Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Free Will and Fairy Dust

* from Joss Whedon's "Serenity"

A friend told me that believing in free will was like believing in magic fairy dust. He's a big B.F. Skinner fan. Skinner was the big behavioral psychology pioneer who firmly believed that all our "choices" were illusory and that we are merely the product of rewards, reinforcement, punishment and dysfunctional relationships with our Mums and Dads. He's very popular with progressive socialists because he along with Abraham Maslow and Freud provide the basis for socialism. That is, the belief that one can make people better from the outside - through things like laws, policing, propaganda and the inevitable liberal application of the gulag.

If there is, in fact, no such thing as free will, then it would logically follow that it would be impossible for me to change my mind and believe what my friend wants me to believe. That's because, since I have no free will, I have no mental mechanism that would allow me to change my mind of my own accord.

So then, it makes absolutely no sense for him to be telling me that the idea of free will is stupid. I'm not going to change my mind. In fact, by his own reasoning, I can't change my mind and suddenly believe what he wants me to believe in the first place. - at least not without a liberal application of rewards, reinforcement and punishment. I suppose that's what all the ridicule, sarcasm and nagging are about. Perhaps he thinks that will change my mind and induce me to follow the herd that he and his ilk are trying to assemble.

If, then, outside circumstances must be brought to bear to change my mind for me, I suppose he believes that he's is acting as the environmental stimulus that will force me to come round to a belief that he believes is more rational.  Of course, then he has the problem that he has no way of knowing whether or not what he believes is rational or the product of a miserable childhood, a bad bit of beef or an old potato to paraphrase that monument to the power of free will, Ebenezer Scrooge, and therefore, my friend and others who do not believe in free will, inevitably live down a rabbit hole where they have no choice about anything and from which there is no escape (to mix my 19th metaphorical literature). In fact, without free will, how is it even possible for me to ever choose to mix my 19th century metaphorical literature in the first place?

My career in therapeutic recreation relies on an experience called "flow" which, as it turns out, is a primary mechanism which makes people happy. Flow is that all-absorbing activity that tests your skills, gives you constant positive feedback and makes you totally loose track of time. Entering flow makes you feel happy and has all sorts of positive health benefits. One of the key factors required to enter the flow experience, however, is that the activity must be chosen by the individual of his own free will.

Flow doesn't happen when you are forced to do something against your will, no matter how much fun it might be to another person. The activity must be chosen by you. And therein lies the flaw in the idea that some elite group of smart people can somehow make everyone happy and content through the application of uniform external rewards, reinforcement and punishment. Happiness and contentment come from within, not from without as generations of miserable discontented rich people, who have everything stimulating they could want, could tell you.

The idea that such a thing as the socialist utopia can even exist, that is the magic fairy dust - designed by smart people and enforced by law though it may be. It won't work. Happiness comes from within and there's only one entity in this wide universe capable of changing the human heart from within.

It's not Marx, Skinner, Maslow or Barak Obama.  There's only One who can take a heart, battered by  bad experiences, evil parents and old potatoes and scrub it up and give it back to you with your free will, not only intact, but freed from any behavioral conditioning you might have picked up along the way. 

As He described the process, "The Truth shall set you free."

Thank God for that. Otherwise all we'd have to look forward to is everybody being sad, receiving bad food, bad healthcare, bad housing and bad jobs for the rest of our short and miserable lives. Uniformity does not ensure happiness, productivity, creativity or peace. The only thing the collective can give us is universal shared misery.

And, as Captain Reynolds so eloquently put it, "I do not hold to that." And I may have to misbehave.

Tom King
(c) 2015



Mark Milliorn said...

I did kind of like Skinner's idea of raising children in a box. A small improvement might be a barrel so that you could feed them through the bung hole.

Tom King said...

I always thought that what you do is put them in a 55 gallon barrel at the first sign of puberty and feed them through a hole in the barrel. Some have suggested that when they hit 15, you plug up the hole. While that is the age at which, if you let your teens out of the barrel, you automatically lose 20 or 30 IQ points, it does seem kind of cruel. Besides, you'd miss all the fun of watching them go out and have kids of their own. At that point, you suddenly get back all those IQ points you lost during their teens and perhaps a few more.

Me, I love grandkids. They are a parent's revenge for what their children did to them when they were growing up. My son once called me at 2 am and said, "Dad, you know all that stuff I used to do to you and Mom?"

"Yes," I said wondering what new guilt trip was coming.

"Well, they're doing it to me now!" he moaned.

Best parenting moment ever! Vindication!