Posts Tagged ‘Free Will

28
Nov
07

On the Nature of Things

On the Nature of Things (Latin: De rerum natura) is a first century BC epic poem by Lucretius that grandly proclaims the reality of man’s role in a universe without a god to help him along. It is a statement of personal responsibility in a world in which everyone is driven by hungers and passions with which they were born and do not understand.

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Again, if movement always is connected,
New Motions coming in from old in order fixed,
If atoms never swerve and make beginning
Of motions that can break the bonds of fate
And foil the infinite chain of cause and effect
What is the origin of this free will
Possessed by living creatures throughout the earth?

-Lucretius (ca. 94-ca. 55 B.C.), Titus Lucretius Carus, was a Latin poet and philosopher. His one work, “De rerum natura”, a didactic poem in hexameters, renders in verse the atomistic philosophy of Epicurus, forerunner of the modern-day atomic theory.

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03
Jan
07

Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t

I was a free man until they brought the dessert menu around. There was one of those molten chocolate cakes, and I was suddenly being dragged into a vortex, swirling helplessly toward caloric doom, sucked toward the edge of a black (chocolate) hole. Visions of my father’s heart attack danced before my glazed eyes. My wife, Nancy, had a resigned look on her face.

The outcome, endlessly replayed whenever we go out, is never in doubt, though I often cover my tracks by offering to split my dessert with the table. O.K., I can imagine what you’re thinking. There but for the grace of God.

Having just lived through another New Year’s Eve, many of you have just resolved to be better, wiser, stronger and richer in the coming months and years. After all, we’re free humans, not slaves, robots or animals doomed to repeat the same boring mistakes over and over again. As William James wrote in 1890, the whole “sting and excitement” of life comes from “our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago.” Get over it, Dr. James. Go get yourself fitted for a new chain-mail vest. A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.

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As a result, physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists have joined the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place.

“Is it an illusion? That’s the question,” said Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Maryland. Another question, he added, is whether talking about this in public will fan the culture wars.

Continue reading ‘Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t’

01
Aug
06

Think & Ponder

I just know that I m free. I stand here, able to raise my arm or not just as I please. Suppose I do it-thus-then I have felt myself controlling the way events unfolded. My consciousness reveals my freedom to me.

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However here is the German philosopher Schopenhauer :

Let us imagine a man who, while standing on the street, would say to himself: ‘It is six o’clock in the evening, the working day is over. Now I can go for a walk, or I can go to the club; I can also climb up the tower to see the sun set; I can go to the theatre; I can visit this friend or that one; indeed, I also can run out of the gate; into the wide world, and never return. All of this is strictly upto me, in this I have complete freedom.

But still I shall do none of these things now, but with just as free a will I shall go home to my wife.’

This is exactly as if water spoke to itself: ‘I can make high waves (yes! in the sea during a storm), I can rush down hill (yes ! in the river bed), I can plunge down foaming and gushing (yes! in the waterfall ), I can rise freely as a stream of water into the air (yes! in the fountain), I can finally, boil away and disappear (yes! at certain temperature);

But I am doing none of these things now, and am voluntarily quiet and clear water in the reflecting pond.’

– German Philosopher “Schopenhauer” (1788-1860)

In this parable Schopenhauer denies that our own self understanding, our self-consciousness, displays our real freedom.




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