Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Is Man Determined or Free?... Freedom? Choice? God?


"Choice. The problem is choice," Neo states.

"The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect, it was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental faliure. The inevitability of its doom is as apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being, thus I redesigned it based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However, I was again frustrated by failure. I have since come to understand that the answer was stumbled upon by another, an intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche. If I am the father of the matrix, she would undoubtedly be its mother," said The Architect.

"The Oracle," replies Neo.

"Please. As I was saying she stumbled upon a solution on whereby nearly 99.9% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level. While this answer functioned, it was obviously fundamentally flawed, thus creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly, that if left unchecked might threaten the system itself. Ergo, those that refused the program while a minority, if unchecked, would constitute an escalating probability of disaster."

This issue of choice is interesting and, as written in my prior blog post, explained well by The Old Oligarch:

St. Augustine's De Libero Arbitrio Voluntatis (often titled in English "On the Free Choice of the Will"). For Augustine, liberum arbitrium (free choice) is different from, but related to voluntas (the will).
Voluntas is what enacts our actions, but voluntas, for the classical mind, includes habits, the motivations of nature, personal history and free choice.
I like to compare the classical conception of voluntas and liberum arbitrium to a boulder-sized stone that is rolling on a playing field and a man who has sole charge of where it rolls. The stone has momentum. So, likewise, our will has its disposition. The environment can draw the stone in one direction more than the other, i.e. external circumstances partially determine appetites. The liberum arbitrium in this example, is the man, who can slow or accelerate the movement of the stone, and alter its course. But the stone is more massive than the man. Individual acts of exertion cannot completely alter the direction of voluntas and send it instantly careening in another direction regardless of past acts. If the stone is rolling in the wrong direction, a forceful push can avert it from its "inevitable" course, but the man cannot instantly stop it, pick it up, bring it back to its rightful place and trajectory, and send it on its correct path as if nothing had happened. He simply doesn't have the strength. Likewise our will when it gets accustomed to, or "disposed" to a certain way of behaving. Liberum arbitrium can prevent the necessity of running headlong into old behaviors, but it takes a long, concerted effort to undo the cumulative effects of the many half-witted, unconscious decisions we've made which created in us bad dispositions. End tangent.
I think the Oracle makes a similar observation about the will. What the will does -- especially in unconscious, unreflective people -- is 90% the product of decisions already made.

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Matthew 26:41

So what you want (free choice) and what you actually do (will) are two different things. The Old Oligarch actually has a better analogy for you gamers, so read the rest of the entry if you're interested.

This issue of free choice and will can be seen in other arenas of thought. One is General Semantics, which was developed by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish mathematician and engineer, over 50 years ago. "General semantics is the study of the relations between language, ‘thought’ and behavior: between how we talk, therefore how we ‘think’, and therefore how we act."

This system of thinking was a basis of my training with the Coro Fellowship and set out to improve our skills in relationships with people, communications, and critical thinking. It was interesting when I read The Old Oligarch's entry on St. Augustine's De Libero Arbitrio Voluntatis and was thinking about The Matrix: Reloaded because it reminded me of some of my old training materials which contained overlapping viewpoints:

"We were born into, and are immersed in particular environments (cultural, language, home, religious, social, work, etc). Our behaviors are usually automatic responses, generated by our uncritical acceptance and conditioning, by the demands and expectations, from these environments. The "woa of consciousness" (*wedge of awareness. tool to increase our wakefulness) gives us a chance to move from automatic, unwanted, unproductive, stress producing behaviors toward more creative and self-directed and self-managing behaviors." - Milton Dawes

From my perspective and experiences, these philosophical approaches have huge limitations. The boulder in our lives is always heavier and bigger than we actually think. Like Stephen Hawking's limited explanation for whether man is determined or free, the thinkers of the ages cannot close the gap between man's will and free choice without God in the equation. Obviously, I'm biased as a Christian, but He does create a more orderly and logical world. God makes a huge difference on the cosmic scale and on the personal scales of every man seeking to close the gap between will and free choice. The difference between God and the Architect is that God actual loves His creations and the world He built. The Architect oddly enough sounds more like Hawking or some omnipotent being from a sci-fi novel.