Take care of your neighbours and the world will look after itself
We need some order and autonomy, and Christmas is a beacon for both.
7:11PM GMT 23 Dec 2011
There is an interesting article about “the illusion” of free will in this week’s New Statesman. The author contends that since every “choice” we make can be viewed as a function of our genetic, evolutionary and cultural history, they are not choices at all, but predetermined; or rather, predeterminable.
Predeterminable by whom, I wondered, as I bounced around my BA flat-bed on a turbulence-struck flight across the Atlantic. A transatlantic flight is an existential void: there is no choice you can make once the plane has taken off that will determine your outcome. Whatever illusion of free will BA permits you (“Gin and tonic, sir?”), none of them makes any real difference. Perhaps that’s why I hate flying so much.
The author of the piece – a neuroscientist called Sam Harris – went on to make some fairly adolescent political points, which he thinks follow from his insight: Conservatism is flawed, he says, because it ignores luck; it fetishises the exercise of choice. But that Tories understand the random paths into human existence, and our near-powerlessness to overcome them, has always struck me as one of our essential differences to utopians: it’s why liberals find us so gloomy.
I say “adolescent”, because this insight, that humans never really understand what drives our pseudo-choices, came to me in my teenage wonderings about God. There may well be a cosmic algebra whose equations govern our lives, as a function of everything else in Creation: but only God, looking down from outside the Universe, could ever understand how to resolve those equations, and so know what would happen next.
Read the full story here: The Telegraph
- Preview: Sam Harris on the free will delusion (newstatesman.com)