Anyway, that's neither here nor there, really...it was just sort of a reminder to me that from a certain standpoint, our lives really are just spent in a pursuit of happiness, whatever form it might take and regardless of what bizarre activities we might think would lead us to that sought-after state. (And if you want to argue with me on this, let's not. Just assume I'm taking a tautological stance where happiness is whatever we're pursuing. Tautologies might be completely empty logically, but at least they're inarguable.) I was less interested in the happiness itself than I was in the pursuit thereof.
Recently, thanks to a question posed a while back, I pondered the issue of control. Specifically, how much control we have over our lives. In the small view, I posit that we have much control; more than we might like to think about, actually. I didn't put it together at the time, but I guess what I was talking about was free will, and (rather than happiness) that's more what I wanted to think about today.
I've been exposed recently to the ramblings of someone out there on the Internet (a poker-player, actually) who has been bothered by the idea of free will, apparently. Not really the idea of it, but more that we can't really support the mechanics of it with what we currently know about how the universe works. The "physics" of free will aren't very encouraging, in the sense that at a fundamental physical level, everything that powers human thought is supposed to obey certain physical rules about how it works, and none of those rules indicate that any of these pieces should be able to do anything of their own volition. In a sense, all the particles and energies that make up our ability to think must behave a certain way based on the state of the universe around them, and they cannot act any different way. That's just how it is. Granted, the systems we're talking about here are insanely, insanely complicated, and we have no hope (as things stand now) of understanding all the factors involved. But given that, it doesn't make the state of our physics to be any less deterministic, really. But, hey, that's life as a physical being.
Anyway, I was recently pointed to this NYT article, which I believe stemmed out that aforementioned rambling. It's sort of rehash of the science that doesn't really support the idea of really "free" free will, but I found it a pretty interesting read, if only to recap sort of where we are in the modern conception of these things. In the end, I feel like it boils down to the semantics of it, really. I don't know enough, frankly, to go over detailed examples, but there are different kinds, or levels, maybe, of free will, and different ones try (or don't) to reconcile themselves with physics or psychology or what have you, and it about goes how you'd expect...no one has really gotten anywhere or proven anything. As unstuck_in_time remarked to me recently, it all depends on the scope. I can dig it.
Which brings me, more or less, to my point: who cares?
The question itself is interesting, I don't deny it. And it's one of those things that we'll probably be able to argue for quite some time. And overall, I don't guess I mind so much about all these wacky unanswerables we've got floating around, because it gives us something to talk about. But I think it's important to draw the line somewhere and sort of...move on.
For instance, I caught wind of this article from The Economist (I think the link came from Slashdot). It starts out describing a pedophile who, it turns out, seemed to be driven to deviant behavior by a tumor in his brain. It goes on to then ponder the implications of biology-driven "choices" on criminal law and so forth, and if we should lock up people who show biologies predisposed toward criminal behavior, and so on. So, whatever. I don't like the article so much, frankly; it depends on a lot of word play that I think obscures real arguments. But that doesn't matter so much, either, at this point, because I'm not trying to post about that article.
What I'm trying to post about is the point at which you just have to leave certain questions behind. Regardless of how interesting something might be to ponder, if you look to closely (or too far away, sometimes) everything will just lose all context and, therefore, meaning. It's my feeling that you'll just eventually reach a point where you have to take things at face value; you just have to accept what's in front of you (metaphorically speaking), even if you don't understand it or can't explain it. It's the only way to keep going.
As humans, we are "tricked" a lot by our own psychologies. What we accept as true, what we know, is filtered through various layers of consciousness and cognitive processing. (This is, I think, what fr33m4n would call "belief," or "personal truth." This is the "truth" I talk about when I say that it's governed by perception.) What's goofy about this filtering is that it goes beyond what we percieve with our senses, and it extends into our own internal brain-workings, what we think of as "ourselves." The core...the "real" us. We can only perceive ourselves through these filters, the same way we perceive everything else. In a very real and literal sense, we only know what we let ourselves know.
Now here's the thing...that's fine. It's all good. We've been living our whole lives this way. Everyone has since the beginning of our species, whatever the hell that means. That's just how we are. We have arms, legs, fingers, eyes, and a psychology of self. We learn to walk, we learn to use our hands, and we learn to perceive our identities. Without severe aberrations from the norm, it cannot be any other way. We also process thoughts, make decisions, carry out acts, and experience consequences. It's how we perceive the flow of time, it's how we experience causation, and it's how we live. We've built whole societies around this mode of living. We've filled libraries pondering the implications of our moral agency. We've lived and died and carried on all this time, and I can't see why anything, any new discovery or theory of neuroscience or quantum mechanics, would have a chance to undo any of it. We are what we are, and we do what we do. So...maybe how we think of ourselves is wrong. Maybe we're not the free-willed actors we think we are. So what? Has my life changed at all? I still have to get up in the morning, live my life, make my choices, and live with the results. Then I'll go to bed, and I'll do the same thing the next day. Eventually I'll die. Thus it ever was.
The point is...we have a whole slew of theories that make some attempt at explaining how the world works. We have science, we have philosophy, we have religion. We try to codify the universe, ourselves, and each other. We try to explain things. We actually expend a lot of effort in the attempt. Hell, look at me right now, typing away. But there comes a time where you not only can, but should just shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, whaddaya gonna do?" The simplest answers are often the best ones. Your life is right there in front of you; just accept it an be on your way. If you have a choice to do so, I mean.