Tag Archives: Freewill

Random Thoughts on Randomness – Part 1

“The most beautiful order is a pile of things poured out at random”
–Heraclitus
(Appropriated from Professor Metcalf’s Facebook Page)

Random Thought being a redundant phrase, of course, since all thoughts are necessarily random. For if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to think what you think you think.

But before I self-involvedly put out there my thoughts about that, I thought I might self-indulgently talk about this quintessential quandary:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Now, we can take a look at a question like that and try to answer it as one or the other. Or declare it a circular reference without a determinate answer. Or push the answer back before  chickens or eggs onto other questions that would have to be answered first. Or we could just say “God only knows,” and mean it either literally or snarkily.

We could have debates, hold prayer meetings, and take to twitter with our views, being champions of this or that or Him.  Maybe make some Pro-Egg flyers or Believe in the Chicken posters. It would be kind of cool to see candidates trying to appease both sides, or The Trump signing an executive order declaring both eggs and chicken are fried, so there!

Yet, any such factious (or fractious) thinking would already be moving away from the most important, the most philosophically interesting, thing: The question itself.

For answers are never that interesting. They are boring in fact. And don’t even exist, for that matter, unless maybe you’re a blind faithy, fox-news-only kind of person. But then again, if that is so, you don’t so much have an answer as have simply delegated the question to someone above you (literally and snarkily).

So let’s move back from the egg-chicken details and think about what kind of question it is. Although it is phrased as “which came first”, I hear it first and foremost as a causal question rather than a temporal one. Who made who would probably be a more accurate representation of it, but so goes the idiom.

In causality questions, what’s at stake? Why does it matter? That is, why does it matter to us? Well, for starters, the stakes are a lot higher than chickens or eggs. When we assign causality, aren’t we really assigning independence to one thing and dependence to the other?

Is the chicken dependent on the egg  or is it the other way around? Independence and dependence both shade Will. I will leave out Free from that Will for now, as that four-letter word typically adds a whole level of nonsense to these kind of discussions. Right now we can think of Will as just like it sounds: the ability to make things happen, put things into motion.

By the question, are we assigning Will to one thing, and mere obedience to the other? Is hatching the willful act and the chicken coming out just obeying what was set in motion? Or is the laying where the will resides and the egg just following orders.

We see that the chicken and egg question really is about that common but oh so vacuous term freewill.

You might argue that eggs and chickens don’t have will, or that they might have will but not freewill and/or hatching and laying are instinctual not intentional or something else in a similar putting-our-bag-of-bones into some sort of privileged position where we act and do things consciously (yet another, like freewill, somewhat vacuous and frequently unhelpful term).

But such arguments take swipe at the wrong thing. The right thing is our very conception of action and reaction, of which the chicken and egg are mere props for our thinking. But if chicken and egg are too low on the food chain for consideration, we can simply replace them with Mother and Child. Or even better, how about God and humankind? Or physics and humankind?

For that’s really to where we want to roll back, isn’t it? What, if anything, came before God? What, if anything, came before the Big Bang? Like with the original chicken and egg question, the answer itself isn’t as important as what’s at stake.

And that stake of course is the meaning of life: The mattering of it all, or of any of it. We think, perhaps, that if we push things back to some assumed unmoved mover or uncaused cause we can then bring such duly clarified meaning forward. The meaning, however, hardly needs to make such a journey. Indeed, trying to do so would be a fool’s errand.

Instead, the meaning of our lives derives neither from the divine nor natural order, but in the inherent randomness each of us possesses at any given moment.

—–

Other possible Parts as I work through my thoughts on this:

Spinoza’s God and the Necessitarianism Obstacle

Reconceptualizing Randomness

Ball in Tube Analogy

Molecule of Water in Heated Pot Analogy

Abolishing Absolutes and other Phantasms

Limited Randomness: As Free as Will ever gets

The 3 F’s

When one comes to the end of one’s good fortune, no strategy whatsoever avails.

Three F’s dominate our life: Free will, Fate, and Fortune.

The importance of this triad, particularly the significance of fortune, occurred to me as I flipped through Pokémon: Discover Nimbasa City! By Simcha Whitehill. I recently had my first “Power Lunch” over at Union Elementary. My reading partner there expressed interest in Pokémon, so I was looking for corresponding material to bring to our next lunchtime meeting.

This particular book is a Pick Your Own Path story. Different publishers call such stories by different names, such as: Choose your Destiny; Choose your Own Adventure; and so on. The general format by whatever name is the same: You read a few pages, then are given a choice between two or more options. Your decision determines what pages are read next; how the story plays out.

Such decision-making seems illustrative of what we generally mean by free will: you freely and willfully make a choice. Sure, there is gray here as to what degree real choices can be made – how much free will can be possessed — by an organism constrained by laws of chemistry, biology and physics, but that’s a whole other discussion. Here it is enough that free will feels like free will.

Yet there is fate here, too. The writer has already conceived the outcomes and no conclusion exists outside of it. We assume there are “right” decisions that will lead to favorable outcomes; however, being omnipotent, the writer could have all story threads converge to the same endpoint regardless of their freewheeling meandering.

But that would be mean, wouldn’t it? So let’s assume here a benevolent writer who allows for some variance in his authored fate; enough of it to give free will some meaning. Let’s even go so far as to assume the plot lines are written such that if one determines the proper course of action, they will be rewarded. Is such a model illustrative of real life?

Fortune, the wild card in such matters, would say no, not at all.

For bad things can certainly happen to “good” people who do “good” acts. Likewise, “bad” people can coast into and through favorable circumstances not by their own efforts but by sheer dumb “luck.”

Even more perversely, if measured by outcomes, sometimes the “wrong” decision is the right one or vice-versa.

Deciding to blow your child support on Powerball tickets instead of food seems like a bad idea. But eventually someone somewhere does end up with the winning numbers…

Stretching your household dollars by buying ground beef instead of caviar seems reasonable. But maybe there’s a soon-to-be-announced meat recall that won’t happen soon enough to do your family any good…

I think if I were to write these kinds of books, I would write at least two outcomes for every point of decision. Then I would package the book with dice.

Make your decision, then roll the bones to determine the next pages as you ponder the fundamental question:

Do I feel lucky?

Kindling

My Kindle has been unpredictable of late, so I thought I’d write about that.

Which of course means I’m writing only partly about my capricious Kindle. For anything worth writing about should have lots of parts. So many parts that, if you are lucky or brilliant or both, readers will stuff their pockets full of them and share them with their neighbors.

But I’m neither brilliant nor lucky, so I’m not expecting much and you shouldn’t either. Still, maybe together we can beat expectations.

I reckon, though, before I continue, I should say something about the neither above, which is partly untrue. The lucky part I mean.

I feel lucky to have a Kindle, as I know lots of people don’t have one and some of that lots might be jealous. If it makes any of those lots of people feel any better, what I don’t have anymore are: my Dungeons and Dragons collection, CD collection, and most of my books. If it doesn’t make anyone feel any better, I can’t say that I blame them, as I can’t say it makes me feel any better either.

But it is what it is, or close enough, and at this time the is is that I have a Kindle that sometimes doesn’t connect to Wi-Fi. Instead, during that sometimes, I’ll get an inexplicable Authentication Failed error. Which is highly annoying in part because I know darn well it has connected — authenticated — before.

The other annoying part is hearing my husband say as he peers over his own kindle, “Hmm. Mine’s connecting just fine.”

So I did some research and found, despite my husband’s carefree experience, I wasn’t alone.

Which only made me feel a little better. It would have made me feel a lot better if that wasn’t alone had been accompanied by a fix. Instead, there were assorted halfhearted suggestions of which the general consensus was that they may or may not work, which really doesn’t require a consensus, does it?

Still, I did one of the first suggestions I came across and de-registered my kindle. That just left me unregistered as well as unconnected and now of course with no ability to re-register. Some of the suggestions went technically over my head while others made me hesitant to try as my PC was still connecting okay and I didn’t want to do something that would screw that up.

I especially didn’t want to make some kind of router reconfiguration code change that might not work and even worse could lead to my husband saying, “What the [expletive] did you do?” as his carefree shifted considerably towards new found caring.

So, after also doing a shut down and a reset, both before and after de-registering, I decided to take another lukewarm suggestion and do a factory restore. But I couldn’t do one at that precise moment because Kindle has to have an over 40% charge to do so and at that exact moment in time it didn’t.

Sometime during the wait for it to get above the magical 40%, it started magically connecting again. It’s failed again since then. And also connected again since then.

I did some more peace of mind research and found that a) Kindles sometimes have this kind of problem b) Amazon currently has no universal fix and, c) Kindles sometimes fix the problem on their own.

The sometimes of both a) and b) has no rhyme or reason to it, which make things difficult for someone like me, who is very fond of both rhyme and reason (as well as sound and sense). For it means it will likely happen — or not happen — regardless of what I do.

That is, I must conclude that doing nothing would likely get the same results as doing something.

But I I’m not wired that way and find no serenity to be had in being granted such wisdom. Instead, It just makes me feel all the more helpless and even more so the fool.