"The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits." G.K. Chesterton

Monday, May 14, 2018

THE ILLUSION OF DECISION MAKING

There's a high correlation between what we like to call our decisions---actions to which we'd like to attribute intention---and their alleged causal consequences. For example I decide to take a sip of coffee, and it happens. I decided to write this essay, and I'm writing it. The correlation value appears to diminish with decisions and plans regarding actions/events that are more distant in the future.

Now, I'd like to propose an interpretation of what we would normally call decisions, in the absence of free will. That is, I propose an interpretation of what we would call and identify as decisions in the absence of free will----an interpretation which explains the correlation between those intensional events we identify as decisions and the alleged outcomes of those decisions. So to clarify. There persists a strong feeling that we have an autonomous, causal influence over our actions. It seems obvious that we make decisions and then carry them out! Is it possible that we're not actively and freely initiating our actions?  I propose an explanation of this strong feeling/conviction of decision-making and its apparent efficacy on the world, even in the absence of free will.


MAIN PART
Here it goes: assuming absence of free will, what we identify as decisions are in fact predictions of what we (our bodies) will do. We're quite good at making those predictions since we know our bodies quite well, and have a well developed intuition that helps in the accuracy of the prediction. This would explain the correlation between the illusory decisions---which are in fact predictions---and their outcomes. It should be stressed that predictions are not intended acts. We don't choose to make those predictions---they just happen and we merely witness them as if they were revealed to us, and we only interpret them as our decisions. To put it another way, we receive the predictions as 'reports' from our system, so we remain decisively passive in this regard. That's about it for the core of the idea. 

To be clear the phenomenological aspect of what we would call a decision is still the same. That is, I'm saying that decisions are in fact no more than predictions, and the belief of their causal efficacy is illusory: I'm going to watch this movie still appears in our minds but it's merely a passively received prediction and it has no causal effect on the world, unlike a real decision employed by free will. It's like shifting from a geocentric to a heliocentric explanation of the Sun's path across the sky. It still looks the same (it is the same image on our retinas), but we're not at the center of the Solar system. No longer the protagonists we thought we were.

It should be noted that instances where the predictions fail, correspond exactly to circumstances that would get in the way of acting on a decision, i.e. external circumstances that are unexpected, and as such difficult to account for from the reading of our inner state alone. For example, if I decide to go to the local cinema tomorrow, but it burns down, then I won't go. But this is also something that would be difficult to predict---the likelihood of an accident happening at the cinema is precisely reflected by the degree of my confidence that I will carry out the plan of seeing the movie. Changing one's mind is to be interpreted as merely passively updating/refining/revising a prediction, i.e. being presented with such an update.

It just seems to me that each instance of what we identify as a decision could be equally well explained in terms of a revealed prediction. And it seems that failures to realize previously decided upon acts are equally amenable to being plausibly explained by unforeseen circumstances that are not being accounted for in the prediction.


The picture that emerges here is one where we're mere passive witnesses to our own existence who create (or are presented with) a meaningful narrative which places us at its center as the protagonists, i.e. we live out a geocentric illusion within a heliocentric reality.


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