Tagphilosophy

Waking Coma

“…a third of those who play with a Predictor must be hospitalized because they won’t feed themselves. The end state is akinetic mutism, a kind of waking coma. They’ll track motion with their eyes, and change position occasionally, but nothing more. The ability to move remains, but the motivation is gone.”

A short story regarding Free Will.

“What’s Expected of Us” by Ted Chiang

It’s a tough choice…

This is a warning. Please read carefully.

By now you’ve probably seen a Predictor; millions of them have been sold by the time you’re reading this. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s a small device, like a remote for opening your car door. Its only features are a button and a big green LED. The light flashes if you press the button. Specifically, the light flashes one second before you press the button.

Most people say that when they first try it, it feels like they’re playing a strange game, one where the goal is to press the button after seeing the flash, and it’s easy to play. But when you try to break the rules, you find that you can’t. If you try to press the button without having seen a flash, the flash immediately appears, and no matter how fast you move, you never push the button until a second has elapsed. If you wait for the flash, intending to keep from pressing the button afterwards, the flash never appears. No matter what you do, the light always precedes the button press. There’s no way to fool a Predictor.

The heart of each Predictor is a circuit with a negative time delay — it sends a signal back in time. The full implications of the technology will become apparent later, when negative delays of greater than a second are achieved, but that’s not what this warning is about. The immediate problem is that Predictors demonstrate that there’s no such thing as free will.

There have always been arguments showing that free will is an illusion, some based on hard physics, others based on pure logic. Most people agree these arguments are irrefutable, but no one ever really accepts the conclusion. The experience of having free will is too powerful for an argument to overrule. What it takes is a demonstration, and that’s what a Predictor provides.

Typically, a person plays with a Predictor compulsively for several days, showing it to friends, trying various schemes to outwit the device. The person may appear to lose interest in it, but no one can forget what it means — over the following weeks, the implications of an immutable future sink in. Some people, realizing that their choices don’t matter, refuse to make any choices at all. Like a legion of Bartleby the Scriveners, they no longer engage in spontaneous action. Eventually, a third of those who play with a Predictor must be hospitalized because they won’t feed themselves. The end state is akinetic mutism, a kind of waking coma. They’ll track motion with their eyes, and change position occasionally, but nothing more. The ability to move remains, but the motivation is gone.

Before people started playing with Predictors, akinetic mutism was very rare, a result of damage to the anterior cingulate region of the brain. Now it spreads like a cognitive plague. People used to speculate about a thought that destroys the thinker, some unspeakable lovecraftian horror, or a Gödel sentence that crashes the human logical system. It turns out that the disabling thought is one that we’ve all encountered: the idea that free will doesn’t exist. It just wasn’t harmful until you believed it.

Doctors try arguing with the patients while they still respond to conversation. We had all been living happy, active lives before, they reason, and we hadn’t had free will then either. Why should anything change? “No action you took last month was any more freely chosen than one you take today,” a doctor might say. “You can still behave that way now.” The patients invariably respond, “But now I know.” And some of them never say anything again.

Some will argue that the fact the Predictor causes this change in behaviour means that we do have free will. An automaton cannot become discouraged, only a free-thinking entity can. The fact that some individuals descend into akinetic mutism whereas others do not just highlights the importance of making a choice.

Unfortunately, such reasoning is faulty: every form of behaviour is compatible with determinism. One dynamic system might fall into a basin of attraction and wind up at a fixed point, whereas another exhibits chaotic behaviour indefinitely, but both are completely deterministic.

I’m transmitting this warning to you from just over a year in your future: it’s the first lengthy message received when circuits with negative delays in the megasecond range are used to build communication devices. Other messages will follow, addressing other issues. My message to you is this: pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know that they don’t. The reality isn’t important: what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.

And yet I know that, because free will is an illusion, it’s all predetermined who will descend into akinetic mutism and who won’t. There’s nothing anyone can do about it — you can’t choose the effect the Predictor has on you. Some of you will succumb and some of you won’t, and my sending this warning won’t alter those proportions. So why did I do it?

Because I had no choice.

Leaves of Grass

There are some bad decisions in life, and some good decisions. Suppose most of us are aware of the difference between these two tokens of the type, decisions. Yet, knowing a decision is good or bad, what makes someone choose the bad? There must be a justification for choosing one over the other. I’m a Utilitarian. If a decision does not promote the most aggregate utility (i.e. a bad decision would not qualify for having more utility than a good decision), then why decide bad over good? I cannot wrap my head around why, other than the fact that to err is human.

Recently, I’ve been making a string of bad decisions. Though, following my Utilitarian strain, if an action was inherently bad but the outcome good, what then? Well, I guess that’s why Utlitarians are not an action-based ethical principal, but a consequentialist ethical principal? The problem with Utilitarianism is the problem in my question as well. An action might produce an immediate sense of goodness, only to later produce badness; which consequence is of the most value?

Do people take only the short-term consequences into consideration? I mean, it’s impossible to look into the future to know the outcome of every action. Hm… hahaha I just reconstructed an argument for the failure of Utilitarianism… and do note that I am a Utilitarian.

Anyway, this got more philosophical when I’d wanted it to be more emotional. So much for that.

A small victory (?): Finally cried in front of David after being friends for over 5 years. He biked right on over when he realized that I was feeling sad. It was still hard to cry… I’m not much for showing my negative/sad emotions to people because it’s such a private thing. But it was a step toward sharing my feelings?

A small loss: Being at a loss.

Wait Time

Shit! I haven’t blogged in a while. I am falling behind on the online life… argh! That’s never really happened before but I’m just taking a quick step back from the computer recently. No longer do I feel any urge to go on AIM and Windows Live Messenger. There really isn’t anyone to talk to on there that I don’t already talk to/see daily. So I just sort of don’t sign on. Also, on Aelyria I am about two months behind on posts (uhm oh wow…). Seriously, I even neglect my RSS feeds, and now my blog! AH. Hot mess, all right.

The days are seriously ZOOMING by. That’s actually kind of scary. I’m already in week 4 of winter quarter and there are only 11 weeks. In less than 6 months I’m going to be a third year at UC Santa Barbara. And in just a littttle over a month I’m going to be 20. Everything’s coming at me way too fast! Mind you, I’ve been waiting forever to be done with college, waiting forever to get into my 20s (which I’m actually really excited about!!!)… but now time seems to be coming at me faster.

[Philosophical Side note: I personally believe time’s arrows travel <– this way and not the commonly held view that they travel –> like that. UHM… FUCK I have a Philosophy of Time and Space class and it’s totally tripping me out…]

You know, this domain hasn’t even had a layout change in a few months? And my other domain has never had a layout. Things are a hot busy mess online. And whereas before I didn’t care for facebook I’m on it a few times a week now as opposed to a few times a month. AH! Well it’s only natural since all my friends are on Facebook. *shrugs* Whatever.

Lately I hang out with my friends so much more. I only have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays but they are so insanely busy it’s ridiculous! On Tuesdays I go seven hours straight without a break! Not even time to eat… ): By the time I’m done for the day on Tuesdays I just want to shoot myself and be done with it. Wednesday seems to disappear all the time with me sleeping in and doing all the homework/reading for class due Thursday. The four-day weekends are long… but they also just disappear and slip away.

People do say time moves faster as you get older. Why? Oh wait… DNW to think atm! On Friday afternoon I was even looking online at philosophy lectures from other universities. Geez. As if my brain didn’t hurt ENOUGH during the week. Honestly, if you’re trying to figure out how/why everything material only exists in the mind (view called Idealism by Berkeley)… it just HURTS. Professor Holden even lets us out 15 minutes early because it’s way too much to take in and grasp…! The class is 75 minutes and by the hour mark I feel my brain wanting to explode. But uh doesn’t stop there… I have to go to Time/Space next. Lol… never thought I’d experience brain pain, but I am proven wrong.

Another reason I suspect time is moving faster for me is because my thoughts lately, especially at night, have been racing NONSTOP. At one point I was trying to say four things at the same time and my roommate Rony just said, “What? Okay you’re saying too many things at the same time.” Then I realized I was cleaning at night, getting all OCD, shopping TOO much, and talking/thinking too fast. Ugh, so that’s why I’ve been too happy and yet still extra annoyed lately… (Hypomania????) But I swear it wasn’t always that. I’m pretty sure I was symptom-free for a good month or two. *Sigh* Can’t escape it! [I’m talking about my bipolar diagnosis]

Anyway.

Oh, I’ve been learning how to cook (somewhat)! Easy things, anyway. Skylar taught me how to make miso soup. Sandy taught me to make pupusas. And I learned how to make udon and (for the very first time) tried making pancakes!! (: It’s actually really fun to cook. Eating my own food is another matter, though. Once I know the process something went through to get cooked I don’t really feel like eating it anymore. Something about knowing the ingredients and just the process itself puts me off. =\ Not sure… I’ll try to get over it.

OH. Oh. Oh wow. Ugh… I’ve been getting all offended lately. GAH. Whatever. Over it. Been over it. I need to get over this shit like NOW. (UGH DAMNIT! When I use the word “now” it makes me think of a “moving now” and … my Time/Space class is messing with me!)

OKKKKK. Updation over. I haven’t written in my moleskine for a WHILE now. I should look into using it again because it is so fabulous. (:

Behaviorist Joke

I am such a geek!! A geek for philosophy, in any case. Okay so I’m just about done with the second of three essays we need to write for Phil of Mind. The second prompt asks:

What is Behaviorism? Why is it a form of Materialism about mental states? Consider a sentence that attributes a mental state to Kobe Bryant. How would the behaviorist attempt to go about providing a purely behavioral translation of the sentence? Describe 2 problems for the attempted translation.

Okay, I’ll just give a really brief run-down so I can get to the joke~ Har har har… *oh gawds I’m such a geek*

Behaviorism is basically, in layman’s terms, facts about the mind that are nothing more than facts about and dispositions to bodily behavior.

Okay, so basically… If you are sad, your bodily behavior (e.g. crying, saying, ‘I am sad’, smacking your head against a table, etc. etc.) will indicate your mental state. I can already tell anyone with a brain can see there is a problem with this. Okay so an objection to this view about the mind in the form of a joke:

Woman: It was good for you, how was it for me? 😉

Har har har… Oh my god… I can’t believe I wrote an entire entry for this joke. Alternately, the G-rated version of the joke:

Man: You’re fine, how am I doing today?

*crickets chirping* Yes… well… I’ll go finish my essay now… xD Hahahah