Monday, 23 May 2011

Magical Me

Following on from the previous post, the words choice and choose (from Old English cēosan ) are by modern standards, magical words. They are left over from the ages of witchcraft, sorcery and magic, tattered remnants of which still obtrude themselves into our language, our culture and even our laws.

There is, deep inside all of us, a very ancient homunculus, a Magical Me who still casts a spell over the whole universe, setting aside the iron laws of cause and effect. Because amongst other magical attributes, Magical Me is supposed to choose - an event without a cause because it began with Magical Me.

I chose this. I choose to believe. I chose to act. I choose.

Although we now know that something else must always cause us to choose this or reject that, the word has not yet lost its old, magical meaning.

Yet that little word choose, with its ancient meaning, gives the game away. It shows how even in the twenty-first century, we still ascribe reality to Magical Me, that delightful, deluded place where we initiate events with no other cause but ourselves. It’s where the buck supposedly stops, where personal responsibility resides. It sits behind our criminal law, our moral absolutes, our political crusades. Even today it still inserts its medieval certainties into supposedly modern minds. Yet the iron laws of cause and effect know nothing of Magical Me. 


A Seeker said...

I'm intrigued and would like to hear more. Please will you explain how you believe these ideas can be reconciled with the allegedly 'shadowy' world of quantum mechanics, which some (highly criticised) philosophers regard as a direct challenge to Determinism?

Also, how do you believe 'freedom' or 'liberty' ought properly to be defined?

To say that my understanding of physics is extremely limited would be an understatement, but I will do my best to work through your ideas!

A K Haart said...

Hi AS, welcome and thanks for the comment.

My take on determinism is that if quantum theory is said to challenge it, then quantum theory is in that sense wrong. For me, determinism is a framing concept, a key part of the philosophy of science. It’s not something you can prove or disprove.

As for freedom and liberty, I'm suggesting in this post that we cannot be free to make choices because anything we do, say or think must be caused.

What we may do is understand. To me, understanding is a kind of involvement. If we understand the environment, we are involved in it, because it reacts differently towards us by the very fact of our understanding it. I have a post in the pipeline on this subject, so please feel free to comment.

A Seeker said...

Thank you for this. Do you think we have any 'choice' when it comes to attempting to understand, or not? Are some of us effectively predestined by the causal nature of all things (be they genetic causes, environmental causes or a combination of the two) to be left in the dark?

If so, whilst it might not make sense to say that the result is unjust, it does seem very sad. Perhaps I have missed the point. Please cheer me up!

A K Haart said...

Hi AS,
I suppose we all agree that understanding is better for us than misunderstanding. If we are taught well at an early age, then it becomes a habit to seek understanding which is continually reinforced by the fact that understanding is always beneficial.

In other words we just do it because we've learned how useful and enjoyable it is. Presumably it is a survival trait - those who understand do better than those who don't.

We also understand why it is beneficial to understand. It is this that feels like choosing to understand. The distinction is a fine one, but important I think. It's why we are attracted to blogs. We don't choose to read them, but they attract us and we know why - we understand the attraction - why we home in on ideas that seem beneficial and leave behind ideas we no longer need.

'Choice' is in my view a less accurate way of explaining this kind of thing, but that's all.

We are still, to some extent, in charge of our own destiny, but only by understanding its pressures and allowing solutions to evolve, not by choosing between them.

Hope this helps, but feel free to disagree. In the end, these ideas are merely frameworks for other ideas, not provable theories.

A Seeker said...

Thank you Mr Haart, this makes sense to me I think (especially the part about being attracted to blogs, since it was my facination with your post and my apparent desire to understand that made me question the ideas in the first place).

I find the point about the evolution of ideas really liberating and inspiring - oddly comforting!

Thank you