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6. Freewill!

 

“It is your mind that creates this world.” – Buddha

“Of the four corners of the globe there is but one direction and time is its measure.” – Tom Stoppard

 

 

James Breasted, The Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, tells us that the ancient Egyptians had a concept of sin, and so they must have believed they had freewill because you cannot sin, if you have no choice. The belief that we have freewill seems to be the default position, but some were suspicious. The Greeks up until the Pythagoreans were determinists, first based on the idea that the Gods ran everything and later that the causal laws of atoms made our actions inevitable. The Pythagoreans mixed religion and philosophy and, like the Egyptians, may have had their own reasons for wanting humans to be responsible for their actions. They seem to have reinstated the idea of freewill, an idea embellished as it passed through the minds of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the Christian Neo-Platonist, Plotinus. Christian church father, St. Augustine pushed individual freewill as a solution to the problem of evil in the world because he believed in an omnipotent God, but could not believe his God would be responsible for evil. It was always in the Church’s best interest to claim that humans had a freewill because then they deserved punishment for their choices. Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, argued that the established Church was wrong: God was in charge, and only His grace could save us. It was all very convenient when you consider the motives of the speakers, but the Greek's problem still concerns us. Our two beliefs that the laws of physics control all physical events and that we think with our physical brains, when taken together rule out freewill. That disappoints us, but the pleasure seeking control system described in previous chapters would render the freewill concept nonsensical anyway, and that information frees us to improve our lives.

No sensible person believes that beings with purely reflexive control systems, like plants or even amoebas, have freewill. However, animals with minds have a four-step pleasure-seeking algorithm that is an alternate, additional kind of behavior control system. We still respond with the more primitive reflexive system to some stimuli, like the blink that protects our eyes from bright light, but with no immediate genetic response proscribed, we respond with whatever gives the most pleasure. So now, we have two kinds of behavior control systems in one being. Where no reflexes kick in, we respond with the steps in our pleasure-seeking algorithm. It is flexible enough to respond to the current self-interest of some part of us. Moreover, it feels as though we freely choose according to our whims.

Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1976) conceives of us in two parts. He makes a distinction between genes and the plant or animal created by them, called by him a vehicle. Vehicles are independent and separate bodies that carry genes to the next generation, in the same way cars carry people to their destinations. We are aware of various options because our genes specify that feelings of pleasure will evaluate any behavior resulting in food and warmth (the means of survival) and sex (the means of reproduction). The genetic code dangles the carrot and the body uses the four-step process to learn various effective behaviors. From the gene's point of view, this makes people the equivalent of self-driving cars. The four-step process is more successful at reproducing genes than the reflexive control system because genetically proscribed reflexes cannot vary their responses to current events. Only rare, chance mutations can program reflexes, and then they must survive for at least one generation. The four-step process offers the advantage of immediate dexterity and an ability to upgrade to new options. Nevertheless, our genes pay a price for better reproductive odds. While the reflexive actions of primitive life benefited both body and genes equally, the four-step process only affects our bodies because, as far as we know, the genes do not feel the motive powers of pleasure or pain. As a result, our bodies’ and genes' self-interests no longer necessarily coincide. The body can drive wherever it wants. That is at the root of our confusion about freewill: our four-step algorithm will produce pleasure for our body with options that conflict with our own gene's best interests. If genes could completely control our behavior, they would not allow suicide, celibacy, birth-control pills, drug taking, self-mutilation, heroic self-sacrifice or laws against rape. Those acts thwart their survival and suggests that the body is free from genetic control. However, while our four-step algorithm offers behavioral changes, it cannot offer freewill because it automatically compels us to adopt more pleasant techniques as we become aware of them. Our genes cannot control our behavior but they still do control our motives.

That had not been obvious before because our minds produce yet another illusion for its own pleasure and efficiency. Our adoption of more pleasurable behavior feels like we have freely chosen a better way, but the words, freely chosen, do not apply. Even though we can see and even consider several options for what we will do Saturday night, we do not have the ability to choose any of the less pleasant options. We only consider likely outcomes as part of the four-step process to identify the option producing the most pleasure. We could consider the movies, a date, TV at home or catching up on those neglected chores, but it quickly boils down to the top one. There is no choice, the selection process settles on the top option because the algorithm always compels the action expected to produce the most pleasure. That does not always seem to be the case because of our parental bonds. They too are an improvement with a price to pay. Parental bonds teach us the accumulated knowledge of generations, but we must accept obedience to get that advantage. While reason tells us that doing those neglected chores on Saturday night is the less pleasant option, reason ignores the fact that we, based on approval, get self-righteous pleasure from our self-image as the kind of person who takes care of business before wasting time on pleasure. Reason tells us that pleasing others instead of pursuing our own self-interest should not produce the greatest pleasure, but for those with obedient parental bonds self-sacrifice to earn approval often offers the greatest pleasure. Approval is always the motive for genetically suicidal acts like celibacy and self-sacrifice. Our greatest pleasures no longer come directly from our genes, they have given over command; the four-step, pleasure-seeking algorithm can overrule our reflex pleasures with learned pleasures like approval, but we still feel as though we are free to choose according to our whims.

If you naively want to define freewill as the ability to choose the most pleasurable or desirable behavior known to you, kickback and stop worrying, the algorithm will automatically do that for you. On the other hand, if you want to choose self-interested pleasures, you will have to understand why you want what you want. Understanding our evaluative process changes our feelings about what causes pleasure and pain.

American philosopher, John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (1922) would have called the learned homeostats that result from our four-step algorithm, habits. They take many forms, examples include: instructions on how to do things, like read and speak; values reflecting correctness and importance, like good manners and making money; recognition of useful and dangerous circumstances, like good tools and dark streets and memories of the characteristics things have, like nourishment in food. The four-step control system will always, and only ever, produce the most pleasurable known behavior. Using homeostats habitually keeps us from indecision over trivia, and that suits us most of the time; no one needs to reinvent the bowknot every time they tie their shoes. Practicality demands that we use 'habits' to direct our routine behavior, and they quickly take on the automatic nature of reflexive actions. However, these 'habits' or learned homeostatic reflexes also make up our self-image and worldview, which is the basis for more consequential decisions.

We have believed that all of us share a common sense idea of reasonable behavior because reason tells us that, if each of us had, had the same experiences, our interactions with the world should have built knowledge that expanded options to include ever easier and more pleasure filled lives. Sharing that information through books, radio, television and the internet would have given us all ever better options. Debate in the light of a fuller understanding would have produced a fairer system where everyone agrees, but that is not the case. Common universal knowledge has little influence on behavior when compared to the pleasures of parental bonds and the self-image and worldview based on them. Each reader who comes to this theory for the first time has a personality dealt out by chance. We have been born into some kind of birth circumstance, cast system that would normally lock us into a specific fate. A successful adult born in wealth and given an Ivy League education must be as much an automaton as a sexually abused, poor child who ends up addicted and imprisoned. We could be seen as robots programmed by our experiences because stored memories based on past circumstances automatically pilot our desires and actions. We rationalized both to ourselves and to others that ours is the best course of action because we feel the evaluative pleasure (four) when the brain triggers our learned homeostat. It feels like we have considered the options, their effects on others, and chosen the best one. In fact, it was the most pleasurable for us (three). No two human beings have experienced exactly the same influences and so do not act exactly alike; not even identical twins share exactly the same perspective and therefore cannot have exactly the same 'habits' of knowledge and behavior. We may try to consciously think about the next move, but we have learned how to think homeostatically and so come to predictable conclusions. That is why we can continue to use inefficient or wrong knowledge with bad results. Authority's question, "Why did you do that?” leads us astray; it ignores the effects of parental bonds. We have learned to explain our actions prompted by a parent's or other authority's demand for obedience. In actuality, we rationalize after the decision, justifying our actions to please and thereby gain approval. That incorrectly assumes that a single right answer exists and that everyone has the option of choosing it, but we have not had identical experience, so our algorithms do not choose identically. According to the theory presented, the correct answer to “Why did you do that?” is that, "The action was the result of the instructions in the homeostat at the address in my brain indicated by the available sensations and evaluated with the most pleasure for me." We understand what-to-do and it feels like the right thing to do because it is the most pleasurable thing to do (four). Many have rationalized, justifying their argument, gone to war, fought, or murdered because of the evaluative pleasures in their homeostats. The illusion that we understood how-things-worked and could choose between our options before we acted has misled us: it convinced us that we could overcome our algorithm and decide what-to-do by freely by rationally controlling our actions. That argument justifies the concept of sin with its attendant guilt.

Most of us find the realization that happenstance learning controls our behavior, dehumanizing, but, strangely, it could also be liberating. In effect, we have been self-deluded robots, but understanding the process gives us a god like, meta-level view and the power to improve our lives. Because we each start with different options limited by our parental bonds, knowledge, wealth, authority, and the questions we have learned, the most pleasurable options known to others may not be known to us. Knowledge is power. Chefs usually dine better than non-cooks do. The obvious relationship between increased knowledge and better options should motivate everyone to learn as much as possible, but the belief that we have freewill and are responsible for our actions stops us from seeing the way to improvement. We will learn and use any knowledge, congruent with reality, because it increases our pleasure (three and four). Knowledge of our birth circumstances and happenstance experience liberates us from both their influences.

If this theory is congruent with reality, we can significantly improve our lives by understanding how the motives of others affect us. We presume that considering the opinions of others will lead us away from immediate gratification recommended by our genes and towards our best long-term reward encouraged by reason. "Sure you could eat that, but you'll gain weight and look unattractive." "Yes, you could spend that money now or invest it for greater future buying power." "You can sin, but you will burn in hell." "Dying heroically in battle will get you to heaven." On the surface, authorities' advice appears altruistic, but the same mental algorithm applies to everyone. Therefore, it compels teachers to choose the most desirable of all known options for themselves, that is, to teach the student to behave in the teacher's best interests. While we phrase lessons in rationalized language that pretends to teach options that benefit our children, in spite of their immediate impulses, in reality we teach what benefits the parent or teacher. Authority's demand to, "Do the right thing." is just another way of saying, "Do what's most pleasurable for me." The third step in the process allows near matches to current perceptions. Near matches to parental authority allows other authority figures to manipulate and exploit students. Officers command troops in their best interests. Bosses demand workers act their best interest. Those with obedient parental bonds feel pain, from disapproving judgements of stupidity, disobedience, sin, and pleasure, from approving judgements of intelligence, obedience, and self-sacrifice. However, immediate pleasure is not the same thing as long-term self-interest, and as has been pointed out, every combination of parental bond directs behavior that focuses on the emotional well or ill-being of others, producing pleasure for us that distracts from our own real self-interest. All attempts to increase pleasure by those who have learned obedient bonds increases the pleasure or well-being of authorities before their own, while disobedient bonds always end in inexplicable disaster, if not outright incarceration. Real self-interest depends on acknowledging the role of approval and acceptance, and because how much you value a prestige parking spot could make the difference between taking and declining a job, you might want to reconsider your evaluation based on that awareness. Most organizations intend to jack-up their managers’ authority by nurturing the deafening cognitive discordance that they have superpower intelligence and judgment. Preferred parking indicates that kind of status, and buys slavish obedience from junior managers rather cheaply. Being a better worker or braver solder only benefits those in charge. Couple that with the adult tendency to lie to children, on the excuse that they are too immature for the truth, and you can see what might happen. It is not just Santa and the Easter Bunny; we also lie about existence, sex, success and death. Only the prolonged horror of First World War trench warfare provided feedback that generally convinced the exploited underclass to reject a policy of unquestioning loyalty to authority. That realization marked an historic evolutionary moment in human psychology. Where before, teachers demanded obedience, they now demand the questioning of authority as a sign of intelligence.

Our accumulated knowledge controls our evaluations and actions (four), but we do not know exactly what we know until we remember it. At the same time, all normally functioning people can remember what they ate today, even though none of us paid much attention, let alone studied or memorized the menus. We have so much difficulty trying to learn specific unemotional ideas, like advanced math or long, dull poems that we don’t notice that we can’t stop ourselves from learning interesting knowledge, like what we ate today and what we were taught as children. Humans cannot choose what to learn and cannot help but learn because biology irresistibly inflicts learning on us. We have no confirmation that we have or have not learned something until; perhaps years later, we remember it, and even then we cannot be sure that we’ll ever be able to remember it again because we store our knowledge behind the firewall of unconsciousness. While as adults we seem to weigh and choose each new idea, sifting for truth, we cannot take responsibility for ideas learned in childhood because we did not freely choose them. Children are seldom skeptical because their relatively limited store of memories offers little contradictory opposition to new ideas. Obviously foundational beliefs learned by naive children get a free pass as though all were true and good. Because we have had no say in much of what we have learned, I have consistently used the words, ‘mental homeostats’ to include both true and mistaken knowledge. If this theory is correct, problems do not usually come from newly learned mental homeostats, only dullards accept fanciful or blatantly false ones at face value; but we do need to edit those learned as children. Now that we understand how it works, we find knowledge allows us to turn off the automatic response. Unrealistic homeostats cause poverty and criminality, conditions identified by the subject's failure to find much pleasure in the world. More of some peoples’ than others beliefs are not reality based. Re-evaluation through reasoned learning will change the future.

Suddenly we understand the allegory in Plato's dialogue, Phaedrus. He explains that life is a chariot pulled by two horses. The white horse of reason would pull us towards a better life, if the dark horse of passion did not constantly tempt us off course. The language, whether by his misunderstanding or by another's mistranslation, is off. The text suggest that truth and pleasure are opposites, when in fact both are evaluations. For Plato, truth offers more long-term pleasure than misguided immediate pleasures and the 'other focused' pleasures of parental bonds, but truth depends on what you know at the time. Both truth and pleasure are relative to the individual.

Common sense demands that all adults re-examine their homeostats. We need not be automatons repeating the same mistakes over again; we can recognize undesirable or ineffective desires and choosing to replace them. Some of us obviously inherited better opportunities than others did, but no amount of effort will change wealth or position. Our lives' real controlling forces had been invisible to us, and while we still cannot change our genes; they grew your eye color and it is set, the source of motives, our personalities, the part we identify as ourselves, depends on our bonding types and uniquely learned mental homeostats. It is obvious that some parental bonds and learned homeostats work better to promote success towards our various goals than others. Can we can manipulate our behavior by changing either our bonding evaluation or knowledge? Both factors are out of the gene’s control. It follows that education can overcome our parental bonds, prejudices, superstitions, bad assumptions and false knowledge because once our vehicles have been shown that a change in behavior produces more pleasure, the algorithm will not let us go back. That is how people get addicted to drugs. Making the addict aware of better options for more pleasure is also how you upgrade past that kind of behavior.

Therefore, the salient question arises, "How do we change our behavior?" Only comparing your homeostats with reality can correct them. Maximizing self-interest would be optimal, but that is harder to do for some than for others because we choose options known to have produced pleasure many times instead of new behavior that has only proved pleasant once or twice. So, how severe were the consequences of displeasing your parents? Where you afraid of them? Normally, pleasure motivates our attempts at ever-greater knowledge, wealth, and power in the hope of trading up, but, if improved actions based on parental bonds only benefit others, there is no motive to improve. Developing autonomy is harder for the child of restrictive parents than it is for the child of permissive parents. If conforming to the wishes of authority does not produce the most pleasure and no other options seem to exit, individuals will feel defeated and continue to spend their time on cheap thrills like TV or drugs. Those with negative parental bonds have found life a no win situation. Nevertheless, as it turns out, changing disobedient parental bonds is easier than changing obedient bonds because pleasing others has both emotional and financial rewards. Those with disobedient bonds have the motive of immediately improving their lives by cooperative or independent behavior. They can stop annoying people. In comparison, independent behavior may well cost those with obedient bonds their profitable business relationships and so they have interesting choices depending on how much they value independence and wealth.

True self-interest comes from finding the appropriate value for other peoples' emotional values in our decisions. Autopilot behavior rules out freewill in action, but behavior can change. Humans can use feedback from reality to correct our bonding relationship with both sexes and replace mistaken beliefs by learning new ones. Natural smiles signal that the smiler feels pleasure, and by focusing attention on their evaluative responses, we can learn to correctly interpret the motives of others as displayed by their reflexive smiles and frowns. Our feelings and beliefs are unconscious until we use them, but once we notice differences we must wonder, "Whose beliefs and feelings deliver more pleasure?" Hers, his or mine? We are still following pleasure, only now we have to replace our misguided taught behavior with reality based discovered behavior to improve our situations. The feelings of others may be important to us, but self-interest suggests that they only be a consideration, not the whole reason to act. Pleasing/displeasing others represents a childhood learning stage outgrown by those with self-interested autonomy. Gaining pleasure by reference to the feelings of others either limits options or self-interest, but learning to abstract pleasure and pain from the perceived or imagined response of others is a necessary step on the way to autonomy. You have to pick your battles.

The ability to choose decision-making standards that give us the most pleasure raises us above the other animals by generating the means to overwrite learning and experience with another standard. However, is that freewill? The question is moot. The most pleasant thing to do is what you want and what you want is the most pleasure. Freewill is a nonsensical concept. What else could you want to do? If not by the standards of pleasure and pain, by what standard would you prefer to choose? So called successful people might wonder if the kind of material success they have had maximizes happiness and materially less successful will find motivation in the desire for a comfortable life, but the realization that only those who have maximized the pleasure their homeostats have chosen their fate should motivate anyone. Readers who consider the facts may be surprised to realize that their goals and dreams may not produce the pleasures promised. We commonly believe that a life of leisure and plenty will be most rewarding, but winning the lottery may make you lonely because friends and family either resent you for lending or giving them money, which they can't repay, or for your failure to share. Retirement is just boring. Travel is tiring. Power comes with the responsibility of decisions that please no one. Aristotle recommended the "golden mean" "neither sail so far away as to lose sight of shore, nor so close as to hit the rocks." Too much money, power, leisure time, or travel leads to as many problems as too little. That is probably more advice than anyone needs. If we define freewill as acting in our best interests or acting on current truths to gain the maximum pleasure, we can use the four-step algorithm to improve our homeostats. However, if we define freewill as doing whatever we want, we condemn ourselves to remain victims of the twin tyrants of teaching and experience – parents and culture.

 

 

This ends the work so far. What follows is bits and pieces that may or may not find use in later editions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Assanator

This is trouble! Reinforcements charging down the opposite slope and will overrun our right flank. The centre barely holds; only we on the left have traded them man for man, two opposing divisions consumed until irrelevant. The battle that looked dubious this morning has all signs of being decided against us by noon. Bitter experience has this old man fighting on a rise from where the forces in play can be judged. I now stand between the conflict and the clump of pines that could mask an opportune exit. The knights in their plumes and posh armour will be ransomed, but we, the rable, will be executed as revenge for lost and wounded relatives, friends, and countrymen.

Run! Run I will, to live another hour or day. Run on the other side of the pines, here ambaling as if wounded will best disguise selfish intentions. My side will call me coward their side, enemy, but it's everyman for himself time, and this is last call.

 

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