Thursday, August 24, 2006

Can Free Will be debated?

Recently an article described an experiment in which researchers found that when a human was asked to perform some task based on his own conscious will, the part of his brain that is known to support conscious thought became active only a after a miniscule amount of time after his motor actions had already begun. Big deal? Well it is.. This essentially suggests that conscious thought is an aftereffect rather than a cause of any action that a human performs. Let me give an example. Suppose you wanted to swat a fly that was pestering you. This suggests that even before you thought of swatting it, your hands have already moved to try and swat it. The timeframe being miniscule probably gives the feeling of simultaneity.

This throws a whole world of questions open. If conscious thought is an aftereffect what is it that’s controlling our actions? Is fate and destiny, long thought as beneath us scientific minds, the true answer? Is all the world really a stage and us merely actors playing out the seven stages of life? Is it some supernatural power that’s really controlling us? GOD? Elvis? Or maybe the answer is more complex – “The choice is yours to make, but you must understand Neo, you have already made the choice”

The question then comes what happens to the “Self”. That entity that has been so well described in hindu philosophy as the mass of consciousness, that thingy that you can see in your own eye in a mirror and as your third eye allegedly on your forehead. The solution may lie in Hindu philosophy itself. Studying it in more detail, we come to understand that the concept of the individual ‘self’ (atman) in every person is only a stepping stone to the understanding of brahman, the global self. (well universal actually, somehow our Hindu philosophical forefathers didn’t believe in dealing in anything smaller than the universe.. That was left to the lesser mortals like Copernicus, Galileo and the whole western civilization so fascinated by our earth that they made it the center of the universe). The universal self is nothing but one huge mass of consciousness. This mass of consciousness begins to delude itself and hence is created the magic of our universe. Trees, animals, Glennfidditch Whiskey, tooth brushes, IPods, women, Hindu philosophy itself, respect, love, terrorism, Calvin and Hobbes and the internet. So it essentially states that we are all part of one greater self and our actions and emotions are actually of that greater self, and we’re just playing it out. In such a conjecture, this might be consistent with the greater implications of the researchers experiments.

Let’s think more locally now. Try to mentally construct a system where free will does not exist. That means everyone is looking for input to perform actions. Hence atleast one of those sources needs to have free will himself/herself. Two examples comes to mind. One, Slavery. In a slavery based system a master actually instructs his slaves, how to perform. Such a system is however doomed unless one can demonstrate a clear superiority of the master over his/her subjects. Caste/Class/Color/Creed superiority eventually wears away as the slaves think more. The only superiority you can have hence, has to be magical! Moreover the slaves perform their duties because of a fear of retribution. Hence it’s more a case of suppression of free will rather than absence of it.

Second, a professor of psychology called Millikan, after the Nuremburg trials tried to test the effect of authority on peoples ability torture other people. His findings were amazing. A large majority of people, although not cruel in their daily lives continued to torture others because of strong authoritarian inputs. This is something many Nazi war criminals have pleaded for, that it wasn’t really them being cruel during the holocaust, but it was the effect of the authority of Adolf Hitler. In this case as well, the question is on free will. The Nazi generals, although free men themselves under Hitler, could be coerced into performing such unimaginable acts of inhumanity. Not a great example of free will.

Well, all I can say is that life has become eerie. Am I writing this blog? Who’s making me do it? The love that I feel inside me, for my family, for my work, for my country; the thing that’s so strong that I can almost feel it as a physical object. Is it just a set of directions issued to me? But then my feelings for my love itself might be a direction? Well I don’t know anything any more… Stupid researchers, who gives them money to do all this stuff..

1 comment:

Vicash said...

hmmm, you talk about bootstrapping into the universe pal. it is the basic chicken and egg problem. who created the big bang ? if there exists a god, who created god ?
did god create a big bang ? whom did he bang ;) and then there is the law of thermodynamics that says entropy is always changing. so at what point in time was entropy zero ? did entropy becoming >0 but ->0 create the bootstrapping that was needed to start the universe ? are scientists even looking at this angle ?