Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I just keep on seeming to exist

Elk jaar stelt The World Question Center een vraag waarop intellectuele en culturele zwaargewichten worden uitgenodigd een persoonlijk antwoord te geven. De verzamelde antwoorden vormen een prettige intellectuele koekjestrommel waar je heel aangenaam in kan grabbelen als je even wat stimulatie nodig hebt.

In 2005 was de vraag: What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it? Dit is het antwoord van Susan Blackmore, psycholoog, spreker en schrijver over memetica.
It is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will. As Samuel Johnson said "All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience is for it." With recent developments in neuroscience and theories of consciousness, theory is even more against it than it was in his time, more than 200 years ago. So I long ago set about systematically changing the experience. I now have no feeling of acting with free will, although the feeling took many years to ebb away.

But what happens? People say I'm lying! They say it's impossible and so I must be deluding myself to preserve my theory. And what can I do or say to challenge them? I have no idea—other than to suggest that other people try the exercise, demanding as it is.

When the feeling is gone, decisions just happen with no sense of anyone making them, but then a new question arises—will the decisions be morally acceptable? Here I have made a great leap of faith (or the memes and genes and world have done so). It seems that when people throw out the illusion of an inner self who acts, as many mystics and Buddhist practitioners have done, they generally do behave in ways that we think of as moral or good. So perhaps giving up free will is not as dangerous as it sounds—but this too I cannot prove.

As for giving up the sense of an inner conscious self altogether—this is very much harder. I just keep on seeming to exist. But though I cannot prove it—I think it is true that I don't.

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