Friday, August 20, 2010


Ronhorgan wrote: Thus my problem with the determinist position is that it may be demotivating.

My distant computer friend is only one of many reasons that I believe my behavior is determined by factors beyond my control.

The argument that determinism is "demotivating" cannot be a legitimate reason to disregard the evidence for our determinant situation. I note a tendency to bring morality into this particular discussion quite a lot. People cite the lack of moral accountability that seems to accompany a materialistic view of human behavior. People note that we won't be able to hold people accountable for their behavior if we come to the conclusion that human decisions are determined by factors not in their control. But the fear of a particular scientific conclusion is not itself a scientific fact that ought to keep us from arriving at the truth. We would all be Bible literalists if we failed to accept the truth because of irrational fears.

I have to note that we long ago decided that some people are not in control of their behavior when we allow insanity as a plea in trial cases, but insanity, itself, is a label that we put on behavior that does not fit into the normal range of human behavior. In short, it's asocial behavior that our fear of death causes us to angrily respond to. For a time, I believe, in some countries, the rage of a jealous husband was an allowable defense for murder of a rival. If we now realize that such a view of jealousy is unacceptable, it is because slowly a new social norm has arisen into human consciousness, but that new norm is a group phenomena that is evolving as we speak, one brain at a time. We also do not, in America, allow a Muslim father to kill his daughter for asserting her right to fit into American culture. We also are beginning to reign in a parent's religious right to kill his children through neglect of their health needs. As to our overall debate about the death penalty, we seem, because we can debate the issue, to believe that we have free will, but if each of us were honest about our own individual decisions about the death penalty, we would see that individually, our decision were emotional decisions over which we had no control. For myself, my brain is able to consider that—maybe—we ought not to allow the death penalty, but my emotions have not come to that conclusion at all. All arguments against the death penalty fall on my deaf emotional ears so I have made no decision about that particular reality external to my own. Just don't ask me to be the executioner, then, I fear, I would be immobilized by emotional considerations. Future human cultural decisions, if they are basically self-regarding, will naturally lead the human species to the best survival strategies though it will be one individual at a time.

Let me return to another fact that causes me to believe that we are not in control of our own behavior—the moment to moment functioning of the human brain. At any one moment the brain is being bombarded by information arriving from its sensory apparatuses. All of this information is aiming to arrive into our consciousness, all at the same time. Through chemical reactions beyond our control, chains of synapses are firing or being shut down by processes beyond my control. Which impulse from which sensory apparatus that arrives into our consciousnesses is completely out of our control. We hear a sound (a loud crack or a bee buzz) and we instinctively duck and cover. All evidence shows that we commence to duck before we are conscious that we will duck. In short, action precedes awareness.

As to bees, why do we so instinctively duck? It's because those that didn't duck in the evolutionary past and for whom a bee sting was toxic are no longer among us. We now have bee sting kits, et cetera for those who are allergic to bee stings. Same with peanut butter. We have new cultural phenomena arising based on past experience which we are now conscious of, but these are group phenomena. In the individual brain, the duck or don't duck remains an instinct.

My conclusion is that if I cannot control any of the synapses which are firing in my brain and, thus, cannot control which sensory data reaches my consciousness, I cannot be said to be in control of my behavior. Behavior is going on under the radar of my consciousness constantly which, when I become aware of it, I am proud or ashamed of (to name but two possible emotional reactions). Since emotions are the adaptations that regulate human behavior (according to evolutionary psychologists) and emotional reactions are also beyond my control, I conclude here, too, that I am not a free agent. I cannot even choose which thoughts I will think. I conclude we are all day dreamers every moment of our lives while our biological frameworks go about functioning of their own volitions.

PS: I must add here that some of us are able to refrain from hitting the human who is irritating us while others among us can't control that hit reaction. And don't we pride ourselves on our restraint in our afterthoughts? Yet, if most of us were honest with ourselves, we'd see that we were afraid to strike out at our antagonist because we feared the result of that action more than the emotional resolution that hitting our antagonist would bring to our limbic systems. It's fear that keeps us in check, and if we're honest, we wouldn't be so proud of what we can't control.

By the way, an additional consideration here, is that some discussions of my fear-based view of human behavior might label me as conservative rather than liberal. Steven Pinker concludes in his book, The Blank Slate, that the conservative view of human behavior is probably more attuned with evolutionary psychology's findings than the liberal view is. Liberals are hopefully naive while conservatives are pessimistically inhibited. Wouldn't that knowledge of his alignment to evolutionary psychology drive a religious conservative nuts?

No comments: