Saturday, January 8, 2011

Free Choice

We've all had times in life when we've been told - Choose X or Y. Not choosing is simply not an option. In fact, your silence/inactivity is taken as an affirmative answer towards one of the choices - "My lord, is aadmi ke paas is aadmi ki chuppi is baat ki gawah hai ki khoon isi ne kiya hai". Then there are times when all choices suck so bad that you won't want to any of them - like when your mom asks you to choose between karela, bhindi and jackfruit for dinner. (I despise bhindi)

What is freedom? For most of us, freedom would be the existence of choices. After all, what's not free about being able to choose what you like and doing it? Oh wait, what if you don't like the choices on offer? What if the choices that have been put up are really just a sham intent on shifting the blame of choosing from a bad set upon you, which would grant a moral caveat of sorts to the provider-cum-executioner of your supposed wishes? For instance, if my mother really wants to make one of her three favourite dishes, all three of which I despise, and she asks me to choose from the pack, would that really be a free choice?


    The author above is saying more or less the same thing that you want to convey. He is using examples of religious beliefs to convey his points while you are using your "Ma ke haath ke banaye hui karela, bhindi" wala example. :P

    Actually I wanted to post only the following image as comment, but in search results above post came as the first result hence posting it just for reference.

  2. :O There's actually a standard term as "free choice"! :D

  3. Freedom is relative and parochial. Free will(as deterministic as I may sound)is a lie. Desire is intrinsic and cannot be changed though one may learn to suppress it. Nonetheless it remains what it is and you cannot govern it otherwise. Therefore, to choose from among what is not desired cannot be called a free choice. Perhaps, it is an attempt to euphemise the compulsion.

  4. @Priyanka
    What do you mean by "Desire is intrinsic"? I think Desire is also relative. For example, today the desire that "I want to go to Titan,a moon of Saturn, for space tourism" makes sense because in this age we have the know-how (knowledge as well as technology) and the VOCABULARY to express that desire. While this desire would not have arisen in say a man who lived 50,000 years ago.

    When you said "Free Will is a lie". In what sense did you mean that.
    Some videos which could help you.
    The art of choosing :

    Libet's Experiment :

    Surely our choices are determined by our motivations. So what exactly does motive us?
    A nice video here

  5. Sometimes it's a free choice between the lesser of two evils.

  6. @scadza: What you are talking of is expression of desire than desire itself. Choices are determined by desires. Motivations are a fuel to desire. If going to the moon is a desire then do you intend to say that technology and vocabulary are motivations? I think they are the means
    to express and achieve. If one does not desire to go to the moon, a spacecraft in the backyard wouldn't help.

  7. It's all very well for us to contemplate this but sometimes I'm very struck by the fact that there are lot of people in this world for whom 'free will to choose' is just a cruel illusion. And like you say, a choice isn't a free choice at all.

    But as someone who adores the bhindi, the karela and the jackfruit, I'd say it is more important to see if one can really choose the lesser evil or the greater good.

  8. Actually, by giving the example I was countering you point that "Desire is intrinsic". It is not. It is dependent on the things around us.

    A quotation from Swami Vivekananda, a Vedantist, offers a good example of the worry about free will in the Hindu tradition.

    Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here.

    Choices are not determined by desires. If you go through the video that I have posted you will see its difficult to point out "What motivates us to work?"
    Even a simple question like "What makes you happy?" cannot be answered by many of us. The point I am trying to make is human beings are very fuzzy and nebulous in how we think/behave/act/understand/desire/etc..

    Yes, technology and vocabulary are motivations. They are not just means to express desires. THEY ARE DESIRES THEMSELVES. E.g. I desire Kindle DX. Such a statement would be meaningless say 1000 years ago.
    Do you agree that at some level desires and thoughts are one and the same. You can't desire something without thinking about it even once.
    Now I can prove to you that the First President of USA never had a desire to go to nuclear war. Because the technology or even the term "nuclear war" never existed in his time. So you see I am 110% sure that George Washington never desired "Nuclear War".

  9. Your post is so relevant for our everyday life! A free country such as ours always faces the bane of choice. "Freedom of choice" just seems like such a paradox to me. Look at the current political scenario and the next three months for the atmosphere in Bengal. I perhaps needn't say more!

  10. This is so, so relevant for the upcoming elections in West Bengal.

  11. (I want to say something intelligent and add to this discussion, seeing as that is the convention with blogpost comments, but I really cannot think of anything profound. Free will's always bugged me loads)