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1 Bob Levin  Thu, Jul 22, 2010 5:30:27pm

Let me give you one religious perspective, and probably a minority religious perspective at that.

What's needed to make the best decision--is a knowledge of the future, and none of us have that. You could give the money to charity, but as it turns out, the person was carrying the box under false pretenses and uses the money to buy a weapon which he ultimately uses to kill someone. Or it's a genuine charity, but they don't use the funds wisely, or it is what you might ideally think it is.

Not only do you need to know the future, you also have to know about the essence of all things--again, knowledge beyond our ken.

Buying the cake could very well lead to a feeling of kindness in those at the family gathering, which could lead to charity given at another venue, or cause a discussion which sparks an idea that ultimately leads to the cure for a disease. We cannot know the full spectrum of what can possibly happen.

At some point, to function ethically, if you want to, a person has to know their own heart, and trust it--a monumental task, that might be the ultimate spiritual/religious challenge. Another way to phrase this notion of knowing your heart is 'expanding your consciousness'.

I think that the whole notion that reality can be broken down into a base 2 series of choices creates a false representation of reality, in which case, believing in this base 2 notion stops a person from connecting to their heart, contracts their consciousness, which renders both choices somewhat flawed.

Now, a lot of religions and religious people have accepted this reduction of reality--which keeps questions like this going. They've even played a part in generating this illusion.

If you break out of this base 2 notion of reality, you will encounter the idea of 'intention'. But that's another issue. First, break out of the illusion.

2 CuriousLurker  Thu, Jul 22, 2010 10:11:09pm

re: #1 Bob Levin

My tradition teaches is pretty much exactly what you just described. Because we have no knowledge of the future and can't possibly be aware of all circumstances in a given situation, we cannot predict the outcome of our choices with much accuracy (beyond the obvious, like if I go outside while it's raining I'm going to get wet).

We also have that bit about knowing the heart/self: If you want to know God, know yourself. It is indeed a monumental task to venture down that path, and sometimes an unpleasant one. The (lower) self has quite the bag of tricks, and they seem specifically designed to deter us from reaching that place of the (heart) self.

I agree that reality isn't binary; at least not for me. And intention, oh my, that is a tough one. My father used to say that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". It took me about 40 years of living to understand the true wisdom of that, namely that having the correct intention is far more crucial than simply having a good intention.

Recently, someone—I think it might have been Jimmah—mentioned being annoyed by religions saying that God will seal the hearts & eyes of certain wayward people and prevent them from improving. He said that seemed unfair. I've often pondered that myself. This article reminded me of it, as well as of a poem by Khayyam:

That sin is irresistible, He knows;
Yet he commands us to abstain from sin.
Thus irresistibly confounds us
With prohibition:—'Lean, but never fall!'

As the article says, we're not self-created. But what I wasn't able to wrap my head around was the conclusion that since we're not self-created and cannot control who we are (in terms of genetics, personality, intelligence, etc.), nor can we control every circumstance that leads up to making a decision, then we somehow bear zero moral responsibility for the choices we make. That sort of prerequisite just seems absurd.

Come to think of it, this topic also reminds me of the whole Breitbart-Sherrod-USDA mess going on right now. Lots of different intentions & choices contributed to the current situation, and there will doubtlessly be many others made before it's over. I can't say for sure, but from where I'm standing it seems that Ms. Sherrod was the one who was striving to know her heart... then 20 some-odd years later her personal internal struggle and subsequent intention & choices collided with Breitbart's and *KABOOM!*

Pretty amazing. And scary-wonderful... because if everything were binary and predictable, the journey we're on would be awfully boring.

Thanks for participating; I enjoyed your response. ;o)

3 Bob Levin  Thu, Jul 22, 2010 11:14:18pm

No problem, I was happy to participate.

There is a great deal that we agree on. The problem is wresting religion from religious people. For some reason, that base 2 reality is just too appealing.

So, you have to be familiar with your primary sources, and although you'll never be qualified to make legal rulings, I think there are enough lawyers in the world, and not enough people simply trying to understand themselves and the world.

In Judaism, the door never shuts--regarding what we call teshuvah. English translations never quite get the whole meaning, but very roughly, it means repentance. Literally, it means 'turning' or 'returning'. Paradoxically, the worse you are, the more powerful your teshuvah is.

I think the reason you couldn't wrap yourself around that part of the argument is because all of the logic building up to that was flawed. It's predicated on this base 2 notion of reality. It doesn't consider human consciousness as a force of nature--such as cavanah (Hebrew for Intention), and teshuvah. Frequently we use the metaphor 'heart' for these things. Your notion of correct intention is much closer to being accurate than the phrase 'good intentions'.

You have the ability to correct your intention, you can choose whether you will embark on that journey. And that is the one aspect of each of us that nobody else can judge--because no one else can know. It calls for another paradigm of human behavior and human consciousness.

Politics is another way to embrace a base 2 reality--right or left, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. As soon as you take a side, then you have to follow a script. But base 2 is very interesting, in this way. If you embrace it, it will choke you right back.

And we're not even scratching the surface of this issue.

4 CuriousLurker  Thu, Jul 22, 2010 11:28:03pm

re: #3 Bob Levin

This is really interesting. I want to reply more, but it's late and the old brain synapses just aren't firing as they should right now, so I think I'd better wait.

I probably won't be able to get back to this until tomorrow night, and if you're Jewish then I guess you'll be observing the sabbath by then, but I do hope you'll come back later in the weekend.

Have a great night.

5 Bob Levin  Fri, Jul 23, 2010 1:57:55am

This is indeed interesting. You're right about having to wait to get back to this, if possible. I wonder if the mad programmer isn't working out a way for folks to speak to each other, like a Facebook, except with broken bottles. Sometimes we have to be told to play nice.

Then again, maybe there are ways, but I don't know them.

6 Aceofwhat?  Fri, Jul 23, 2010 9:31:15am

I'll do my best to attempt to pinpoint with clarity what i perceive to be the differences i have with the theory as constructed.

(and great post...thanks!)

I believe that it is a sneaky, tempting fallacy to define 'responsibility' as stated within the NYT column...When one acts for a reason, what one does is a function of how one is, mentally speaking. This seems to be the main fulcrum on which the argument rests, and i will attempt to highlight what i believe to be two basic errors in the statement.

I believe it is more accurate to say that When one is prepared to act for a reason, what one is capable of doing is a function of how one is, mentally and physically speaking.

see the difference?

Choices aren't binary; i believe they're better expressed as a sphere, almost a 3-D Venn diagram, where the sphere encompasses every choice that we are capable of performing. When we act without reason, i.e. when we react, what we do is a function of how we are. When we act with reason, as stated in the article, we have the ability to choose from our sphere of potential.

Our spheres are all different, and the size and scope of everyone's sphere is shaped by prior actions (which are our responsibility) and genetics/external factors (which we cannot control). So, for example, if a fire broke out in the bakery and the baker weighed 350lbs, I would bear little responsibility for my inability to save the baker because despite my fairly consistent dedication to the gym, genetics limit me to a range of 155lbs-165lbs.

In that same vein, when we do not have the luxury of reason, we can imagine situations where we are not responsible for an outcome. If I am waiting in line in the bakery and the person in front of me stumbles, i might reach out and help them because my sphere permits it. If I am on crutches, i'll let that person fall because my immediate reaction will not be to stabilize another person on one leg...and I will disavow responsibility for their fall (assuming i didn't cause it in the first place).

However, the choices posed in the article are not so extreme as the "fire" example, and are subject to our ability to reason. We all carry within our sphere the ability to either purchase a cake or donate the money, and we have the time to make a conscious decision; we can therefore accept full responsibility for the decision.

That is my first issue with the 'theory' as stated in the NYT. I'll explain my second issue in the next post.

7 Aceofwhat?  Fri, Jul 23, 2010 9:51:30am

My second major disagreement with the 'theory' as posited in the NYT column is centered on this part of the theory:

(iv) But to be ultimately responsible for how one is, in any mental respect, one must have brought it about that one is the way one is, in that respect. And it’s not merely that one must have caused oneself to be the way one is, in that respect. One must also have consciously and explicitly chosen to be the way one is, in that respect, and one must also have succeeded in bringing it about that one is that way.

The fallacy here, as best I can state it, is the exclusion of what I'll call 'pursuit'. (i'm intentionally avoiding borrowing established philosophical arguments because this is a cool post and a personal response is more fun than a recycled response.)

Let us say that I generally do not give to charities. Let's say that I've led a mostly selfish life, and then i walk up to the bakery and am faced with this choice. I do not have a particular personal or moral issue with Oxfam, in order to remove that red herring...let's just say i don't mind charities but i don't normally donate.
---
Saying that 'the way one is' acts as the sole agent on what my choice will be falls short, IMHO, of describing the situation accurately. We cannot abdicate or forget our ability, as self-conscious beings, to choose or pursue a goal that can be achieved through a series of consistent future actions.

So in this example, i arrive at the bakery having led a mostly selfish life.
HOWEVER.
It is a fallacy to say that who I am at this point in any way predetermines my action or removes my ability to plot a new course for myself. I can pursue a new goal at any time. Being the sum of mostly selfish choices does not preclude me from deciding at any point to pursue a goal of being a more giving individual. While giving to this particular charity will not, by itself, alter my personality and the sum of my actions to this point...it can be the first of a multitude of actions that I choose in direct contrast to the actions that have led to the sum of what I am at this moment.

That is the fallacy - that what we are is what we are, with nothing more. I believe a more true statement is that we are the sum of our actions to date, but with each new choice, we have the opportunity to alter the sum of our actions by choosing a path in contrast with our personal history, for better or worse. Humans have proven over the millenia that we can make choices, for better or worse, in a specific and conscious departure from what the sum of our actions might have otherwise dictated.

I believe that it is a sneaky, seductive, but ultimately false statement to say that we make a choice because of what we are. We make a choice because of what we wish, desire, or dream to accomplish...for better or worse...and our dreams are far less chained to the sum of what we have accomplished to date.

And now I pray that any of this was coherent;)

8 CuriousLurker  Sat, Jul 24, 2010 10:49:29pm

re: #3 Bob Levin

I think you're right about my problem with the logic. Thanks for the info on teshuvah and cavanah. I don't know a lot about Judaism, but I'm waiting on a friend to recommend some books. From the basic stuff that I do know about the world's main religions it seems that when dealing with inner spiritual aspects, the core concepts & guidelines are very similar. No surprise there since we're all human and have to overcome the same obstacles of "self" in order to make any spiritual progress. Sort of like reading a book: I went through about 10 books on PHP programming until I finally found an author that explained it in a way I could understand and build on.

As someone who is herself a convert, I've watched other people convert to Islam and simply exchange one form of rigid dogmatism for another. It's frustrates and annoys me to no end because I have a hard time understanding the point of changing if you're not going to evolve.

You have the ability to correct your intention, you can choose whether you will embark on that journey. And that is the one aspect of each of us that nobody else can judge--because no one else can know. It calls for another paradigm of human behavior and human consciousness.

I was told once that you have to check your intention three times: Before you do something, while you're doing it, and after you've done it. It's amazing what you can learn about yourself when you do that. There have been times when I've said, "I'm going to do whatever it takes to accomplish a, b and c." My mistake was in assuming that I possessed the ability to do what was necessary. It took me a while to figure that part out. It was pretty humbling.

Politics is another way to embrace a base 2 reality--right or left, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. As soon as you take a side, then you have to follow a script. But base 2 is very interesting, in this way. If you embrace it, it will choke you right back.

True that!

And we're not even scratching the surface of this issue.

Yeah, it's a very wide & deep subject, isn't it? I always enjoy talking to other about these things though. You never know when someone's going to say something that clicks into place with another bit of info tucked away in your brain, enabling you to suddenly see things in a whole new light.

9 CuriousLurker  Sun, Jul 25, 2010 12:12:38am

Great responses, Ace. I'm glad you joined in!

re: #6 Aceofwhat?

I believe it is more accurate to say that When one is prepared to act for a reason, what one is capable of doing is a function of how one is, mentally and physically speaking.

see the difference?

Yep, I sure do. I think it's very similar to what Bob and I were discussing regarding "correct" intention—i.e. seeking knowledge, being aware of one's limitations, and using reason to adjust one's intentions when necessary. I love the idea of the choices we're capable of making being 3D spheres of varying sizes.

So, reason. In Islam we have 'ilm which is book learning (math, science, law, etc.), and 'aql which is reason, intellect—precisely the thing you referred to when making choices within one's sphere of potential.

A side note I think you'll enjoy: You know the black corded headband the bedouin Arabs use to hold their headdress in place? Those were originally used to hobble their camels while they slept so they wouldn't run off. The Arabic word for that headband is 'iqaal, which comes from the same root word as 'aql. So a human being with free will must use his 'aql (reason) as an 'iqaal (hobble) to avoid knee-jerk reactions that may cause him to run off in the wrong direction and get him in trouble. I hadn't thought about that in ages until you mentioned reason vs. reaction, so thanks for that. ;o)

BTW, there's also a third type of knowledge in Islam called 'irfan, which refers to perception or "knowing" (in a spiritual sense). It's one of those words that sort of defies exact translation into English, but I'm pretty sure you understand what I mean.

I agree wholeheartedly with your other examples regarding ability/control/responsibility. That is, unless or until some other Lizard comes along and puts forth an really good counter-argument, which they've been know to do on occasion!

Hey, it just dawned on me that we now have three of the world's major religions participating here. And we're not even at each other's throats—imagine that! Now all we need is an atheist...

10 CuriousLurker  Sun, Jul 25, 2010 1:50:54am

Ace, I got distracted by the invasion of the Mexican gangs over in the Saturday night music thread. It turned into a total hoot and now I've laughed myself into exhaustion, so I'll have to come back to your 2nd part sometime Sunday.

11 reine.de.tout  Mon, Jul 26, 2010 6:19:51pm

CuriousLurker and I had a brief e-mail exchange on this topic. I admit I was embarrassed to put my very simple answer here, given the quality of the discussions above. Base this, 2 what, binary choices, spherical choices -
oof!

Not my forte to think or write in that sort of high-falutin' language.

So I sent CuriousLurker an e-mail, apologizing for the brevity and simpleness of my response, and she said she would like to see it posted here on the page.

So here 'tis:

oof.
I read it (or tried to). A bit too cerebral for me; like you, it made my head spin.

I'm trying to figure out what the basic question is that you would like to us answer.

My answer is going to be very simple, because, well, I'm a very simple person.

I'm guessing the question is:

Do we really have free will and consciously make choices based on our moral character, or is what we choose to do somehow determined before we do it?

In this case, I know what my choice would be in that situation. And I believe I would make that choice entirely based on my free will. I know quite well what I got from my "genetic" inheritance.

My genetic inheritance has given me a quick temper, which I have to fight.
My genetic inheritance has given me an "introvert" personality, in the sense that I do not reach out to others. This is something I must be consciously aware of, and strive to overcome.
My genetic inheritance has given me lack of patience. But again, this is something I am fully conscious of, and I can take steps to overcome it.

Those things were not learned easily - they were learned through a process of busted friendships, people being angry with me, people upset at my anger with them, etc.

I know that every year that I live, I am a bit less selfish than the year before. I know this because it is something I think about, and when I find myself being selfish for purely selfish reasons, it is an incident I think about and make a conscious decision that I will not be so selfish the next time.

Every year that I live, I am a bit more patient that I was the year before. Again, it is because I examine incidents that occur, and make a conscious decision to be more patient.

This process is applied in so many ways . . . am I as kind as I could be? Am I as generous as I could be? Am I as thoughtful as I could be? Am I as interested in other people as I could be? Am I acting in a completely self-absorbed way, or could I do better?

If the actions I take in my life were already determined, I don't think I would even be thinking these thoughts. I would simply be doing things without knowing why.

So, I'm standing on the side of free will. I believe it exists; I believe we have it; I believe our free will is somewhat informed by our inheritance and experiences, but most especially, it is informed by our own personal reflections and our fully free decision to be better, or not.

12 CuriousLurker  Tue, Jul 27, 2010 9:47:46pm

I'm so glad to changed your mind, reine—excellent points all. Thanks for adding your thoughts, which I wholeheartedly agree with. You rock. ;o)


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