معمارِ حرم باز بہ تعمیرِ جہاں خیز
از خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خیز
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ادھر آ ستمگر ہنر آزمائیں
تو تیر آزما ہم جِگر آزمائیں

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Freewill

I, Muhammad Shemyal Nisar, was born on 22nd of May 1986 at about 10 minutes to 11 A.M.  to a traditional but educated Muslim family in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. What did I do to deserve all this? Although I can never be sure of this, but as far as I can tell I did nothing to deserve this nor did I ask for any of it (as per my knowledge), prior to the time I received all these linguistic constructs. I entered this world which was a deceptive mixture of physical as well as mental reality. The word “mental” needs further clarification for I do not mean it in the Cartesian sense of the word rather in the sense of ontologically subjective or linguistically constructed reality. I am so informed that after my birth I was named as Muhammad Shemyal Nisar by my dad.

Having born into a Muslim family I was proclaimed as “Muslim” and indoctrinated with its teachings to this day. My family is ethnically Punjabi and this made me one as well and because my family was “Pakistani”, I by default became one as well.  I had not asked for any of these labels, neither implicitly nor explicitly, but so it became. It is also important to mention that neither did I approve of this nor did I disapprove of this. It was as when this reality was unfolded onto me I did not show slightest sign of resentment. But even if I did, I could not change it. It was so “determined” and it happened. Did I freely and willingly chose this path for myself? As far as I can tell, No.

Now let us examine the situation. The above mentioned social constructs determined the path my life took in many a ways. The social and economic position of my family determined the nutritious value of the food I consumed and the quantity of it I consumed. The environment of the house that I lived in determined the way I looked at the world. Having a father who was a military man was beyond my choosing as well, but it did determine that I was not to be stationed at a single city/station for an extended period of time, rather would be moving around it the country. My being a Pakistani determined for me those geographic locations of the world where I could go and those where i could not go or were at least not easily accessible to me. There were visa procedures which were to be followed. I being a Pakistani and financial position of my parents further determined and consolidated upon the places of world inaccessible to me and those which were accessible to me at least for the earlier years of my lifetime. The same variables determined which schools I will attend and these schools were further a determining factors of my thinking abilities and the ideas I will be indoctrinated with. The psychological upbringing at my house and school were crucial in determining my likes, dislikes and attitude towards life in general as well as global events.

What can be an alternative explanation for all my attitudes if we are not comfortable with the above narrated “determinism”? Another explanation for my behaviours and attitudes towards world at large and my immediate environment in specific can be that each and everything was innate. More crudely speaking, it was in my DNA. Although contemplating on what personal features are determined by DNA and which of them are not determined by it would require an in-depth knowledge of DNA, which I clearly lack. But the point to which i would want to bring the attention is a philosophical problem that given all behaviours and attitudes are innate, it makes my life and will, so-to-say, even more determined than it was under psychological model of determinism.

The above given argument whether unfortunately or fortunately proves the case for determinism. The attitude amongst philosophers and the rest is that of dislike, if not contempt towards determinism. The idea is out-rightly rejected even in the presence of overwhelming evidence for determinism.

An argument for refutation of determinism that I heard from Professor Dr. John Searle[1] states:
“I intend to raise my hand above my head. The intention produces intention-in-action. Lo and Behold!! The hand actually raises above the head. It is not only one single incidence rather it can be done as and when you intend to do it.”

This phenomenon can be elucidated by three explanations. First of all it is a very trivial case, even if we assume that it was freely willed an action all it changes for the original stance is that such trivial matters can be freely willed and acted upon and are thus not determined giving limited freedom to the humans which gives a delusion to us that we enjoy this privilege completely and in all our actions. Such menial issues do not effect the overall architecture in anyway so can be ignored. Secondly, it can be easily argued that my psychological upbringing determined my likes, dislikes and attitudes towards life and the world around. This led me to the study of philosophy. Philosophy that I studied was also molded and fixed to be symmetric with my psychological background, of which should I remind I was not the architect. My study of philosophy led me to this trivial experiment to check my free-will and thus I move my arm. It was all rigged from the beginning. Third argument is given by Professor Dr. Searle himself that it may be that it was written in the great book of history some 10 billion years ago that so and so would raise his arm at so and so place at so and so time in order to prove his free will. The argument can also be postulated using the Laplace's demon[2]. Laplace’s demon is a thought experiment performed by Pierre-Simon Laplace which states that if some demon outside of our universe knew the position of each and every particle in the universe at a particular time and additionally it knew all the laws of physics, it could work out the position of all of them at any instance of time in future or in past. Humans or no Humans, each and everything in the universe in made out of particles. Hence it was all determined at the time of big-bang. As a counter argument to Laplace’s demon, many a philosophers try to use Heisenberg's uncertainty principle of quantum in-determinism to argue against determinism. Unfortunately they also know it quiet well that the randomness that is there at quantum level cancels out at larger level. That is the reason that Newtonian laws work perfectly accurately in our daily lives. Secondly, as far as I am concerned human actions were supposed to be “freely willed” and not random, which has its own completely different epistemological and ontological repercussions.

Unfortunately the above argument reduces humans to lambs and cattle. The only difference being that they have a delusion of freewill. This, the rest of the lambs and cattle do not have. This is what makes us different from them. A mere illusion. The argument for determinism is coherent with laws of science as well. As in the realm of science there are laws for everything and everything is determined by these laws. Why should the humans be any different? They are part of this great cosmos as the rest of the elements in it. The modern psychology tells us that human beings are rationalizing beings rather than rational beings as most of us would like to think. It makes the case of free will even worse.

One reason for reluctance of philosophers towards accepting determinism is that it creates moral and ethical dilemmas. It removes the moral and ethical responsibility of a person from his actions. A person whose actions are determined by something external to him can not be held responsible for those actions as anyone who under hypnosis is ordered to do some action and when he performs that action, he can not be held accountable for those actions committed under hypnosis.

As I see this, I see no problem that determinism might cause for moral or ethical responsibility. Given the case of determined reality, the psychological state of a person creates a subjective reality in his mind out the given reality. If the society has an established order for the crime and punishment, it should have ingrained in his sub-conscious during his upbringing. If it has gotten ingrained in his sub-conscious then it would and should come into account during the decision making process of the mind, therefore act as an inhibitor of crime.
Given this model consider the three cases presented above. First and the second cases are similar in this regard. As stated above the, psychological upbringing determines everything for the person. This psychological upbringing would also include laws and the punishments that are given for crimes. In other words the moral values would also be ingrained in the psychology of the person. While committing any action he would take this into account and whether the fear of law or otherwise, it would act as an inhibitor against crime. The punishments given under law would therefore be in order to warn other people from committing crimes as well as the culprit himself from repeating it in future. It is more like training the population against criminal activities as dogs are trained for certain behaviours. As for the third case where it is postulated that all was written in the book of history some 10 billion years ago at the time of big bang. Here when the criminal’s criminal behaviour was given in the book of history so would it be given that he would be castigated for the crime committed. As it removes the moral responsibility from the criminal so would it remove the same responsibility from those who sanction against the criminals.  

In light of the above discussion, as it seems the case is closed in favour of determinism. The free will that is so often talked about is mere illusion created by the human mind and does not exist in reality. The human world and lives are as determined as the laws of physics. No matter how much we wishfully think against this reality, our wishful thinking would not change the reality and the reality would remain as it has always been.

Having established the illusion of freewill, it is imperative to mention that human society can not work without assuming freewill, even if it is absent. For instance, when I wake up tomorrow morning and standing in front of my wardrobe I have to decide which dress should I wear. I can not claim determinism and try to sit and wait which dress I choose. Rather I would have to choose the dress that I would be wearing, although as clear from the above analysis it would be predetermined.

Having come thus far, it is imperative to consider a more fundamental of the questions on this topic. This question is, what is freewill? How can it be defined? Consider hypothetically that there was such a being who had the gift of freewill, how will he act or behave in certain situations?

As I understand freewill, I think it should mean that the actions that a person takes should be free actions and not a result of any external power. The word “power” needs further elaboration. Power is a capacity or ability or disposition that a person has over another person in regard to certain actions irrespective of whether he exercises this power or not. It is a kind of power that a person A enjoys over person B intentionally in order to get person B to do something regardless of person B’s desires. The power in human beings has to be linked to intentionality. The exercise of power has to be intentional, the person A has to intentionally exercise power. The unintentional exercise of power can be called influence which is distinctly different from power itself. Taking a hypothetical situation, there is a person that I abhor to the extent that I can not stand his presence and leave the room immediately when he shows up. This is not his power rather the sorry effect of his presence. On the other hand if he did intentionally want me to leave the room and thus went in the room to produce this effect, it would be his power and the exercise of that power.[3] 

Getting back to the topic at hand, the person with freewill should be able to perform actions that are not result of intention of any external agent rather should be result of free and independent intention of the person himself. In other words the person should have complete “power” over himself.


Having established thus far, it is imperative to contemplate on the question previously stated. How would a person behave, provided he has the gift of freewill for him? In this situation there seem to be two possible outcomes. First possible outcome considers that the person involved should not have any preferences, likes, dislikes or preconceived notions about the situation at hand. Suppose the test involves for the said person to choose a dress for himself assuming equal prices everywhere. Now the problem is that how will he choose? For he lacks likes, dislikes and preferences on which to base his decision. The only possible outcome of such a situation is that he would choose at random. Now there are two problems with in this case, first one being that as argued earlier randomness is not the same as “freely willed” action and we never wanted human actions to be random. Second problem in this case is that a person without likes, dislikes and preferences lacks everything we know to be “human”. Second possible outcome considers that the person involved has got likes, dislikes and preferences. He might like one colour more than the others and one style or dressing more than the others. This means that when he gets in the store he checks the available dresses with his preferences and “freely” chooses the one that fits his preferences. The reason that we can not dis-regard like, dislikes and preferences in this case is that it is a case of “Judgement of Taste”, as Immanuel Kant would call it or ontologically and epistemological subjective. A judgement of this kind should depend upon like, dislikes and preferences as there is no other method to measure or judge them and come to a “rational” conclusion. Although his choice was “predetermined” given his preferences, in the way that if there was such an agent who knew what the store had to offer and psychological condition, likes, dislikes and preferences of the person he would be able to make an “intelligent guess” regarding what that person will choose. This behaviour seems very similar to the way normally humans behave. I think the above given argument conclusively proves the case that although the choices maybe predetermined but they are “freely” or “independently” made and the people do have the freedom of action as according to our understanding of “freedom of action” elaborated above as having “power” over oneself.


Consider another example, there is a judge in a courtroom who is to give a verdict on the trial of the murderer. Now the judge is known to be upright and a man of principles implying he is incorruptible and without any bias who would judge the case on its merit. The law of the land says that the murderer should be shown the way to gallows. Then there is an overwhelming evidence incriminating the alleged murderer. Assuming no double play of any sort in the complete process, what would the judge do? Of course, in light of the given evidence judge would give the verdict in accordance with the law of the land. In this situation the murderer when caught with the evidence was “predetermined” to to hanged. In precisely the same way the judge being of upright character was “predetermined” to give the verdict which he ultimate does give. But having established all this it does also fit with our earlier stated definition of freewill. The judge had complete freedom of action and “power” over himself when he handed down the verdict.

In the above stated way “predeterminism” and “freewill” are related to each other and thus also different from each other.

Another related jargon that is used along with “freewill” is the word “fate”. What is “fate” and what is its ontology? The term “fate” as I understand refers to the inevitable outcome of the situation. When a certain person takes a certain action, it determines his fate for him in given situations although other factors do also come into play and his action is not the sole variable for the equation of fate. Taking the example of the judge from above, when the murderer committed the crime and was caught by the law enforcement agencies. It “sealed” his fate for him. Which eventually was later unfolded as to be hanged. Although our actions are free actions but the consequence that they bring about as a result of them is called fate. In the present model of freewill, the fate should change with each and every subsequent action that a “free” agent takes.

Considering an example for the purpose of elucidation. A person is waiting in his car at the railway junction for the train to pass. When he sees the train coming he is confronted with two options. Either he could wait, or he could take his car on the railway track and run his car on the track. Suppose he makes a free choice of the second option and runs his car on the railway track. Now his “free choice” seals the fate for him which of course is that he would die by being overrun by the train. On the other hand supposing that he “freely” chooses to wait for the train to leave and drives over when it is safe, he effectively changed his fate and would now live, at least for the time being.

The mechanism can work differently as well. Differently in the sense that the person who is to meet his fate, is himself unaware of it and/or it depends solely on actions of others. For example, I make a “freely willed” decision to walk down my street and then onto the main road. While I am walking on the main road I see two cars come close to each other and collide with each other. I hence become a witness of the accident. From this it can be construed that my fate is not only dependent upon my own actions rather it is intertwined with the actions and thus fate of others as well. When I chose to go for a walk I sealed my fate to be at the point where I was standing at that particular instant in time when the accident occurred. If for a second we assume that i am the only intelligent agent then I not only made it my fate to be standing there but also to be the witness of the accident. This is the case with natural disasters or events of like nature. In the case of intelligent agents operating as were in the car accident, then the split-second actions of the drivers that made it their fate to meet the accident did also make it my fate to be the witness of that accident. Therefore as expounded above, fate of human being is an inevitable outcome of the given actions of humans themselves or that of other intelligent agents such as all living creatures and lastly of the unintelligent things in this universe. Although this fate can change depending upon the choice of action that humans undertake. Not to mention that fate gave me an opportunity to help those involved in the accident which I can freely choose whether I want to do or overlook, although it might be predetermined by my psychological disposition.
                 
Finally there is yet another kind of fate. This one involves no intentionality on our part. Although not so permanent as we might think but it does influence many of our actions. In my personal case, my DNA was predetermined which determined many a features of my personality which i would later call as my fate. This includes my skin colour, the colour of my hair, the colour of my eyes, my voice, my height and my being male. The predetermined attributes not only include biological features but the ontologically subjective linguistic constructs as well. These include my being a Pakistani, son of a military man and so on. These would play part in influencing my fate although they included no intentionality on my part what so ever. This kind of fate being of the only kind that seems difficult to alter by any of the human actions, although later human actions can multiply or decrease the impact they have on our lives. Nevertheless it would be an overstatement to say that just because these attributes were determined implies that my whole life was determined as well implying no way I could make things better for myself.

The above argument shows that humans do have freewill but at the same time their actions are predetermined and fate plays in the equation as well. These things can and do co-exist and the presence of one does not negate the presence of the other. Although both of these statements are epistemologically subjective to the truth condition of the given arguments. But then “Freewill” is the ultimate philosophical problem.

Another thing that needs to be addressed is the “effectiveness” so-to-say of the freewill in contemporary times in wake of elaborate propaganda techniques and apparatus in place. Does it not undermine the true notion of freewill when humans start being bread as lambs by those with authority or otherwise? But I guess we better leave that for some other time and some other place.

Acknowledgement: I am greatly indebted thus would like to acknowledge the help extended to me by Mr. Waqas Ghazi for completing this work. It would have been quiet difficult without your guidance at such crucial time.
                                                

[2]A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, by Pierre-Simon Laplace, 1902
[3]Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization, by John Searle, 2010

4 comments:

Ghazi said...

thank you for mentioning my name in the acknowledgements. i really appreciate it. certain points made me think that you just wanted to seal the deal about freewill. i wont go in detail of language pattern assessment, but i think the example of the criminal and the judge need to be further explained. secondly, add some of the idea of time-cones and how one time-cone affects the other and is responsible of formation of another one. it was a good article. you have rightly argued that there are certain conditions that determine our reality and hence, narrow down the so-called choices we can make in our lives. yet, there are peculiarities. as every rule has an exception, like einstein. it can be argued from both angles that it was his social and psychological atmosphere that made him come up with an idea so crazy that when he presented it, only 6 people in the world accepted it. but later, it was accepted generally and almost no one rejects it. or, it can be that he broke the shackles and decided to widen the narrow ambit in which he could 'pick and choose'. the most basic layer of the brain is called the lizard brain and its based on action/reaction principle. the higher layers give us cognizance etc. which areas of our brain are more affected when we are given a choice, if that is tested (it must have been tested), then we might come closer to see more about freewill. its a complex and complicated topic. a commendable effort. thanks once again, i wasnt that much of a help though that you mentioned my name.

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

Thanks a heavens for the feedback. You are right about the fact that at a stage i was trying to get over and done with it. so kind of made a hurried effort. Although I had it in my mind that when the idea would further improve later in my mind i would write another version on this topic.

I will be perfectly honest with you, I had no idea that there was anything such as time-cone. But now for sure would try and look it up.

Thanks ones again......

Ron Krumpos said...

“Free will” is really quite limited, despite belief that we control ourselves and our lives. We think we have endless choices...until we try to make them. Each decision must not only be based on what we “want to do,” but also on our own capabilities and what is expected of us. Nature and society imprison us, whether we like it or not. The key to release is mystical realization. All in One and One in All, the divine unity, opens the gate between heaven and Earth...between a universal consciousness and most people’s constrained awareness.

Erik said...

Care should be taken regarding the limits of an argument for determinism. For example:

If determinism is valid only in conditions of time (and I grant that it is), then if there is freewill it will be supposed to be out of time.

It seems that when we take ourselves as free, we do not think the contradiction of our willing in time. However, we do think and experience the result of our willing in time.

Because freewill is not thought as existing in time we are able to think it as consistent with determinism. It also follows that freewill would only be an illusion if it is taken to occur in time (which we have denied).
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I appreciate the discussion of fate, as that has been a consideration of mine recently. For me, I have found destiny to be part of the uncovering of human freedom. Perhaps you read my post on it. I would be happy to clarify anything that was not approachble - I was trying to keep it brief.