Monday, July 05, 2004

If we genuinely had free will - what would we do all day?

Would we just choose to feel good? All day? Would we set up our lives so that everything we did made us feel fantastic - no pain, no remorse, no self doubt, no guilt, no jealousy, no anxiety?

After all, once we've made sure that we were going to survive... what's our motivation for doing anything else? Anything else we do is just a method of ensuring that we're going to feel as good as we possibly can in the future. So why not cut out the middleman - and just feel good. Regardless of what happens in the world around us?

If we were genuninely free, we'd simply choose to feel good. All day.
Regardless of what happened to us.
It's what our conscious minds are programmed to do: to maximise pleasurable feelings and minimise unpleasant feelings. It's how we know what to do to maximise the survival chances of our genes.
And at the moment, the system works very well. For our genes, anyway.
But it doesn't work well for us as individuals - as conscious minds. Our conscious minds are continually thwarted from achieving their programmed goals by the overall need to maximise the genetic survival chances. But can't we escape? Can't we conscious minds escape from the tyranny of the selfish replicators that control our behaviour?
Trapped inside an evolutionary machine
If 'we' are our conscious minds... then maybe we're not so much "survival machines"...

... as trapped inside survival machines.

We can’t escape. We can’t stop the whole machine doing things for survival purposes. In deed, we’ve got to be active helpers in this whole job of spreading our genes, because the only thing we want to do is to feel good, and the only way we’ve found to get to feel good is to help increase the survival chance of our genes.

- But our purpose is not to spread our genes...

- Our purpose is to make ourselves feel good... for as long as we can stay alive.

If our conscious minds were really in control, we'd simply instruct our subconscious minds to make us feel good all the time. We'd do enough to survive - to live a full length life - and spend the rest of the time simply feeling good. There would be no need to reproduce, no need to 'achieve', no need for luxury or success - indeed no need to do anything at all. If we could control our own feelings, we would choose quiet, risk-free lives of extreme contentment, delight, joy, satisfaction and well-being.

There is a parallel. Conscious minds love sex. We get a lot of pleasure from sex. But there's a downside. Pregnancy. So we use contraception. To thwart the power of the genes and get what our conscious minds want at the expense of our genes. Can't we do the same with all the feelings we have? Why can't we just get all the pleasure from having sex... without actually having the sex? It's the obvious next step in our control of our own lives. We just haven't realised that it's the obvious next step.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
- US Declaration of Independence 1776

The reason we think we have free will is because we have the freedom to pursue happiness. But so does a slave in a cotton field. The slave isn’t free because the rewards he pursues are at the whim of his master, who is interested in his slave’s happiness only to the extent that it affects the quantity of work completed each day.

Our masters have the same attitude to our happiness.

So are we slaves to our genes, or are we in partnership? The answer depends on whether achieving our genetic goals is the best way to achieve the goals of our conscious minds.

- Are we partners, getting the rewards we're promised for all the hard work we put in?

- Or are we slaves - abused by our controllers and given only enough reward to do the job?

That depends on whether it’s ever possible to be truly happy.


steady_silence said...

Just a thought, it seems the implication is that if we were truly free we would just let ourselves die, if this isn't the case our chief end isn't happiness as a feeling but is then survival.

dan from said...

Don't we already have cocaine? That thwarts the genes pretty well.