Friday, July 17, 2015

Considering "Free Will" (even more): Towards a Moral Meaning in a Physical Context

Considering that the world of possibilities is far more complex than the more limited slice of that world which is made actually manifest, we can imagine that the world of possibilities which our mind is able to comprehend and entertain is also much more complex than we usually process.  It is not to say that it is more so than we can process, if all other constraints on our time, attention, and energy are removed, but rather it is to say that we commonly do not go into things in our minds anywhere nearly as deeply as we might have.

I could have spent more time, attention, and energy considering all sorts of implications about even such a seemingly trite situation as the eating of a peach, but in reality I did not consider it with even 5% of the depth which I have done here in these essays.  It is really just that much of what I consider in detail here in analytical form is processed more fluidly and intuitively.  I still have the sense of reaching a decision through a deliberate consideration of the situation, but it is done in a more streamlined way than described in analysis here.

Many decisions were made far in advance of those made later, and with such a sense of authority that they serve as a template upon which later decisions are made more speedily and with less conscious focus.  That said, if there were any discrepancies in the circumstances which prevented such a convenient process of a decision by precedent, then it has been my experience that a certain discomfort would set in which leads to hesitation, circumspection, and appropriate reassessments and reevaluations of the process so as to reach an appropriate decision.  Sometimes it is a false alarm, but sometimes it is not.

Appearances can often be deceiving, and further study of the environment is often rewarded with surprising turns in the quality of information which is available for our decisions.  Sometimes we are able to scale up the quality of our decisions even while we make them in the same basic fashion, tweaking them for optimality, simply by knowing a little more than we did a mere few seconds before making a decision.  Sometimes minute details unravel the entire framework of our expectations and anticipations about what is possible, likely, and necessary.  It may even be the case that wholly different echelons of consideration break into the forefront of our minds as we discover novelties which lay just beneath the surface of appearances.  Appearances can sometimes be revealing.

Within the depth of the world of phenomena, beyond the surfaces of appearances, is much "play" for events to unfold with features and properties which are not reasonably expected by the minds of some agents who act in those environments.  Likewise, within the depths of the minds of agents there are many factors of thought, intuitive or analytical, and of feeling, and of mnemonic evocation, or even just perceptual shifting which is dependent upon a change of focus, of attention, or concentration. All of these features affect the mind's assessment and evaluation of data, and influence how we generate further data, whether in how our senses are tethered or allowed to drift across stimuli, or in how crops of sense data are immediately filtered, and finally how they are perceived in a context already teeming with anticipatory gestalten of our interpretive proclivities.

All of these have a certain determined outlay of tendencies and interactions with one another, all these internal features of the mind.  Add to this the adventitious features of the outer environment, which may come upon our experience in any way, for all we know, and there is some room for further complexity, although it may all have been completely predictable in hind sight, or from a sufficiently over-arching vantage.  In a sense, there is no freedom here, but just a lot of complexity, yet a complexity that is processed in real time, and which keeps acting as a cause of future effects which roll through the present moment in a continuous stream.

"No freedom" in the sense that what comes next hinges on what came before, like a machine without variance in each instance.  But infinite freedom in that there are, technically, no constraints on the entirety of the process, because all parts of the process are involved in the totality of it in some due proportion, or else participation would be impossible, and the total would never be integrated from the parts, which would never communicate into a totality of "what is going on, everywhere, now".  That said, we know already that "freedom" means different things in different contexts, and here we mean by that term the proportion of the fullness of expressive actuality of a being with respect to its fuller potential to express its own nature. Insofar as the nature of beings include interactive features which develop some rapport with other beings, so that expressions in tandem result in a sense of full freedom for all involved, then they do not necessarily limit one another's freedom.

Certainly, what part of a being's nature is expressed, and within the context of what other parts of the being's nature, is a factor here.  If desire is the part to be considered, and if there are factors of cognition which tend to mediate the actions which lead to that desire's fulfillment, then we could get a full spectrum of "free actions" which range from zero fulfillment forever all the way to infinite fulfillment immediately, at least theoretically. These two possibilities, and all in between, as well as all actions which lead to any of them, may be considered "free actions" of the being.  But when we are speaking of a situation where beings must parley with one another in order to express some actualization of their potentials in a common domain of expression, such as citizens in a public setting, we have a special context in which to interpret "freedom".

What is the optimal way for people to exercise their freedoms in a context in which each one's expression may directly and significantly affect those expressions which are the rights of others in the same domain of action?  It would seem that some sense of what is fair is to be agreed upon and mutually enjoined by all for the sake of some satisfaction for all, and with the least grief for all. Whatever that ideal, it would be some "norm", some abstract possibility of common action which if all were to heed to it, all would be best satisfied without anyone being unduly aggrieved. This is a very grey area, but it reveals that there is a lot of room for exploration and discovery, not necessarily that there is no such ideal norm.  Just as we know that pi is a Greek letter used to represent a number which would be the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference, we can know it exists without knowing exactly what it is with infinite precision just on the basis that we know there must be some such ratio!  Whether the operative norm for any set of human behaviors in any given context is "rational" or "irrational" is an interesting question for another occasion.

Suffice it here to say that such norms are quite conceivable.  If you are going to a rock concert to read Foucault, or if you are going to a library to practice rhetorical speech, good luck with that. Norms, however grey, will sort some things out rather consistently.  Theories about how people measure and define reciprocity and appropriate degrees and proportions of actions are many and complex, but they do reflect an underlying reality which operates in real time and which regulates the flow of many decision-making processes in most people, in most contexts.

One is free to act in certain ways, but there will be repercussions for the freedoms of others, according to norms which operate in the constitution of people's minds and bodies, under prevailing conditions of the environments in which they are operating. People who acknowledge certain norms will have a range of responses from which to choose when reacting to people who transgress such norms, and people all have different thresholds of tolerance, degrees of response, and methods of reaction, and so the complexity continues even into these areas which may seem to some very simple. 

In any of these cases, the over-arching consideration is what are, again, the ultimate values which guide the sense of the norms which operate, for the whole domain, whether it is a public and aggregate grouping of agents in a specific context, or whether it is a person who, in his own mind, must sort out the best way of going about reorganizing his file cabinet.  Whatever the context, whoever the agent, whatever the constraints or dimensions of the project involved, the agent must initiate the fulfillment of some desire, mediate its fulfillment by way of some methodology for action, and coordinate these two in the context of an environment of other agents, whether they are physical objects or other persons.

The degrees and kinds of freedom which a being has is clearly determinable within the total sum of all agents involved, as interacting in a specific context which informs their actions by way of norms which are either public or private (socially), objective or subjective (psychologically).  

So what is the fundamental freedom of will within this paradigm?  Since there is a constant and pervasive gap between what is and what might be, as well as what is and what best should be, in any of these contexts, we can say that each agent has the freedom to explore what is, for themselves individually, the unknown of these parameters of their own freedom.  Some do know what the parameters are, but simply wish to explore the limits of other people's patience, other people's vindictiveness, other people's vigilance, and so forth... But for now we'll stick the the more general landscape.

Given that agents do not know everything about their own desires, they have a lot to explore there. From a young age onward, their environment is constantly interacting with them to inform them what are the appropriate norms for their behaviors.  The entire psychic structure of a being as complex as a human is cast, as it were, in the mold of how others treat it for its every step, every utterance, every gesture.  The life of an individual person, and the question of "how free" that person is, can be examined very richly on this single dimension alone, in terms of how they have responded to the pressure of other agents upon their own expression of fundamental process of their own psyches to explore and understand their own desires, or even just the contents of their own minds!

Linguistic breadth and depth, body self-image, self-esteem, roles and identities of personhood, and many other features of a human being can be understood as a long and perhaps never-resolved struggle to even begin to find proper and meaningful traction into the question of how to approach any of these and many other features of a personal self with more freedom to explore and reach more satisfactory results in those personal frontiers.  Most people will not get very far in that endeavor, sadly.  Most will not even know what such explorations really mean outside the narrow contexts of interpersonal dramas programmed into them from a young age, and will recapitulate their infantile development all the way to an old-aged death.  Not much meaningful freedom there.

Some will break further from the molds of such developmental dross, but with varying degrees of success.  Education, or the development of any of the person's higher faculties of expression of self, will play a significant role in the question of their exercise of such deeply personal freedoms as are merely hinted at here.  One doesn't have to be Henry David Thoreau to have a sense of the depth of significance which lies in this domain of what might be called the personal struggle for optimal freedom of self-expression, but he had a lot of poignant things to say about this.

We can see in the world many people who could have explored their freedom in this regard either more or less than they did, or more or less well, or more or less widely, deeply, etc and so on.  We can see that there was room for choosing differently in each case, and that this room included room to take more time to make some critical decisions, room to listen to more advice (or less), room to listen more carefully to different other "advice" from the stimuli which arise in the heart and mind, as well as which arise in the form of concrete or perhaps intangible evidence from the environment.  It is not a mystery that people had this freedom and chose in different ways.  Each chose according to his or her own nature, within the context of exigent circumstances.

But what, more precisely, and in each case, governs each decision within these realms of freedom? What does this, from the most general category of agent and choice, down to the most particular individual mired within the most peculiar circumstances?  Is it just some mass of predetermined causes which can be neatly parleyed into basic and material categories of cause such as genetic predisposition which unfolds into tissues masses that simply obey the laws of physics in a biological context, which interact with environmental conditions that have been determined physically since the big bang and which have been mechanically churning out effects from primordial causes long ago to the present moment with a sort of blind, if very articulate "freedom" bound by forms?

Looking within at our own personal experiences we can find a pattern which seems to transcend such a pseudo-objective, materialistic reductionism.  The longer our experience, the more we have an opportunity to see in ourselves what is truly best for ourselves, what is not, and what sort of environments are truly best for our selves, and what are not, and by this we can tell what sort of people we are, what sort of people others are, and what sort of societies we have been living in.  We can assess values more deeply, more broadly, more abstractly, and more coherently, and with more attention to detail which is peculiar to each exacting and particular kind of faculty of self and feature of environment, and we can get a better and more proper sense of what is going on within our selves and in the world around us.  If we can do this to a very high and consistent degree, so that it becomes an expression of our own true nature to do so, then we are naturally philosophers, for this activity is a kind of wisdom, and to keep doing it out of such a primordial desire is surely a love of wisdom.  To do so reflectively and with an added power of techne upon the inner nature of nous is surely to become a philosopher in practice as well as in natural habit, and to add upon the first nature with a reinforcing second nature.  That might be even better in some cases.  Some may be satisfied with being philosophical in some specific ways, to some specific extents, without going this far or this wide, but some perhaps can only be their best by doing exactly this.

In a world full of people grasping in the darkness as to what is TRUE, what is BEST, and what is TRULY BEST, for themselves, let alone for others, let alone for ALL BEINGS, surely those who do philosophy (in this sense), and do it to the best and highest degree, are most fit to understand and explain what FREEDOM is to everyone else who goes around the world like marbles in a Hungry Hippo game, being gobbled up by processes they do not, even CANNOT understand, blindly and stupidly pushing each other into the mouths of fates, being beholden to those who PRONOUNCE themselves authorities on such matters but actually demonstrate no wisdom on such matters, who arrogantly and perpetually bash their ham-handed fists onto the levers of power, potentates of ARBITRARY MONOPOLIZATION of FREEDOM to COERCE AND DECEIVE!  Indeed, in most cases they DEMONSTRATE PROFOUND IMMORALITY, UNETHICALITY, and as to offices of authority, SHAMEFUL CORRUPTION BEYOND REPAIR!

That humankind endures such contemptible conditions describes not a condition of freedom at all, and it could be said to have "freedom" only in the most insipid and bookheaded sort of perversity of interpretations of the word, which means the freedom to keep being stupid, blind, stubborn, abused, and trampled upon, while supporting gloating, gluttonous, monstrous, cruel, ignorant, abusive control-freak cowards of the lowest moral caliber.

So here we leave behind us the confines of a merely scholastic and "sophistic" exploration of freedom, and enter the great frontiers of Spiritual Freedom, which is by and large utterly unexplored by those who have til now had all the time they could ever want on the biggest soapboxes anyone could ever build, and with the most captive and dumbfounded audience any con-artist could ever hope for.  But again, due to constraints which have already been quite surpassed by this essay, the deeper regions of freedom will not be broached until the next.

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