Monday, May 12, 2008

A choice

It's funny how we can sometimes trace our present positions in life back to one choice.

One fork in the road that may have caused us damage or heartache.
One decision that brought us to where we are today.

Our lives, our happiness is sometimes contingent on a split second decision.

To say yes, or no.
To leave or to stay.
To come clean or to hide.

No matter how simple or complicated they may be... I hate making decisions.
Accepting that the outcome will be my fault, or my achievement, is sometimes too much for me to handle.

I'd rather not decide where we have dinner, just in case the service isn't up to par.
I'd rather not quit a job, but be fired, regardless of how unhappy I was while working there.
I'd rather not say goodbye to someone... but instead have them say goodbye to me.

Because I need to protect myself from the consequences of my choices.
The heartache, the aftermath of saying "no," or sometimes even worse, saying "yes."

Because with choices, comes blame.

And without a belief in fate... I know that I can only blame myself.

24 comments:

Chrissie said...

Fate.

Does everything happen for a reason, or can we always trace our achievements and mistakes back to our own decisions?

We all know my take on this... so what's yours?

Vanessa said...

Saying that everything happens for a reason is basically a crutch for throwing the responsbility and consequences of your actions off of yourself.

This way you can always blame or even priase someone or something else for what happens in your life.

Nothing will ever be your fault, as some people say "it was God's way."

I personally think that nothing is set in stone, and that every decision we make could end up pointing out lives in a different direction. Isn't there a poem? The Road Less Traveled?

“Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”

Vanessa said...

Life's Journey

Do not undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others.
It is because we are different that each of us is special.

Do not set your goals by what other people deem important.
Only you know what is best for you.
Do not take for granted the things closest to your heart.

Cling to them as you would your life, for without them, life is meaningless.

Do not let your life slip through your fingers by living in the past nor for the future.
By living your life one day at a time, you live all of the days of your life.
Do not give up when you still have something to give.
Nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying.
It is a fragile thread that binds us to each other.

Do not be afraid to encounter risks.
It is by taking chances that we learn how to be brave.
Do not shut love out of your life by saying it is impossible to find.
The quickest way to receive love is to give love.
The fastest way to lose love is to hold it too tightly.
In addition, the best way to keep love is to give it wings

Do not dismiss your dreams.
To be without dreams is to be without hope.
To be without hope is to be without purpose.
Do not run through life so fast that you forget not only where you have been,
but also where you are going.

Life is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way.

Chrissie said...

Saying that everything happens for a reason is basically a crutch for throwing the responsibility and consequences of your actions off of yourself.

can we not say this and still suffer the consequences?

i wonder, if maybe "everything does happen for a reason," but not in the way some people mean...

maybe our choices are fate in themselves... good or bad.

maybe we're destined to make those choices, those mistakes, in order to learn from them.

it's hard to think that "that time i said no and meant yes" could have life long consequences, but it does...

jovial_cynic said...

I think that the notion of "choice" and "free-will" are pretty farcical. We have preferences that are determined by our biology (chocolate or vanilla is determined by the particular arrangement of taste-buds and their pathway to your brain), and our upbringing, neither of which we had much control over. We are the product of the universe around us.

I think the great joke is that we're evolved to a point where we think we're free agents making decisions. We experience life and blame ourselves or praise ourselves for our decisions, which aren't ours in the first place.

Anonymous said...

despite the influences of our biology, our culture, and our environment, WE and we alone are the owners of our choices and our decisions. they are very much "ours" -- not only in the buddhist karma philosophical sense, but also in a physical, brain chemistry/plasticity, sense.

life does not simply happen "to" us (although some of us would prefer that it did). we are an integral component in life, and we affect it as much as it affects us.

this is not just philo/psycho babble that i'm spouting. this is physical reality. the human consciousness has great and mysterious effects on our "reality". this is the very strange and very compelling meta-physical consequence of quantum physics.

"free will" is explainable in terms of quantum physics. in fact, free will may be the essence of quantum physics, and, thus, the essence of our physical reality.

i may have stepped a bit off course from what chrissie's general point was here, but i figured i'd contribute an aspect to this discussion that is not just philosophical or psychological but actually physical.

read: the mind and the brain, if you're interested in any of this free-will quantum-physics mumbo-jumbo :)

jovial_cynic said...

"free will" is explainable in terms of quantum physics. in fact, free will may be the essence of quantum physics, and, thus, the essence of our physical reality.

In fact,, this is pseudo-science. Or science fiction, whichever you prefer. The fact that quantum physics dictates that the potentiality of a sub-atomic particle collapses upon observation (existing in a state of both true and false until captured), this has absolutely no bearing on the notion of free will. Everything from toasters to potatoes to shot glasses are made up of the same sub-atomic particles, yet we should agree that it's absurd to suggest that those things have "free-will."

You are, in fact, spouting unobservable, unscientific, meta-physical nonsense.

I maintain that organisms are bound by behaviors and "instincts" dictated by their DNA, and then modified by their environment. Ants are going to build a colony. Bees are going to build a hive. Pandas are going to eat bamboo leaves. To suggest that human beings have somehow jumped from the coils of biology and entered an existance devoid of instinct and environmental influence is gibberish. There's a whole field of marketing that makes money specifically from picking up on patterns in human behavior, because, as it turns out, we're terribly predictable. We're as predictable as ants.

The times we are surprised at animal or plant behavior is when we don't see the environmental influences that act on organisms. Or when recessive genes spring up. But there's little to suggest that any behavior, whether it's from bacteria or from humans, ever springs up ex nihilo (out of nothing).

Anonymous said...

ouch JC! relax first... then read:

The fact that quantum physics dictates that the potentiality of a sub-atomic particle collapses upon observation (existing in a state of both true and false until captured)

you're simplifying the relationship between quantum physics and conscious observation. that's good, in that it's step 1 in beginning to understand the meta-physical implications of quantum "reality".

but like neils bohr said, "anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it". i would add that anybody who attempts to sum it up in one paragraph in a blog comment, has also not understood it.

i'm not arguing against "instinct" or natural genetic tendencies or general basic evolutionary psychology. i'm a richard dawkins selfish gene believer too.

i'm talking specifically about "free will". some people stamp out the notion of "free will" as just our inability to understand all the forces at work, and if we had such omniscient knowledge, we would be able to predict behavior to a T, and prove that there really is no "choice" -- that instead we are all governed by the immutable laws of physics.

quantum physics, in theory, allows room for "free will". although it is more of a "free won't" than a free will. but in its essence it is a choice -- a choice ex nihilo.

look, i put the book up there. go and read it before scolding me for spouting "nonsense". you're a smart guy, i can tell, which surprises me that you would dare to make yourself look foolish when it is a very strong possibility that you don't understand what i'm talking about.

jovial_cynic said...

I call it nonsense because comparing meta-physics with science is a joke. You might as well clump in UFOs and spirit guides and psychics etc., etc. It's non-emperical. It's religion.

I have no problem with religion. I'm a very religious person. But I don't call it science. And I certainly don't try to equate God with quantum physics as though I've got God figured out.

jovial_cynic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jovial_cynic said...

Ok. I've got a few minutes before my next meeting here at work, so I'll throw this out.

The thing about quantum mechanics that's so fascinating is the probability collapse. The whole idea of existing in multiple states at once until observed is neat, but only because nothing else behaves that way. Lightning bugs are fascinating because from most peoples' experiences, bugs shouldn't glow.

The problem with tying quantum mechanics to the notion of free-will is that you're asserting a particular definition of quantum mechanics with which I don't agree.

Here: You have partical X. X, until observed, exists in state 0 and state 1. Once we observe it, we discover that the absolute probability of it being either 0 or 1 collapses into one or the other -- when we observe it, it's going to be 0 or it's going to be 1.

Let's break this down philosophically:

You seem to suggest that, when applying the concept of quantum mechanics to a mind, the mind is capable of producing/experiencing the "will" to decide, on account of the ex nihilo option -- the idea that particles makes "choice" without being influenced by an outside force. They simply... choose. However, the other side of that argument is that the "choice" is, in fact, fully random... and being random, it's not a choice. Being random, it only reinforces the idea that reality is determined. In spite of the randomness of particle behavior, the universe is remarkably predictable.

another anon said...

Wow.... trying to figure out human nature through science will leave you with nothing but big gaping holes.
We do have 'free will'. You're born with it because the Creator of the universe gave it to you.
As a result of your upbringing you may make certain choices, and because of who you've evolved into over time you may make others ... and as Chrissie states you live with the consequences of them all.
Things do happen for a reason, but when you're looking in the wrong places you'll never find out what the reason is. Nothing will ever really make sense.
And trust me, science will never explain it to you.

Gman said...

You can not blame yourself retrospectively if, at the time you make a decision, you weigh all the information available to you and make the best choice you can. If the decision turns out to have less than euphoric consequences, you at least will be secure in the knowledge you weighed all the options and pulled the trigger confidently. After all, an uncertain future is far preferable to an inadequate present.

Usually, that comes down to a healthy dose of induction and a an ace kicker of intuition.

Otherwise you're just the four winds' punching bag, and what's fun about that, as Josh Baskin said...

Chrissie said...

After all, an uncertain future is far preferable to an inadequate present.

i usually live by that very philosophy Gman, but sometimes, when we're given the gift of knowledge after the fact...

once we know the consequences, they can seem so much less desirable than that "inadequate present" which is now just the past we can't control.

Anonymous said...

jc, you have a good grasp of the science behind quantum theory, but you left out one very important aspect of it: that the result of the quantum "collapse" is dependent on the human consciousness posing the question on the quantum system.

i understand that random probabilities don't equate to "choice".

but we do "choose" where to pose the question, and in this way we affect reality, or even effect it, by choosing where and how to ask the question.

the book i noted takes this further, down to the neural synapses of our brain. it is a very compelling argument. not all of it is ironclad science; some of it is an interpretation of science.

but one thing that quantum theory has exposed is that pure science has a limit. "science" is only capable of telling us what we can say about physical reality; it is NOT the entire definition of physical reality.

i did not "assert" that free will exists, but rather that it can be explained in terms of quantum theory.

i DID assert that we are the owners of our choices, both spiritually AND physically, because of the scientifically-proven neuroplastic changes that occur in the brian thru mindful attention.

and mindful attention may in fact be the essence of "free will".

and it may be grounded and explained by quantum physics.

this is what i'm talking about. it is not "nonsense". it is a man's interpretation of 25 years' worth of research. it's not UFOs, it's not mystic psychics, it's not religion. and i think you know that it's not. i think you know that you're stretching it way out of proportion. you're trying to make me look stupid or you're trying to protect your ego. either way, YOU are the one making the "assertion" that the notion of free will is "nonsense", which is something that, on a physical and scientific level, you can't POSSIBLY know, because no one does.

at this level of reality, it's ALL an interpretation. science does not explain it to us. science steps back and says, "i don't know." you have assumed the authority to step forward and say, "oh but yes, i do, and what you're saying, is nonsense."

which either exposes your lack of understanding of the limits of "science", or it exposes your frail ego. i've noticed in the past that you are usually very prudent in your responses; but this time, you were almost vicious.

that, in and of itself, is very telling.

jovial_cynic said...

No - no ego. Both free-will/predestination and quantum mechanics happen to be pet issues of mine.

Anyhow, you said this:

the result of the quantum "collapse" is dependent on the human consciousness posing the question on the quantum system.

This is the Kopenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. It asserts that observation is required for the probability collapse. However, Schrödinger's Cat demonstrated the absurdity of that interpretation. If a cat in a sealed box is either killed or not killed, depending on the state of a subatomic particle, we do not have a cat that is both dead and alive until observation. We have a cat that is either dead or alive, independent of observation; the probability collapse occurs regardless of human consciousness or observation.

The idea of a half-dead cat is goofy, right? And for that reason, arguments based on a half-dead cat (ie., free-will linked to quantum-mechanics because of the asserted link between probability-collapse and human consciousness) seem equally goofy to me, which is why I attack the notion so visciously.

The cat kills that particular free-will argument.

Chrissie said...

THIS!!!!

THIS is why I shouldn't have stopped paying attention in science!!!

jovial_cynic said...

...it is a man's interpretation of 25 years' worth of research. it's not UFOs, it's not mystic psychics, it's not religion. and i think you know that it's not. i think you know that you're stretching it way out of proportion. you're trying to make me look stupid or you're trying to protect your ego.

I wasn't equating the idea of free-will based on subatomic particle theory is UFOs, mystic psychics, and religion. I was equating metaphysics with those things. Metaphysics is, by its very definition, not science. It uses science to reinforce non-emperical presuppositions... which I find distasteful. The type of study that goes into metaphysics is the same type of study that goes into UFO hunting, psychic research, etc.

Gman said...

Quantum pancakes aside, Chrissie, I think it's valuable to remember the lesson of the two cerebrals, the joker, and the glass of water.

One cerebral argued the glass was half full. The other argued it was half empty. They each valiantly and endlessly strove to make their point.

The joker was thirsty, so he excused himself and drank it.

Anonymous said...

We have a cat that is either dead or alive, independent of observation; the probability collapse occurs regardless of human consciousness or observation.

that statement is simply not supported by scientific evidence. quantum theory does, in fact, dictate that the cat is both alive and dead until it is observed. regardless of how "goofy" that sounds, quantum theory can say nothing more about that system.

one of the most fascinating things about quantum theory is its "goofiness", which i would define more objectively as the ways quantum theory defies or completely contradicts our basic assumptions about reality (like, that something can't possible be both alive and dead at the same time).

schrodinger's cat did not disprove this notion; it just pointed out its absurdity in relation to our understanding of reality.

and in pointing out the absurdity, all it "proved" is that our understanding of reality is fundamentally deficient.

quantum theory is a pet interest for me too. and so maybe if you didn't speak so authoritatively about things that are definitely NOT scientific fact, then i think we could get along splendidly.

and yes, metaphysics is not "science"; metaphysics is an interpretation of science. i tried to stress this before. but you know full well that taking subtle interpretations of quantum theory that allow for free will and comparing them to UFOs or any other freakshow pseudo-science is just an argument ploy meant to protect your own position by ridiculing mine. leave those asinine tactics for the jokers of the world.

and yes chrissie, science does start to get profoundly interesting... somewhere around the second year of engineering school... if only you didn't get so hot and bothered by all those schoolboyzzz;)

jovial_cynic said...

quantum theory does, in fact, dictate that the cat is both alive and dead until it is observed. regardless of how "goofy" that sounds, quantum theory can say nothing more about that system.

Schrödinger and Einstein disagree with you.

Einstein's specific statement to Schrödinger:

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality—if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

A proposed solution to the problem of the half-dead cat is the multiple-universe theory, in which the cat does both live and die, and the universe splits to account for both events. But as the two states are decoherent, there's no way to ever prove it.

The objective collapse theory makes much more sense -- the state collapses on it's own, not by observation, but rather by crossing an objective threshold (time). This lends to a purely deterministic universe, in which the collapse of potentiality is determined from the start of the universe. We just don't know where it's going to fall until we happen to observe it... but again - the cat is already either dead or alive (fate), and not both.


In any event, please don't confuse an "asinine tactic" with hyperbole. My ego isn't on the line here; I'm not interested in "being right." I'm only interested in disproving what I believe to be incorrect.

jovial_cynic said...

As it turns out, I'm generally a very civil person online. I think that the "Anonymous" pseudonym may have left me feeling a little more willing to cut to the heart on the subject than normal. Perhaps I forgot that I'm talking to a human being.

In any event, I'm sorry for coming across so harshly. I still believe you are quite wrong on this matter, but that doesn't mean that I can treat you poorly or ridicule you.

Anonymous said...

i am well aware that einstein and schrodinger disagree with me.

but neither einstein nor schrodinger can prove that i (or anybody else who might subscribe to some alternate metaphysical interpretation of quantum theory) am incorrect.

lots of people subscribe to objective collapse, because it's the most consistent with our first and foremost assumption about reality: that reality is objective; i.e. independent of the observer. and, also, that it is bound by fate.

but i'll be honest with you: the more and more i dig into quantum theory, the more i disagree with objective collapse theory, for precisely the reason that it leaves no room for free will. and it also basically discards what i consider to be the most mysterious physical force in the universe: consciousness.

if consciousness has no purpose, if consciousness is totally bound by the determinate laws of physics, then why did it evolve? if free will truly does not exist, then why are we equipped with an intelligence that thinks it is operating freely?

is consciousness just some grand cosmic joke? just an accident? just a happenstance combination of genes?

those are the questions that i have that i feel the objective collapse cannot answer (in fact, it basically just dismisses them, because it doesn't consider consciousness relevant). and i think it's a somewhat nihilistic theory too, which i don't like.

but anyway, that's the thing with all of these interpretations. the one you subscribe to, the objective collapse, is still a metaphysical interpretation of quantum theory, making it no better and no worse than multiple universe, or "subjective" collapse, or even an interpretation that allows for "free will".


Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

this is a scientifically unsupported assumption. in my (humble) opinion, before we can begin to comprehend the very strange "reality" of the quantum world, we must first drop our classical assumptions.

the first assumption to drop: that "objective" reality, whatever that is, looks or feels anything like our subjective experience of it.

so yes, in this case, i disagree with einstein (but i'm not the only one).


I'm only interested in disproving what I believe to be incorrect.

that's fine. i welcome your opinion. but i hope you see my point: that (in this case) it is impossible for you to disprove what you believe to be incorrect.

and that's just another one of the greatly fascinating things about quantum theory: it's unresolvable ambiguity.


and finally, i'm all for civility in intelligent debate. and while i did point out your harsh comments several times, don't take that to mean that i haven't enjoyed this back-and-forth immensely.

it's not everyday that you visit a relationship blog and a discourse in quantum physics breaks out.

jovial_cynic said...

Well here's what's happening. You and I have presuppositions about the nature of reality (as it relates to fate), and out interpretation of quantum physics defends our position.

Incidentally, I think consciousness may be illusory as well.