Here is something to get your thoughts flowing. Yesterday was Tuesday. I didn’t teach until 14:30 (that’s the 2 o’clock hour) which left quite a bit of time in my day for meandering through the NYTimes. Sent this out to a friend, who also shared it with a friend. And as per the norm on Tuesdays in China, I met up with those friends for bowling. Here’s something you don’t see everyday. A group of 20-somethings, putting back Tsingdao beer, hitting 5 strikes in a row, betting on who has to pay for foot massages, and discussing the morals/possibilities/shortcomings/limitlessness of Free Will vs. Determinism.
We had some deep and thought provoking ideas being passed around and challenged during the night but the thing is – you’ll never know. Because there will never be a society on earth that has determinism as its one and only base of behavioral judgement. There will always be the memory of your parents and their parents and the lessons and rules and ideas they were taught and abided by which oppose determinism at its very core. So no matter what is actually true, we as a world will act as though our choices matter. Which is really the answer to the question. If a majority believes, and a majority behaves, and a majority teaches – that must mean its true…right??
Wait, it this like that phrase my mom used to throw at me about all my friends jumping off a bridge? Obviously I don’t think that something is right just because other people do. hm…
I also believe people are inherently good. However, it was shoved in my face that neither of these schools of thought support that theory one bit. Either people are scared to be punished and are therefore good, or people have no responsibility for their actions and are therefore less than good.
I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea snowballing in my mind, but what if behavior wasn’t the main loss/gain in this tricky philosophy puzzle. No higher purpose that will combine all human lives into a meaningful neat ending tied up with a bow (which I can hardly believe will ever happen). But maybe, instead of an overall determinism, each day you have a determined purpose. So that you smile at someone so that they can see kindness, you trip so that you remember to be conscious of your body, you fail so that you can endure greater letdowns, you break a heart so that the person can value when it is treasured, your friend dies so that you can learn suffering and loneliness. In this way every person is able to learn the vast possibilities of the human soul. I can get behind a lifetime of learning.
I was so vehemently opposed, and frankly horrified, by the idea of a world in which determinism reined because that would mean that the things I value most in human beings – generosity, perseverance, grace, integrity, kindness – are not things that would be worth developing in a person’s self because their life and every aspect would happen as it would. I cannot and will never see the way that a society of that likeness could survive even a decade, but this smaller, simpler idea (the occam’s razor of determinism, if you will) has been allowed to open my mind a fraction and see the less fatalistic side of my opponent. And I must say it doesn’t look as monstrous as I imagined.
What do you think?