Friday, August 20, 2010

Free Will and Predestination Part II: Why I Choose What I Choose

At the end of the previous post, I asked you to think about the following question: why do you choose what you choose?

This is a profound question.  It is interesting sometimes to stop and think, before you make a choice, why you are making the choice you are.  This also works retrospectively, asking why you made a certain choice in the past.

I think I have come up with an answer that is universal.  I have tried this out on my students, and once they have understood what I mean, they have been unable to find fault with my answer.

So, here is my answer: When a person is faced with a choice, they choose the option that, for them, at that moment seems best.

Now, this is a fairly simple answer, and the biggest problem that people originally find with it is a quibbling with the word "best." Keep in mind, I am using the term best not in an absolute sense, as if all choices were "best."  Rather, it is in a very relative and subjective sense, that is, what "seems" best to a person at a given moment. 

Take a student example: A student's alarm goes off (and if the student is typical he or she has pushed snooze for some time), but the alarm goes off and it is the latest that they can get up and make it to class.  There are two options: hit snooze or turn the alarm off and miss class, or roll out of bed and make it to class.  I would argue that whatever choice a student makes, they think it will be "best for them."  Now, this is not in an absolute sense.  A student who sleeps through class probably did not do what was "best" in an objective sense, but to them, at that moment, it seemed better to roll back over and go to sleep.  "Best" to the one student was instant gratification and "best" to the other was delayed gratification (probably a better grade). 

Take another objection I get, and that is when someone does something truly selfless that can bring no good to them and may even hurt them.  Are they choosing what they think is "best" at that moment.  I would still argue yes.  Why?  Well, I think that even the most selfless and perhaps even self injuring acts have a motivation that cannot always be seen.  In fact, I do not always think it can be seen to the person making the choice.  But, I expect that a person makes such a choice for any number of "rewards."  Perhaps the selfless act will gain him or her respect among the public or among friends.  Perhaps the person is seeking eternal rewards in heaven.  Who knows, but I still think that all choices are made on the basis of what seems "best" at the moment.

I think this line of reasoning also holds for people with self destructive behaviors.  An Alcoholic, even though he or she has seen the destruction alcohol brings, still, at that moment of choice thinks that he or she is doing what is "best" at that moment.  They might regret it a second later, but when the choice was made, they thought it "best."

Any quibbles with my definition or ways to improve it, leave a comment.

For next time, let us go even a little deeper to the next level of questioning:  If my reasoning worked here, then the really big question is why do I think certain things "best."

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