Free Will Conundrum (1)

It is for my 2017. Whenever I look back, my life is equal parts wonder and blunder. Many things that I believed to be true are untrue now. As an analogy to a term coined by philosophers of science, the pessimistic induction , because many of my beliefs have been wrong, many of my beliefs are wrong …… How can I reconcile my messy value system? Stay foolish; Stay open. Ok, let’s back to the point. The following are some of my wrong (or unsure) beliefs:

  1. Human beings have free will.

    I have been telling myself that the reason for hard work is to have the right to choose the job I like instead of being forced to make a living. When your work has a meaning in your heart other than earning money, you feel fulfilled. When your work becomes part of your life not deprives your life, you have dignity. With fulfillment and dignity, you will be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. So do I. A premise for all of these is that human beings have free will. Or life loses its meaning. So I have never doubt free will until this year. After all, I can’t help questioning: how much free will do we have? It is the most disturbing question in 2017. I will try to sort this out in a separate post.

  2. Time heals everything.

    I have heard this sentence again and again from different people including my dad. That is not true. Time helps you select and transform. Time reveals what you can’t let go as well as what doesn’t matter to you. There are things you probably can’t forget all your life. Just live with it until it becomes part of you. There are also things you thought you would always remember, but you do forget. Not to mention that “Memory distortions are basic and widespread in humans, and it may be unlikely that anyone is immune.”. So it is our brain that does the magic. All our experiences (joy or suffering), thoughts we have had, things we have done, all is not lost even it is past. We blend and transform all into being. As Dostoevsky said: “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings. “ Time doesn’t heal. We do.

  3. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

    It is NOT true. We are both from the Earth. On most of the topics of interest to relationship science, men and women usually overlap so thoroughly that they are much more similar than different. [1] It is more accurate to say that “men are from North Dakota, and women are from South Dakota”[2] Sex difference in intimate relationships tend to be much less than people usually think. [3] We should do something to fix the wrong gender stereotype.

  4. Politics is dirty.

    Politics always involves a negative connotation: sucking up, scheming and manipulating. It is like we tend to posit a positive connotation on “culture” which is my next point. But I’d instead treat it as neutral. Politics is everywhere which is like love, joy, sadness, birth, death, etc. It exists, and we need to deal with it when we have to. It is neither good nor bad but just a fact of life. As long as people with different goals, interests, and personalities try to work together, there will be politics. The morality of it depends on the motives and goals of the players and the means by which they achieve these. In fact, defining morality itself is an extremely complicated (if possible) problem. For more about this, you can refer to the Trolley Problem and some related discussions [4].

  5. Culture is beneficial and something you need to strive to preserve.

    I’d better be careful about this one since I am from a country that is always proud of having a profound cultural background. But there is no proof that any culture is working for the benefit of humans. Indeed we lack a scale to measure such benefit too. Yuval Harari said in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”[5] that :

    “Ever more scholars see cultures as a kind of mental infection or parasite, with humans as its unwitting host….A cultural idea can compel a human to dedicate his or her life to spreading that idea, even at the price of death. The human dies, but the idea spreads. According to this approach, cultures are not conspiracies concocted by some people in order to take advantage of others. Rather, cultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them.”

    It is one of the best books that I read in 2017. The most thought-provoking idea is that Harari emphasizes the power of Sapien’s distinctive cognitive capacity for fiction (myths and stories). He claims it is human imagination that built large-scale human cooperation systems – including religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions. From Peugeot, one of the oldest and largest of Europe’s carmakers, to Code of Hammurabi of 1776BC, to The Declaration of Independence of the United States signed on 4 July 1776; all those are no more than stories and imaged orders. The imaged order is “something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” It will not change if a single individual changes his/her beliefs. Similar imaged orders are law, money, human right, gods, and nations. Along the way, what is the real meaning of patriotism?

    Every point in history is a crossroad. A single traveled road leads from the past to the present, but myriad paths fork off into the future. [Yuval Harari]

    Human tend to imagine an uncanny superpower behind the scene that direct everything. No one can prove it right or wrong. But humans do suffer from the hindsight fallacy. And history has a massive amount of unrealized possibilities and lost truths. Afterall, history is not what passed, but what remains. We will never know what would have happened if the history had started over.

[1] Hyde, J.S. (2007) New directions in the study of gender similarities and differences and differences, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 259-263

[2] Dindia, K. (2006). Men are From North Dakota, Women are From South Dakota. In K. Dindia & D. J. Canary (Eds.), Sex differences and similarities in communication (pp. 3-20). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[3] Miller, R. S., Perlman, D., & Brehm, S. S. (2007). Intimate relationships P20-26. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

[4] David Edmonds, Would You Kill the Fat Man, Princeton University Press, 2013. ISBN 9781400848386

[5] Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

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