Terms of Two

Not that I am any great writer or am treating any of my subject matter with a great deal of academic rigor I would nevertheless like to add the final chapter to my blog posts on self and individualism, and collectivism.  There is another facet of the human mind and human behavior that fascinates me and that is our ability to be dual-minded.  I’m not positive if my definition meets any particular psychological definition, but let me describe what I mean.

I often have trouble reconciling how many Republicans can be anti-abortion but pro

From http://www.elfwood.com

war or pro capital punishment.  Growing up with an alcoholic father I found myself always wondering who my father was.  Was he the neglectful alcoholic who passed out and missed spending time with me, or was he the jovial affectionate sober dad?  Is he the bold man whose not afraid to go up to anybody and strike up a conversation or ask a question, or is he the coward unable to handle even is own inner demons and needing the escape that drugs can give just to get through the day?  The somewhat recent passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman reminded me of this paradox as I saw people debate.  As one side would simply praise his genius while the other side condemned him as selfish and stupid for abandoning his wife and children for heroin.  What about those who believe that God wanted us to have free will, but who also believe that everything is part of God’s plan for us?  How do we reconcile those who are scientists whose work depends on forming conclusions based on evidence, but at the same time are people of faith subscribing to a set of beliefs which have no such evidence?  We hate those people who might bud into our private business, but then have no trouble doing it to other people.  Is it a contradiction to want to be part of group, but within that group you try hard to stand out as individual?

It is clear that we are all walking contradictions to a certain extent.  What makes it all so remarkable is that we simply don’t see it.  It seems we are unable to recognize these contradictions within ourselves and our behavior seems perfectly natural and sensible.  Of course we are not dealing with simple opposites like hot and cold, black and white, left or right, but complex behaviors.  So while they may seem contradictory, perhaps if we analyzed them at a deeper psychological level they would not seem so contradictory.  Since we rationalize our beliefs and behaviors rather than base our beliefs and behaviors on reason, if we try hard enough we can bend any two contradictions complex enough to our will.

Of course our brains are complex and contain different systems that have different functions.  Perhaps these contradictions are simply feeding off a different set of neural pathways and there is no communication between the two such that there is no cross-check for incompatibility.  Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion postulates that we may have conceived of the notion of God simply because when we are young we don’t understand that the voice in our head is us.  We are dual-minded from the beginning because we aren’t really aware that the voice in our head is our own.  I, as I am sure all of you have as well, have had many a debate in my mind.  It is clear that our mind can simultaneous take different sides of an argument with sincerity in order to weigh our options in order to make the best decision.  So it seems at least possible that we might have these different sides of our self that remain separate, for which there is no debate or where we can’t resolve the debate.  It could be that a dual sided nature appeals to our sense of self as adding complexity and uniqueness to who we are.

It seems likely to me that this duality, like our sense of self, is quite possibly an illusion.  Perhaps it is part of our need to categorize and separate things; labeling people and actions.  But Freud seemed to think that our minds are always in conflict.   For instance I came up with this scenario in which parents tell their child not to cheat, that it’s wrong.  At the same time they get very happy when their child gets good grades.  So let’s say they aren’t prepared for an exam and they are now caught between perhaps cheating off the person next to them so they can please their parents (because what child doesn’t want to make them happy) or listening to their parents advice about not cheating and do poorly thus disappointing them.  Such conflicts are perhaps simply a series of battles we fight.  Sometimes winning sometimes losing.  Perhaps my father is simply fighting his addiction everyday.  Some days he wins and is able to the be the man I love, and other days he loses and becomes the man that I feel distanced from.  Perhaps for some people the struggle ends in compromise, unable to resolve what is truly right and wrong they allow one answer to pervade one type of behavior and another answer to govern the other.

In the end I think it’s all you.  Our brain can quickly consider many possible solutions to any problem, and not all of them are right, but what does right have to do with it?  Perhaps any solution that helps you survive as well as possible is all that matters.

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19 thoughts on “Terms of Two

  1. All of these situations that you’ve laid forth depend on whether there is a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer to dilemmas. If you eliminate the concepts of right and wrong, then there really are no dualities. Right and wrong themselves are, as you mentioned at the end of this piece, simply mechanisms for survival. They’re a rationalization for doing things. At the end of the day, there is no “right” or “wrong” choice to be made in any situation. There’s just A and B, which both lead to a different set of outcomes.

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  2. “so that our choices can be right, objectively”

    Well, it is awfully convenient to have a set of rules handy that just happens to agree with ones inner voice. Thus religion.

    I have often given thought to what you said Ryan, about the choices A,B or C, and the potential outcome of every decision. There is a tendency today where many are leaning towards a determinist outlook that basically as I understand it assumes the choices we make were somehow the only choice we could have made. While that is true once the choice has been made and the outcome determined, there is always the possibility of changing the course of history in that milli second before one hits the big red button.

    I understand that there are good reasons for this deterministic outlook scientifically, it still bugs me that we have at least the illusion of free will, where we can temper our choices with reason. So I haven’t signed up yet for determinism… Perhaps resistance is futile, but I maintain for now.

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    1. Linking the same blogger…you might be interested in reading this discussion on determinism and free will. 🙂

      http://theethicsof.com/2014/03/20/the-ethics-of-ethics-part-2/

      You might also be interested in reading a short treatise by Sam Harris on the subject of free will. As it turns out…there are no milliseconds before a decision is made…in fact a decision is made and milliseconds after we become conscious of. The time being so short we feel like we consciously made the decision when in fact they did not. This has been measured experimentally.

      http://theethicsof.com/2014/03/20/the-ethics-of-ethics-part-2/

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    2. I actually don’t really see a conflict between determinism as you’ve defined it here and free will. This depends solely upon your definition, though, that the choices we make are the only ones we could have made. Let’s say that I’m standing at the intersection of two roads. I have four directions I can travel in–north, south, east, west. Technically speaking, since we live in a three dimensional world I should also be able to move up or down, technically. But in this specific situation, up and down, while technical possibilities, are not possible. I suppose in this way, my choices were “predetermined” by the natures of matter and gravity. But within the only four choices that are physically possible, I am free to choose. So I guess a way to sum this up would be to say that sometimes our free will is restricted by circumstance and the laws of the universe, but that nothing it’s really “predetermined” necessarily.

      Of course, if one defines determinism as all of your future actions have somehow already been mapped out by Fate or God or whatever, then my example falls flat.

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      1. Theistic determinism is one of the possible choices, the least logical of them IMO.

        The determinism I am talking about is that modern science has shown that pathways light up in your brain indicating you have made the choice before you are actually concious of having made the choice. Giving rise to the assumption that the choices we make are somehow predetermined by our genes/environment and upbringing, and free will is an illusion. I simply cannot buy into this concept yet. for if free will is illusory, it is awfully damned good at it.

        I had a conversation with Mak on this subjetc (I am unaware if you and Swarn know Mak over @ Random Thoughts, but he is one of the good ones) Mak follows this modern deterministic philosophy (incompatibilism), and I had some questions. After some looking into it I found there is also the theistic determinism already mentioned that supposes god/s determine events. As well there is compatabilism which suggests we do have free will, among a few other options.

        After some investigating (Wiki helped a lot, if you haven’t looked into this concept, just google free will) I made the joke/observation thusly:

        So a theistic determinist, an incompatibilist, and a compatibilist are all sitting at a bar. A really mean drunk walks in and bitch slaps all three. The theistic determinist says “I understand my god made you do that.” The incompatibilist says “I understand you had no choice but to do that.” The compatibilist says “What the fuck! Why did you do that?” …This mean drunk also walks over to a table and bitch slaps another guy, that immediately gets up and punches him in the nose. I think I am that guy 🙂

        Your proposition at the crossroads is compatibilist. You assume you have the free will to make whatever choice you feel like. An incompatibilist will say whatever choice you make, will have been determined by your genes/environment/upbringing. You have no choice, a form of determinism. Lastly the theistic determinist says some magical sky fairy made the choice for you. Admittedly I am new to this concept and still have a lot of mulling do do on the subject.

        It is a little deeper than I usually like to swim…

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        1. Hmm, interesting information. I have not researched the subject as extensively as you have, but there’s one question that I have right off the bat for incompatibilist: why did human beings evolve conscious thought? If every decision or act of the human body is one that does not rely upon our conscious input (it’s all just reflexive action based upon DNA it sounds like), then there is zero evolutionary advantage to having conscious thought. The incompatibility argue would seem to suggest that our conscious thoughts have no affect on our actions–so why would mother nature waste time and energy allowing human beings to evolve a trait that essentially has no purpose according to this world view? To me, at least scientifically, it would seem that incompatibility must reject evolution if it’s beliefs are to be held true.

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          1. lol, I haven’t done enough research on the matter myself to have a good argument in any direction. Though I lean towards compatibilism with a twist towards fate, plus the opportunity to use wisdom. Meaning that we can exhibit free will but, things beyond our concious thought and control come in to play and affect our lives regardless of any decisions we make. Wisdom comes into play by having prior experiences with which to make judgement calls. I had the opportunity to see Jerry Coyne speak at a college an hour from here. He is an incompatibilist, as well as the guy who literally wrote the book “Why Evolution is True” After the talk and during the Q&A he made the incompatibilist case and I was able to ask him ” If we have no choice in the decisions we make, how do you respond to the question where your wife asks : Do I look fat in this dress?” This got a good laugh from the room, and his answer was basically “very carefully” While my question was meant to be humorous, I still had a seriousness there that was not addressed. This kind of social situation is an opportunity to use a bit of wisdom before making a reply that could get you into trouble.

            As to the why of concious thought…I expect a lot of things come into play. A certain level of intelligence and social activity surely. Beyond that I would hesitate to guess. One thing for sure we are not the only species capable of exhibiting self awareness, and the ability to solve problems. So it is reasonable to assume concious thought has evolved in more species than us.

            How this all comes into play with the free will argument I don’t know. An observation none the less.

            I think you have a good argument there. I certainly believe that concious thought and/or self awareness (is it even possible to have one without the other?), free will, altruism, and empathy are all connected socially. And all work together to help shape what we are. The point you make is if our actions are deteministic in nature, what good is it to have developed, or evolved these behaviors. As well as maintain them. Good point.

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            1. This is a great conversation by the way guys…thank you for sharing so much of your thoughts!

              It took me a long time to let go of free will and be a determinist, but I think what finally convinced me with those. Compatabilism has some good arguments as does determinism. But if I move outside of the human realm, compatibilism does not seem to be at work. Science does a pretty good job of describing how the universe works through determinism, obviously there is still much we don’t know, but when we do learn something the solution seems to be deterministic. The only argument against that could be said to be Quantum Physics, but it simply could be that just don’t understand it well enough to be able to say that it is deterministic yet. And what’s interesting about quantum physics is that even if we can’t observe it, it turns out we can use quantum physics to predict some pretty powerful things. Schrodinger’s Cat experiment shows that you don’t necessarily have to observe something to describe it.

              Then I asked myself, why am I hanging on to free will and ultimately the answer came down to ego. I wanted to believe that I had control over my life rather than a passive player. So A) So again it comes back to our conscious mind which is the part that Freud described as ego and this seems to be experimentally shown to be slower than the decisions we make, and in addition leads me to a certain level of conceit which often leads to me want something to be true when it is not. B) If determinism works for other parts of the physical universe shouldn’t I be governed by those same laws. If evolution is true, and I have no reason to believe it is not then evolution itself is governed by the physical laws of the universe as am I. To me at seems to say that I lie outside the laws of determinism is to suggest that I, as a human with a greater consciousness am somehow different from nature. In my opinion all the damage we are doing to this world is predicated on human conceit and that somehow we are somehow more special than any other part of creation. C) Finally isn’t possible that the passive player vs. self-determination dichotomy still somewhat false? I am still a dynamic organism. I change with time and the course of my future is still uncertain even if I don’t have free will to make the decisions in it. Life can still be interesting, fulfilling, and I can still learn and be in awe of it so how does not having free will diminish my life in any way? I always think it’s amazing to think how I am made up of old stars that exploded and died and this is just an extension of that…my brain as just another physical organ is made up of those same particles and my behavior as an organism is governed by those particles and my environment which is also a product of those old stars. It’s still really freaking amazing. My environment has sent me on a trajectory in which I am likely to make certain decisions over others and I am very fortunate to be on that trajectory and not on another. I have learned that I’m moving around an axis of rotation, swirling in a galaxy that is hurtling through space…also on a trajectory that is out of my control. But we don’t even know it. So our consciousness gives us the illusion that we are not moving even though we are. So should I even trust my consciousness? As I sit here in my chair, the fact that I feel like I’m not moving is pretty real…it’s a damn good illusion. 🙂 Why can’t free will be the same? 🙂

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            2. That may be the best damn argument for determinisim I have seen…but

              ” if I move outside of the human realm” Yes as part of this dynamic incredible most awesome universe, our physical bodies must act in accordance with all of the laws of physics, and the ways of all natural things. We do not however lie outside of the human realm. We are very much the human realm, and the human realm is one of conciousness. I would guess conciousness was at first in all things simple survival skills, escape or get eaten kind of stuff. We still see this in the animal kingdom everywhere we look. Other forms of thought had to have evolved from the most basic primal necessity of survival. Somewhere along the way an intelligent ape came along with language and tool using skills, both essential for it’s survival. These apes fomed civilizations, cultures, and quickly moved to being creatures more social than ever. Now we rely less on our survival instincts, as we have a enormous monetary/trade goods system that precludes the real necessities of survival. We are social constructs living inside a universe with no concern for our well being whatsoever.

              For me the social aspect is where free will most comes into play and has probably been with us for a very long time. We have to make choices every day in social matters. Decisions that can hurt other peoples feelings, decisions that could result in all sorts of bad scenarios for other people. This is the minefield we have to have traverse daily. We have to make snap decisions to tell the truth that hurts or to tell the white lie that does not. We have to understand that the king of redneck land really does walk around wearing cut offs and cowboy boots and making fun of him could start a war. We have to use wisdom gained from experience to balance our social activities. There is also that desire in many of us, that thing that drives us to see what is over the next horizon. That need to understand the unknown. Or perhaps Ryan is standing at a crossroads. This is the area that I see where free will thrives. Everywhere else, yes we are subject to the cold reality of our existence.

              Is it not possible that our minds operate independently within our bodies which are subject to the rules of the universe? Yes our brains are part of our bodies that are part of the universe, that sits on a knot on a log in a hole in the bottom of the sea. But our minds I sometimes think operate in spite of the universe, and not necessarily merely as a by product of it.

              For the record I am as awestruck as you concerning our position of literally being children of the stars. By products of the universe itself. Absolutely mind blowing, it is stuff like that which drives my desire to continue to learn.

              You should try this sometime. find a nice large open field, where if you lie down in it, you will not be able to see trees and buildings in your peripheral vision. Go there on a clear night and lie down looking up at the stars. It has been a long time sine I have done this, and discovered this quite by chance, but after a while lying there you feel connected to the earth in a strange way, and then you feel as if you are literally upon a ball moving through space. When I first experienced this I was with someone else who became nauseous from the effect. Point of the story, you can feel the movement. Whether or not it is a case of simply losing losing perspective because of a lack of peripheral indicators, or actually feeling movement I do not know. Either way it is pretty interesting to try. Of course using a blanket/bug spray goes without saying.

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            3. Thank you shelldigger for your kind words.

              Yes, what you describe definitely sounds like something worth trying. I mean I’ve stared at the stars many times but never losing objects to give me a frame of reference. I wonder though, given that most of human history was without light pollution, why the geocentric theory stuck so forcible when many must have done what you describe and said to themselves…”hey who is moving? Me or the stars?” They would have at least made a choice as to which one was the illusion, but they chose the sky as moving instead. Perhaps because it only appeared that way in a special situation such as lying down in a field and looking up.

              I think what I meant by taking “human realm” out of the equation is to remove the notion that we are somehow important to the universe. I think some of the most liberal of thinkers would still have hard time thinking that in someway we are an important part of what the universe had in mind. But given that evolution is divergent (just because there is an evolutionary advantage to something, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen) and that we may not even be unique in any way, I think that it might just be human conceit that leads us to believe that our minds operate separately from the physical laws that describe the universe. Again to me this conceit leads us to believe that we somehow lie outside the determinism that seems to work for everything else.

              Ultimately the answer is that I don’t think I can prove it definitively, nor do I think anybody can at this point. So you could very easily be right, and perhaps my feelings towards it are just feelings. But the fact that the idea of no free will is advancing today in a very scientific way I think means something. And I think the idea that our minds are separate from our bodies is an idea that is rooted in the human conceit that has pervaded scientific thought for some time as well. If you get a chance to read some evolutionary psychology you might find it interesting. I strongly recommend the book “How the Mind Works” by Steven Pinker. It’s A LOT of information and it’s not easy reading. I don’t say this because the language is hard to understand, but I just found myself having to pause and think about it all a lot before I tried to process something else. The premise behind evolutionary psychology is that our brain did evolve with our body and so how we think is as much subject to the evolutionary pressures that we moved through as the rest of our body.

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            4. I suffer from no delusions that we are some causal effect of the universe, that somehow we are the end goal achievement. I find that a hilarious trait of creationists. There is nothing more brutal to our existence than 99.99% of everything that exists outside off our atmosphere, and probably more than 50% of that which exists within it.

              Yes, I understand that science is more and more edging free will out of the norm. Which is why
              I am going through these mental gymnastics. I am having a life crisis lol. And again, yes I understand it could be a matter of conceit, pride, or just plain old stubborness. That does not mean I can just jump right in with both feet, without seeing how deep the water is first. I am trying to see this, trying to grasp it, but am still dug in with compatibilism. It just suits what I see far better than that I cannot. I can understand that our minds evolved with the rest of us as we have moved through time. It is still difficult not to feel the powerfull attraction to what could be the illusion of free will.

              I am right there, looking over the edge, but can’t yet jump in… Even that seems to me a property of free will.

              Will sign off with “still a compatibilist, at least for now” 😉

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          2. I think evolutionary psychologists and biologists are still pretty unsure as to what the evolutionary advantage of a consciousness is. I may be wrong, but most still seem to see it as an emergent property. Something that sort of accidentally emerged from a complex system such as a brain. And other mammalian brains may have it to a certain degree and we just have the stronger sense of consciousness having the more advanced brain. If anything I feel that the fact that consciousness doesn’t seem to have any evolutionary advantage supports the idea of no free will even more. We do not need to be aware of our decisions to make them. Now of course I think consciousness does make scientific investigation possible and allows us to use inductive reasoning instead of simply making Type I errors just to have to always play it safe. But in the grand scheme of things the survival of our species does not need us to read, write, do science, make laws, or watch Gilligan’s island in order to survive. Fucking and eating are pretty much it, and I think as fairly athletic omnivores with a large brain, we would have had some pretty good advantages without being aware of those advantages through consciousness. We might be at a much lower population than we are now…but evolution doesn’t really care if there are 8 billion of you or 100 million…as long as you’re surviving and able to keep winning enough of the evolutionary competition to pass on some genes.

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            1. That’s an interesting point that I hadn’t really thought about. To be honest, I don’t really know much about what evolutionary biologists theorize with regard to the development of the consciousness. I suppose that you’re correct, though, in that it certainly isn’t necessary to survival. Although, as you’ve pointed out, it has helped us make remarkable advances that have aided in enhancing our survival through science. I think I need to hit the bookstore and do some more research on the topic!

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  3. In my admittedly non formerly educated opinion, conciousness had to begin with survival. Like I said before escape or be eaten. This is the first step IMO to self awareness. This limited form of conciousness would contribute to survival…no?

    We are a long way from our humble beginnings, and again IMNSEO (Not so educated opinion) the base conciousness self awareness, eventually bred the altruism and empathy required to be the social animals we have become. The compatibilist in me says that (illusory or not) free will is the by product of our social nature.

    Admittedly I need to do some reading on the subject. I am running on gut feelings based on my limited education here. Ryan let me know when we are headed to the bookstore!

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  4. First of all I am sorry to hear dealing with an alcoholic father 😢 Watching that duality growing up takes a toll on a person. My grandfather was and it made my Dad never want to drink and my uncle to follow in his footsteps (another duality and opposite reaction example).
    Nonetheless the religious duality some of the founding fathers were exposed to definitely carried over into American politics with our bicameral system. Seems everything is this or that- here or there. I’m so not black and white- I love color- I love possibilities- it’s no wonder I do not feel like I fit in most of the time lol.
    Great post 😎❤️

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    1. Thank you for your kind words Linden. I think, just like anything else, our ability to live with duality and contradictions simply come from our conditioning to do so. If being contradictory in nature it will seem normal, then we don’t question it and we don’t really see it as a contradiction. We may have to work pretty hard to rationalize it but in the end we often find away, even if that rationalization doesn’t make a lot of sense. I am with you. Instead of black and white, it seems that things are really just shades of gray (probably more than 50 shades!). 🙂

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