Saturday, July 24, 2010

How Free is our Will?

Okay... so this is not about theological Free Will. This is about us and our free will in earthly terms when it comes with our powers of choice in dealing with ourselves and others. In that context I ask, "How free is our will?"

Even if you are one of those rare individuals who is humble and honest enough to admit that Total Depravity is the correct doctrine regarding our disposition towards God, there are still many otherwise intelligent people who frankly delude themselves into thinking that they are virtually immune to influences that affect their judgement.

So can the human mind be totally independent? Of course not and we wouldn't really want to achieve that. You want to be open minded. The key is not to be empty minded. The idea that we are independent moral agents which are incapable of being seduced by others is just not backed up by history or science. It is not as though people who fall under these influences are some how defective or weak. Everyone, in the right circumstances, can be pressured and manipulated. Half the time we manipulate ourselves!

This is important because about the worst way to approach any situation or idea is to go into it with a "that could never happen to me" attitude. The generations past called this hubris and it was considered the very definition of foolishness that doomed even the most noble of intentions.

The fact is that it looks like our subjective human experience is alot less reliable than we want to believe. Even worse than that, our grasp of objective truth is far from rock solid. In both cases, the people around us and the situations that we find ourselves in have a tremendous amount of influence on the very nature of our judgement. These problems of perception suggest that any attempt to understand truth must be done with a sober mind and a very critical eye (and often times that means a self-critical eye.)

I am going to include some links that highlight some research and stories that will give you an idea about what I am talking about. Please don't make these links the sum total of your research in these topics.

The concept of Groupthink is summarized in this wikipedia article.

Sometimes our own brain chemistry and mental health conspires against us. It makes us want to resolve things that don't initially make sense through any means possible. Read about cognitive dissonance here.

Sometimes we can experience very important emotional experiences that shape our lives, but these feelings may not be true or based in anything other than our own brains. After all these religious experiences can now be artificially created in lab conditions.

Sometimes we are alot weaker to peer pressure and authority than we want to admit. It affects our moral choices and claims to truth. Read about the Milgram Experiment and the Asch Conformity Experiments.

Even when you get past these influences, the very way we think is much weaker than it used to be in previous ages. Check out this list of logical fallacies and become familiar with what they are talking about. Then you can start to examine the faulty assumptions and flawed arguments in your own world view. Better than that, you can start to tell when people are trying to convince you of things that just don't cut the mustard logically.

This is just a very shallow summary of what I am talking about when it comes to being a truly independent thinker, but you get the idea. Why is this important? Because when you recognize just how badly the deck is stacked against you, there is no choice but to actively engage in a careful quest for the truth underneath the layers of delusion. When you recognize all of the subtle tendencies that all humans have working on them, you can more easily recognize when you are being pushed around by something other than logic, ethics, and plain reason. Will you able to start thinking independently with total success? Of course not, but you stand a better chance of being clear headed than if you wander through life unprepared and under the assumption that you understand everything that matters.

Does any of this interest you? Do you have any thoughts or questions?

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