very bright, walks around bobbing its head, eats corn and pops out eggs every now and then. Let’s ask the same questions. Is the chicken choosing to do the things it does, or is it forced by its instincts and basic needs?

Let’s end this by going back to humans. Are we forced to act the way we do by our instincts, the chemicals in our brains, the way we’ve been molded since birth, in a manner much more complex than the way a fly is forced by its instincts of course, or do we indeed have free will? If we do, was there a point along our evolutionary line where we attained free will? At what point did we develop a significant enough brain to attain the intangible concept of choice? Or did we always have it, all the way back to the primordial ooze?