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.

No comments: