Monday, January 25, 2010

You're doing precisely what you want to do.

I will probably go to work tomorrow. While I may say that I don't want to be at work, or "if I had the choice, I'd be doing something else," it's not true. It will be something I have chosen to do in favor of innumerable other choices available to me. There is no justification for saying "I have no choice, I have to do this." Of course I have a choice, and this is the choice I've made. I've made this choice based on many factors, some of which are under my control (e.g., how much money I want to spend) and some of which aren't (e.g., I haven't inherited millions of dollars). I want to have money available to me in the future, in order to continue with and improve my lifestyle. There are lifestyles that I could choose that would require less money to support, which might result in me choosing to work less. On the other hand, if I choose to stop working tomorrow, I might find that the number of lifestyle choices available to me will reduced dramatically in short order.

I want to go to work tomorrow, whether I enjoy it or not. I'm glad this is a choice that is currently available to me. This mindset is not always foremost in my thoughts, but it becomes more established the more frequently I think about it. This mindset reestablishes a sense of control over my life that may sometimes slip from my consciousness, and it reveals the abundant potential directions in which I can point my life.

What will you choose to do tomorrow, and will you embrace the fact that it is precisely what you want to do? If it's not what you wanted to do, you'd be doing something else.

(Ok, maybe "precisely what you want," if taken literally, isn't entirely true. You may really want to run a 3 minute mile, but you're not going to whether you choose to or not.)


Mtnbkgirl said...

How can you want to do something you would not enjoy? You asked what will I choose to do tomorrow and will I embrace the fact that it is precisely what I want to do. I choose to go to work but it certainly is not precisely what I want to do. Do I have a choice? There's always a choice, but there's always a consequence too. I can say I don't have a choice because the consequence is getting fired, not being able to pay the mortgage, etc. So while it may seem I have a choice to go or not to go in terms of my free will, in reality I do not really have a choice if I want to avoid the consequences. If I was a millionaire, I wouldn't even have to choose. Wishful thinking.

M. Huw Evans said...

Hmmmm... I tend to look at it differently from both of you.

I think that we do what we do because we have no choice in the matter whatsoever. We have only the illusion of choice. It all comes down to genetics, environment, and conditioning. We may think that we're choosing one activity over another but ultimately, given our individual biology, upbringing, and external conditions, there is only one course for us at any given point in time.

Looking at it on the subatomic level, at every point in time space when/where the smallest subatomic particle could potentially be in any of multiple orientations, it will end up in only one orientation (one per universe, if you subscribe to the multiple universe theory). Ultimately everything that happens to any piece of matter, be it an atom, a rock, or a human being, is determined by states and orientations of the subatomic particles that make them up. There's no choice in the matter.

Choice is just a framework that we build into our perceptions of the universe and how it works so that we don't end up feeling entirely helpless and powerless (which we are).

Desire (wanting something or wanting to do something) is a recognition of the possibility that we may not have the power to choose... that the events of our lives are beyond our control.

I frequently use phrases such as "I want" or "I would like." All it means is that I recognize the potentially rewarding outcome of such a course while also recognizing that I may not ultimately be allowed to follow that course.

I'm doing what I'm doing right now, typing this comment to this blogpost, because it is the only thing I could possibly be doing at this precise moment in this particular universe. I may feel as though I have the option to stop typing and cancel the comment (and if I were to do so, that would be the only possible thing I could do at that point in space-time), but (assuming you're reading this), that feeling is a complete illusion. I do not have a choice. I am simply the next spotted tile in a vast and complex array of dominoes tipping over in succession, one after another, without any option but to tip when we are tapped.

Seth said...

Ilorien, I agree with you and contemplated pointing out that I was approaching the subject without addressing the very likely possibility that free will doesn't exist in the first place. While it can be an engaging thought experiment, contemplating a subject from the "no free will/choice" mindset doesn't lead to much real world usefulness, so I had no choice but to approach it from the working mindset in which we imagine that we are able to choose whether to have a hamburger or pizza for dinner. I think that acting out our lives as if we have no choice, whether it's true or not, will lead to depressing lives.

Mtnbkgirl, putting aside the question of whether any choice exists in the first place, I don't enjoy getting out of bed at 6:00am, but I choose to. And if I choose to do something, it means that I want to do it more than I want to do any of the other choices available to me, whether I enjoy it or not.

You showed up at work today. Not only did you show up at work, you took multiple deliberate actions in order to get yourself there. If you wanted to, you could have gone to the airport this morning and bought yourself a ticket to Greece, but you wanted to go to work today more than you wanted to go to Greece.

I'm not discounting the fact that the things you decide to do now are shaped by the way you want your life to be in the future, but you're also the one making the choices about your future. You say that you wouldn't have to choose if you were a millionaire. Of course you would, but your choices would probably be different. Not going to work is as much of a choice as going to work.

Currently you want to go to work because you want to keep your job and you want to pay your mortgage. In reality, you really do have a choice, and you're choosing to maintain your current lifestyle through going to a job that you don't enjoy. And you'll do your best to get to work every day, fighting tiredness and traffic to get there. You don't fight that hard to get somewhere if you don't want to go there.

M. Huw Evans said...

Munjaros -

I agree with you, of course... when it comes to living my life on a daily basis, I live it as though I have a free will and rarely (probably once a day, give or take) remember that I probably don't actually have a choice.

Within the free will model, I think I'd describe someone saying that he/she wants to do something other than what he/she is doing (provided that he/she does have a choice) as the recognition that there are multiple options, one (or some) of which are not ultimately the most rewarding overall, but which are associated with clear benefits that are hard sacrifice.

Most recently I wanted to stay in bed and continue sleeping when the pager woke me up at 2:57 a.m. on my last night of call. Unfortunately, whether I had a choice in the matter or not, I did get up and dealt with the issue at hand. While doing so, however, I was keenly aware of the benefits of turning off the pager and just staying in bed.

Ambywinks said...

My thoughts on this whole matter I am sure are completely different than any of the others expressed here seeing that I am coming from an entirely different place and circumstance than the rest.
I believe we have choice in everything that we do throughout our day, that does not mean that we are not wishing it was something else but we make our choices out of responsibility, considering the consequences of our actions. Children act completely on free will. They do exactly what they want to do when they want to do it. They do not usually consider what path a certain choice will take them on or stop to think that choosing a different option would be better for them in the long run. Their actions and choices are decided completely on emotion at that one moment.
Adults on the other hand (those of us who choose to stop and think) have choices to make and we usually choose the more responsible option. We think of how it will affect us, our families and significant others, and people around us.
I say that we have options and choices and we may choose whichever path suits our needs, we are not children acting on our whims without a thought as to how it will affect our lives in the near or very far future. Yes, I do choose things that I do in my day and life... I don't know that I would go so far as to say that I want to be doing everything I choose, but I decide that it is the best thing to do at the time and thus I take that road. I will not even get onto the topic of wether we have free will or not because I prefer to avoid an all out battle with two people that I know have very strong opinions on the matter and me telling you how I feel would do nothing but start a fight. It would not change your opinion or mine so I will keep it to myself... and I definitely think that was more than two cents worth!! It was at least worth a nickle, maybe even a dime depending on the reader.

Anonymous said...

Munjaros and Ilorien

Have you ever or do you ever get totally annoyed by other people? Do you say things like “I don’t like them.” “They suck!” “That guy is a bastard.”? If they have no free will then you need to stop! They have no choice in that matter. In fact if you are feeling that way about other ppl that (have no choice or free will) then you are the ones being jerks. THEY CAN’T HELP IT!

We have choices. I have seen people change. It happens all the time.

Seth said...


Sorry it took so long for your comment to show up here, I didn't realize that I had it set up that I had to approve comments on posts 30 days or more old.

I agree that people change. Whether those changes are inevitable based on the conditions that lead up to them is the question. A pool ball that is moving in one direction will change direction if it is hit by another ball. The right (or wrong) influence on certain brain cells will cause a person behaving in one way to behave in another.

Thinking about morality, accountability, etc. from the perspective of no choice or free will can bring up conundrums regarding things such as punishment and blame. One way to think about holding people accountable for the choices that they make (even if they don't really have the choice), is to consider your reactions to their actions simply inevitable consequences of the material interactions. But when it comes down to it, I prefer to approach life as if it's full of choices, even though a deterministic universe seems most likely.

Seth said...

Actually just came across an interesting post about the free will subject: