On choice, free will and other matters

Friends, I haven’t written in a while, life came between me and the blog though I read most of your blogs. My good friend Violet[for those who don’t already follow her blog, you may want to pay her visit] wrote a blog, justification for harmful behaviour in which apart from espousing on two possible belief systems that would influence a person’s behaviour, she proposes a third way, let’s call it Violet’s way and allow me to copy a part of it here

All your behaviour and your actions are as a direct result of your brain interacting with your environment. You can usefully influence the choices that other people make by interacting positively with them and spreading any information you have that can make life a more pleasant experience, both for yourself and others

which I disagreed with to the extent that we hardly are able to chose our genes, training or environment and these three things determine how a person will behave or react in a particular situation. Whereas we are in agreement that the idea that man is born deprived is an absurd and outrageous idea, I think all of us have the potential to act in ways that would be considered bad or good by others and either we lack opportunity or our training is such that we will not go against societal norms.

This post, however, ain’t about my friend’s post but about a post that deals with a related matter albeit from a different angle. The post, terror of choice and free will, explores the same question of free choice [eventually leading to an action]. The author tells us about a job offer [s]he was recently offered and finds themselves quite unable to make a choice between

accepting a lower-paying job with the hope of someday moving out of customer service into something I actually care about, or staying at a job that pays decently, but doesn’t offer the opportunity to progress.

She tells us

I’m not usually on the fence about things. I’m fairly decisive and I stick by my decisions

but now finds herself in a situation where the decision is hard to make. I will make a few concessions before I proceed, that is, she can act in either two ways, either take the new job or retain the old one. That said, what will determine which choice she takes is motive. I think the reason she finds the decision hard to make here is because the motives almost cancel out. Most times, we are able to easily act in one way or other given two competing situations because the motivation for one outweighs the other significantly.

I however disagree with her, when she writes

We have the unique ability to reason and come to decisions independent of immediate environmental stimuli

which I don’t think is true. This would be similar to saying that our actions are free of causes. The case is, that sometimes or rather many times, we can not tell the chain of causes that led to a specific act or that there are complex factors that culminate in a particular action whereas we would deduce from the movement of plant leaves that there wind blowing them. In the case of the plant, it is easy to identify the cause and its effect whereas this becomes quite complex when dealing with the human person. It is, I think, wrong to conclude that since we can’t map the chain of causes, then our actions are free.

She tells us

animals do not really have the ability to make decisions as they’re motivated by base desires: the need for food, comfort and reproduction. Although humans are motivated by the same, our needs are far more complex.

which I don’t think is entirely correct. The motivation is the same for both us and other animals, and that is the will to live. Most people especially in the lower stratum of society are motivated by the desires she calls base and it is only once these are met that one can then have time to philosophize. I could say, that, a greater part of our research efforts is geared towards self preservation, the same desire that makes the antelope in the great savanna to run once a leopard is sighted. However, there are those things we do just for its sake for example art.

The one thing I liked about her post is that at the end she writes

[..]jobs is that if I choose the wrong option, I’ll be stuck in a crappy job that won’t afford me the money to buy the things that I want, like a car or a new laptop.

and this my friends is the key to the problem. It is here that motive lies and once it becomes clear, how she will act will be cast on stone so to speak and unless that motive changes, we will tell how she would be likely to act given a similar scenario.

I submit in conclusion that our actions are not free of causes. They are depended on the environment, training and temperament that each person is born with. The one thing difficulty we have in telling why a person A acts different from person B in similar scenarios is our inability to know the motive behind each act of will and the preceding chain of causes. Were this known to us, we would with precision map how each person would act in a given scenario and I bet our predictions would be correct to a very high percentage.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this matter, especially, if our actions are free of causes and whether we are free to make choices or if it is an illusion.