Monday, May 28, 2007

Facebook: Nachman is beyond liberal

Facebook has just added a new applications feature, where outside developers can write little applications that users can put on their profiles. As with all new Facebook features, it's of dubious quality, at least for now. One of these new gadgets is a polticial "compass" from the Washington Post, which gauges and displays your political ideologue based on a ten-question survey. The survey is pretty basic, with questions about abortion, death penalty, taxes, and other typical liberal/conservative dividers. The answers are in the form of "disagree strongly," "disagree," etc.

According to the survey, my political views are to the left of the average liberal position. But the survey doesn't really measure how liberal or how conservative you are. Instead, it finds out if you are liberal and conservative, and to what degree your political views follow party line. For example, I agree with every typical Democratic or liberal position, but that doesn't make me far left. Instead, they should have included question about welfare, universal healthcare, and religion in public schools. That would have seperated the leaning ideologues from the hardcore believers.


Adi Sivaraman said...

I'm on the libertarian Right. Which is probably accurate... for now. I find that my conservatism is increasingly expanding beyond the realm of economics. Don't get me wrong - I have no fear that I'll backtrack on many of my more liberal social views, but I'm becoming more and more disenchanted with strict rationalism and the ideal of the Enlightenment lately. I'm finding that I'm ok with the idea of authority and hierarchy being natural and necessary, as well as accepting the past as an anchor and not simply an arbitrary peculiarity.

Oh, and a friend of mine is trying (pretty successfully) to convince me that free will doesn't exist, for what it's worth.

A. S. Erickson said...

I feel like I am (and have been) making the same arc as you Adi. In particular, the importance of history as a guide has come to dissuade me from my formerly strict libertarianism. A little bit scary, really.

On a side note, if I remember correctly aren't you agnostic, or something similar? How does one go about arguing for determinism considering the absence of God. I'm curious.

Adi Sivaraman said...

I don't want to jump to quickly into this debate and end up drowning. I've been reading up on the arguments, both philosophical and biological, about free will. You're right, I'm not religious. The way the argument goes, however, is that free will can only exist with the aid of divine intervention. As an atheist (or whatever), the only consistent position is to reject the idea of free will.

Here's the thrust of it: as humans, we're biological beings that are intrinsically tied to our physical frameworks. There isn't any consciousness that can exist outside of and distinct from our bodies. As such, at the base of it, we're just a bundle of chemical reactions. All of our thoughts, all of our decisions are just the products of incredibly complex reactions that go on in our brains. Science hasn't advanced to the level where we can derive the equation for this reaction, but we're getting to the point where we can start to see what it might look like.

The resulting form of the equation is that it's pretty much deterministic, but that at some point in the equation, there's a randomness factor. This is the result of the fact that one of the variables in the equation replicates itself randomly each time the equation plays out. Some people have tried to argue that this randomness is the foundation of free will, but I disagree. Randomness is just that - randomness. It's not any kind of meaningful free will, because we don't have any agency to influence the resulting form of the variable.

It appears, then, that we stand at an uneasy compromise. We have no free will - we have no meaningful ability to choose the course of our actions, only the illusion that we do. It would be a logical fallacy, however, to rush to the other extreme and assume this means that all human behavior falls along set paths of action, because even when the equation plays itself out exactly as it has in the past (say, if an individual were subjected to exactly the same stimulus in the same environment at two different times and had no ability to reference his previous experience with that stimulus), there's still a randomly generated variable that might produce different results.

We are slaves to our physical forms. As a non-religious person, if these biological arguments are true, it's impossible to imagine that we're capable of anything that isn't dictated by our biology. Arguing such would require acknowledging some kind of supernatural force, which I don't think exists.

Keep in mind that I'm not a neurobiologist or even somebody with an elementary knowledge of the way the nervous system works. I'm relying heavily on the findings of research that I’m struggling to understand, and I certainly can’t independently verify any of it. But if the science is sound, then there exists only one conclusion. Having grown up intellectually immersed in the tradition of liberalism and the Enlightenment (traditions that I'm now starting to question), I found this conclusion very hard to stomach. However, I've always maintained that I'll never subordinate the truth to my personal prejudice or ideology - what kind of person would I be if I reneged on that claim as soon as it was put to the test?

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