|Image Credit: http://thinkinginfinity.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/freedom.html|
Is "freedom" something that matters to you?
Do you resent being told what you can or cannot do?
Do you vigorously defend your own right to choose for yourself?
Do stories of oppression make your blood boil?
If you are anything like me, the answer to all of those questions would be a resounding YES.
Yet, is "freedom" even real?
Some would say, perhaps, that we are not free at all; that our behaviour is completely determined by the interaction of our genetics and environment, and that although we perceive ourselves as autonomous, self-determined human beings, we are in fact nothing but a sum of (at least theoretically) predictable probabilities.
But if that is really the case - why is the idea of 'freedom' something we value so highly?
And, another question; is "freedom" even healthy, necessarily?
After all - to be free to choose, is to be free to make the wrong choice, as well as the right one!
I've been listening to, and having conversations lately, that I think all connect to this concept of freedom. There have been questions like "why do pain and evil exist?" "How could God allow atrocities and tragedies if he is a loving God?" "is there really such a thing as the 'self'?" (that one was in this TED talk) as well as the conversation here on Stuart's guest post, about whether there is more to life than a biological cycle of birth and death. How you answer the question of whether we are really free to make choices has huge implications for all of these other questions.
So... Are we free? Or are we simply products of heredity and environment?
I believe that our genetics do affect us more than we realise. My love of vibrant colours, and tendency towards nonconformity are at least partly inherited. These factors and others really do affect my preferences, and therefore my choices. Philosopher and Cognitive Psychologist, Sam McNerney believes, along with other philosophers and scientists of note, that the self is, in fact, an illusion. But - does the fact that biology and environment influence my preferences mean that I am not truly capable of choosing?
Every parent knows that part of helping children mature into functional, healthy adults, is helping them to make sound, healthy choices. Learning to control impulses and behave thoughtfully toward others is an important part of developing maturity.
I think of people who have "fallen through the cracks" of our society, in one way or another... I blogged about some circumstances that helped to create an Australian murderer, here - and I wonder, had I experienced a similar environment, how different would I be, today? How much of their story can be ascribed to biology and environment, and how much was their choice? And although we feel there is always a choice of behaviour, if we are unaware of some possibilities, how can we be considered free to choose them?
But I am meandering. The feeling that I cannot shake, in all this, is that if biology, environment and a clever interactive system is all that there is to us - We. Should. Not. Care. About. Freedom. Comfort? Yes. Biological needs? Yes. Social belonging? Yes. But... freedom? Individual (or even corporate) choice? Perhaps I'm missing something here, but it just doesn't make sense to me, that we value and seek this idea of freedom the way that we do, if there is nothing but an illusion of "self" and no genuine self-determination.
I need to tease this out some more... (and I suppose, if scientists and philosophers cannot agree, the answer is not simple). What are your thoughts?