Sunday, January 24, 2010

The only question there is

I am an inveterate reader of Calvin and Hobbes. The irony of using Calvin (the champion of predestination) and Hobbes (of "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" fame) as names should not be lost on us. I was grieved when Bill Watterson decided to end the strip in the 1990's, but the rerun continues to warm the coronary cackles of a morning. The republished strip from today is especially good.

True to his fore bearers, Calvin questions the very essence of morality:

What is predestination but the absence of free will? In a desire to make a godhead absolutely powerful, Calvin asserted that no single "free" action of man could contribute to salvation. Taking this to the bitter end gives us the Jehovah's Witnesses. This sect (comprising 7 million souls in the world, only half that of the Jewish faith) has some interesting beliefs, including the assertion that only 144,000 souls will be allowed into the eternal Woodstock. How one picks 144,000 out of 7 million (plus those who have "gone on before") probably occupies JW theologians for hours.

Free will (that which shall not be discussed) is such an interesting topic. I am reminded of counselling teenagers about drugs and sex. One can't say "its the right thing to do" because hedonistic Americans believe that pleasure is the be all to end all. They equate being "happy" with "feeling good." So, when telling teenagers about sex and drugs you have to threaten them with consequences. This is why Nancy Reagan's "just say no" was/is such a failure. This concept, that teenagers who are surrounded by adults who have no qualms about bopping whoever and snorting whatever, would, out of the goodness of their heart, refrain from bopping and snorting is like expecting Bin Laden to run for Pope.

Calvin hits it on the head. Teenagers need to be careful about sex to avoid contracting permanent (i.e. integrated into your genome) diseases such as AIDS, herpes, hepatitis B and HPV, and avoid unwanted pregnancy, which is a bittersweet disaster. They need to avoid drugs because they are illegal. Period. Free Will doesn't come into the equation. Puppies do not become house broken because they want to be good in heart and spirit. They become house broken because they fear the consequences. It is natural for them to poop where they want. That is why they look so mournful when you rub their nose in it. They are saying "WTF?"

A long time ago we addressed this issue in a series of posts. I realize now, after reading Unreal Nature's post of 23 January, that there is a large world of intermediate cognition that has to be addressed in discussing the neurobiological basis of this concept, Free Will. Part of the problem, for me, is the jargon. It is like trying to understand Fourier transforms without understanding complex numbers.


Ray Girvan said...

I was about to scan this from The Book of Sequels, but I see it's already online: Hobbes and Calvin.

Dr. C said...

Thanks, Ray. As always, Cool!

Julie Heyward said...

Sometimes you get to shop the predestination catalog -- such as Achilles when his Mom offered him two choices and he plumped for the fame/early death one.

As this fellow says, we pretty much don't have the first clue about how our brain works. But that didn't stop 170+ people from posting about "How the Internet is changing the way they think." The party will be over when/if some science nerd figures it all out and ruins the fun.

Ray Girvan said...

Re Julie's comment: I forget where I read it - but recently somewhere on the topic of cognitive bias - that it's a fundamental cognitive characteristic that people (even brilliant ones) have sod-all idea of how their thought processes arrived at a given conclusion, and will fabulate some account. That does really need considering regarding these "How the Internet is changing the way they think" accounts. On the other hand, what you know, what your pattern of interests have become, how your your work habits have changed, etc, seem unarguable.

Dr. C said...

It is interesting with respect to the above observations that no one has ever really satisfactorily explained Freud's observations about the unconscious. I guess the modern consensus is that it doesn't exist. However, I tend to think that it does and that lost of "figuring" is going on in it all the time. How else could you be puzzled by something when you fall asleep and then have the solution when you wake?