Monday, November 14, 2011

what is human choice?

A pretty obvious objection I didn't address yesterday: The difference between rocks and people is choice. You can't just call what rocks do "choice" and get rid of the problem.

Ah, that difference. Not easy. I'm saying that the main* processes through which rocks and people act are essentially the same. I mentioned abstraction as the key difference, suggesting this animal ability was better understood as a difference of degree in its departure from inanimacy and such. Rocks don't use concepts. They don't hold a bunch of ideas in front of a mind's eye and compare them. They don't feel cognitive dissonance when two ideas clash; they don't compare, however clearly or confusedly, consciously or unconsciously, the needs/desires of their bodies for survival and displeasure avoidance to their bodies' traumas and resulting desire to avoid displeasure (what Freud meant by superego). There's no short-term versus long-term, etc. There's no calculative function in the mix. 

This is what is usually meant by "choice" in the freedom/determinism context, I think: an agent weighs two or more options, in concept form, and determines which is better based on...well, really, you need some sort of detachment. Rationality? What the hell is that? I mean the whole thing depends on a detached subject, doesn't it? The detached subject is a fantasy along the lines of the God fantasy. It sounds nice to some, depending on their personal histories and needs and whatnot, but it falls apart upon examination. 

So this is really about deconstructing the false dichotomy of detached reason and emotion. I submit a possibly obvious point, that I have to assume has been said somewhere much better than I can put it: every thought that's ever been thunk has been thought with bodily needs, what are often called emotions, as the driving force. The desire to help people is an emotion accompanied by concepts. If you see a starving African on TV and want to help them, for example, your body is telling you that pain is bad and must be avoided. Call it empathy, but it's actually selfishness. (A certain kind of) selfishness is good. When you think you're "choosing," as the term is normally used, you're lucky if you're responding to that most rational-ish emotion called cognitive dissonance. All of which is only bad if you wanted to be a certain type of god. I'm saying, it's ok, you can be a different type of god. Atheism is freedom. Determinism is freedom. 

(OK back to 1st person.) I can use ideas, chosen for emotional reasons, in response to my body, to re-arrange my emotions and make me better, happier, etc. Cognitive dissonance and empathy are my friends. I want to say they guide me but here's the crazy part: they are me. I'm not following them, I am them.

Brain hurts, time to stop.
*I waver on whether to include this qualifier. I'd like to get rid of it but not confident enough.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm as free as a rock, and this is good

How does the world reproduce? How does now become a different now and why does it become this rather than that? However else one describes the process, I think it helps to understand it as action, incredibly complex action that takes a lot of doing. A rock from 1990 needed to do a lot to become whatever it has become in 2011. The action that needs doing is existing. Whatever it is that rocks are doing is essentially the same as what humans are doing so that if you say rocks are determined, you're saying humans are determined and if you say rocks are free, humans are free. Which word is better to describe existing, or acts of existence, freedom or determinism? This is a matter of taste.

The real question, after we get past the false dichotomy, is how the manner of existing of humans differs from that of anything else. If there's a difference worth mentioning, it's that our visual abilities have us at a certain distance from world, withdrawn to some limited extent from its gravity, where our relatively isolated brain-ish ecosystem creates freaky colorful frog-birds with an armpit obsessed's weird is what I'm saying. Our brains can reduce the incredible complexity of an apple to the number "1" and put the world together in a peculiarly human way, call it realism, stemming from evolutionary processes. And in this visual world, we have reach and we have power but we've lost a lot. Everything "looks" determined. From another "view," in our bodies, we feel free. Our non- or pre-visual selves are far more connected with world, whereas the human way of seeing is world-historically exceptional and whatever it has to say about freedom/determinism has no effect on the way existence happens, or the way world does. We just are, and we are in the same way as rocks, with only differences of degree, not kind, between us. To the rocks I say, kanpai!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I went to a restaurant. There were some dirty looking brown people with diamond necklaces outside, looking weak and hungry, maybe a bit angry. Nothing but concrete everywhere. Hmm, I must be dreaming, I thought. I walked in. There were a bunch of fancy suits eating lobster, steak, I don't know, what do rich people eat? I couldn't actually see their plates. There were some tough-looking dudes in the corner, who looked like they belonged. I sat down, ordered a cheeseburger. It was crazy cheap, I guess; I mean a cow was raised for years, fed regularly, slaughtered, packed up and shipped, prepared by a cook, all for 15 minutes' pay, though I used to be able to get bigger cheeseburgers for less, I recall. I saw a truck pull up outside and unload a bunch of food, brilliant food I assume. A nerdy guy handed him some rubies or something, they looked like, uh, natural resources. The truck drove away. Then I saw the tough guys head outside, heard some screams, saw them come back in with a bunch of diamond necklaces. "What the hell was that?," I asked them. They just smiled good-ol' boyishly from a distance as a slick-haired man told another slick-haired man to tell me, "some evil bastards who hate this fine establishment were trying to come in and rob the place. You should be grateful they took care of everything for you." "Yeah, wow, I am," I said. The tough guys gave the necklaces to the rich guys who pocketed most and gave the rest to slick-haired guys, tough guys, and nerdy guys. Another truck pulled up, another nerdy guy got up and went outside with diamond necklaces. An announcement came over a loudspeaker, "The good people will now rise and thank our tough guys for protecting and serving us."  Heartfelt applause, very loud; OK, it was a roar, or some other big sound that animals make in response to specific triggers.