Is Choice an Illusion?
“I will eat a doughnut.”
That seems quite simple and straight forward. There is a doughnut and you are making a decision to consume it. But does that actually mean your choice is pure and untainted? Or does it mean your decision-making process has been guided by the world around you?
Think of the processes involved that lead you to that make that decision. The list of effects can be quite long but I think it can be summed up with these facts: 1) Knowledge of the existence of a doughnut – 2) Hunger for something sweet and sugary – 3) Desire to try something you have only heard/read about – 4) Your proximity to and availability of a doughnut – 5) Receptors in your brain, chemical needs in your blood and the rumbling in your tummy tell you that a doughnut will satisfy your current needs.
So you may think you are making a choice to scoff down a doughnut but the decision has already been made through cause and effect. Imagine you are walking along a sea front promenade and you smell a hot yummy batch of doughnuts, there is the cause, the effect is you buying a doughnut and chucking it down your throat.
There were 2 closely related topics on the Daily Post that got me thinking:
Both questions prompted a lively debate but I couldn’t help wondering how so many people brought the issue of religion, ethics and morals into it. I know cause and effect is a branch of philosophy but it does make sense that everything in the universe happens because of something else.
Gravity & Spacey Stuff
If we set aside the creationist view-point for a moment and think about the universe and how it doesn’t have a choice in how things happen, we then start to get a picture of cause and effect. Swirling gas clouds condense due to gravity, not choice, stars are formed and planets are the result of debris gathering together under gravitational forces.
A few billion years later you are about to eat a doughnut. It seems like a bit of a stretch to say because of gravity and the sun and our planet you therefore eat a tasty snack, but it does kind of demonstrate cause and effect.
God Created the Doughnut.
Now if we look at this from a religious stand point (I’m generalising here, using my own experience and limited knowledge of the Bible) God created the world and everything in it. He told Adam and Eve that eating the apple would be a bad idea, thus granting them the ability to choose. However, by telling them not to eat the juicy fruit he successfully planted the seed of curiosity, thereby removing freedom of choice. Clearly there is an argument that suggests without any warning from God, Adam & Eve would eventually eat the apple due to their own curiosity, but then since God made them, curiosity was built in. And then there is the issue of the dirty snake giving his opinion and acting the bully. That also influenced them, again removing choice and prompting cause and effect to take over.
Days 1 – 7 were the cause and everything from Day 8 has been the effect. To me that makes sense. It doesn’t matter whether God plays a part in this or not, or if we are all aliens evolved from single-celled organisms brought to Earth on the back of a meteorite. Something caused these events to happen. Was God prompted to create everything?
So after all the amazing adventures laid out in whatever religious texts you happen to believe, we arrive in the modern world and the subject of the doughnut. Everything that has happened has led you to the point where you are about to eat that doughnut. By the way, the type of doughnut is not at question here, it can be glazed, sugared, topped with pink stuff or smothered in sprinkles. It is yours to enjoy regardless.
My Nothing Theory.
Imagine for a moment you have been created in isolation. No light, no dark, no heat or cold, no language or social group. You have no emotional state because there has never been a need for it. No loneliness because that implies experience of connection and thus loss and longing for that connection. You have no memory, no assumptions, no influences of any sort. The only thing you have is what your body needs, nourishment in its various forms. How this is delivered is irrelevant for this argument. The only cause and effect here is your body growing from that nourishment and expelling waste. Nothing else.
Now imagine the doughnut appearing beside you. How would you react to that? Would you understand what the smell was or that it was related to the doughnut? Given that your senses have never experienced anything would you touch it or taste it? Would you simply not acknowledge it because it is meaningless to you?
Two hypothesis can come from this:
1) That is the only time where choice can be true and pure.
2) Because of your situation the sudden appearance of a doughnut, the cause, prompts you to acknowledge it and everything else that follows, the effect, – smell, touch, taste, eat, vomit, desire, hate, love and so on.
Point of View.
I like the idea of cause and effect. It’s simple and logical. But I also like the idea of choice, that I am in control of my life, my destiny and the doughnut’s immediate future. I am influenced by my surroundings but ultimately I choose to eat the doughnut or not. So isn’t this about your point of view and not which is right or wrong?
In The Matrix, Neo and his pals visit The Merovingian who ends their conversation by saying he must leave. His wife/partner/girlfriend asks where he is going to which he replies he has drunk a lot of wine and must go pee-pee, ergo cause and effect.
But he could just as easily not use the loo and wet his pants, after all it’s his choice where and how he drains the weasel isn’t it? However, the fact that he consumed wine, the cause, means the eventual effect will be the need to expel waste. Again, it could be argued that he didn’t need to consume the wine and then not need the toilet.
Ultimately can’t cause and effect work in tandem with choice? Can one exist without the other? Or does all choice come from cause and effect? Is choice an illusion because we don’t understand how cause and effect works or refuse to believe we don’t have choice?
I do know one thing is certain, my brain hurts after giving this a couple of hours thought, and I’m pretty sure that is a good example of cause and effect!
Posted on June 30, 2011, in Blogging, Human Behaviour and tagged causality, cause and effect, choice, Daily Post, destiny, doughnut, fate, free-will, God, Philosophy, postaday2011, postaweek2011. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.