Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hurting your brain!

I was surfing the internet as usual until I landed on the BBC's website and found this article about the World Philosophy Day (which came 3 months ago). The article's title is, "Four Philosophical Questions To Make Your Brain Hurt."

Frankly, I never knew before this year that philosophy had a day too. A mother's day may sound good, a father's day maybe OK, even a water day might be useful, but philosophy!

Since my brain is usually hurting all the time, I decided to hurt it more. After all, I spent a lot of time of my short life trying to get answers to the toughest philosophical questions, so why not try these ones too? The writer is a lecturer of philosophy at the university of Glasgow. Thus I felt I won't be wasting my time.

Of all the four questions, only two I would consider brain hurting, the third and the fourth. Those are also the two questions I already thought about long time before reading this article, and I'm still thinking. The other two (the first and the second), the argument the writer made about them weren't even convincing for me to make a lot of thinking.

The first question is about killing one person to save the life of more persons. The writer gave us three hypothetical situations to think about.
  1. Killing a healthy person and use his organs to save many unhealthy people.
  2. Being a hostage yourself, you'll have to kill one other hostage so as to secure the release of all hostages. Otherwise all would be killed. You'd be released in either cases.
  3. You're given a choice: Left, and five will be killed. Right, and one will be killed.
The writer tries to use the second and third situations as analogies to the first. It is true that the three cases have the same relation (killing a person to save many others), but looking closer, they're very different. Personally, I would not kill the healthy person (case 1), I would not kill the hostage (case 2), and I will choose right (case3). The reason? Well, only in case 3 I have no choice but to kill. The second case is the toughest to think about, but I will choose not to kill. It's all about direct responsibility in my opinion. To be indirectly responsible of the death of five is much better than being directly responsible of the death of one. Here, passivity is a much better choice. As fore case 1, it's a whole different situation. While the issue of direct responsibility holds here too, there's no urgency about it. Killing a random person who is not even part of the situation doesn't fit in the analogy.

Verdict: Pain is a reality of our world. As long as you are not directly causing it, you should accept its existence. You should work as hard as you can to eliminate or reduce it, given that you don't reside to relief pain by inflicting it upon others. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The second question is about our continued existence over time. In other words, what makes our personalities? Who are we?

As simple as the question might sound, we are yet to find a satisfying answer. But who said that we need answers? Thinking is a permanent process, and if we find satisfying answers, we will stop thinking.

The writer refrained from mentioning the word "soul" (maybe because it sounds unscientific), but for me, our existence is not determined only by the existence of our functional body or functional brain, but by both of them together and that's what I call the "soul." Take one of them away and the personality (soul) will be nonexistent. Swapping minds is mere science fiction, but if it is to happen, it will not mean swapping personalities.

Verdict: I am who I am. An evolving (but one) personality, affected by its surroundings and affecting them at the same time. As long as this loop is working and I feel it, I exist, otherwise, I don't.

The third question is about reality and illusion. What makes us sure that something exists when we can't even independently check if our senses are reliable?

Our senses are all what we have to check for reality. These are all the tools we've got. In collaboration with our brains, they give a meaning to our surroundings. Questioning the reliability of these tools mean that we live in nothing but an illusion; and since illusions do exist in life, why not life itself may also be an illusion?!

But wait. How come we are so sure that illusions exist? Even the existence of illusion was known to us through our senses.

Verdict: Our perception is what creates illusions. In optical illusions, two lines may look of identical lengths while in reality they are not. Our eyes see them in their real (unequal) length, but its our perception that make us think they are equal. And my perception is the product of my experience in this world, so even if life is an illusion, I can't check it out as I am part of it. Therefore, it is my reality.

The fourth question deals with the issue of freewill and predestination. Are they compatible with each other? Can they coexist?

I have to say that I thought about this subject many times. I think it is also related to the third question. This question is so complex that any answer of it will directly or indirectly contradict with some aspects of science and morality.

People usually think that it is either predestination or freewill. But I disagree. I am a believer in determinism, and as the writer said, randomness doesn't imply freewill. It would be bizarre to disregard cause and effect as one of the fundamental truths of our existence. It is what all sciences and philosophies are built upon.

Even if some random patterns appear in our world, that doesn't mean that there was not a cause. In relation with the third question, I see randomness as an illusion. It describes what we don't know, that's how we perceive it.

We perceive ourselves as having free will. Based on our experiences and our existence, this is our reality. Everyone can experience freewill while making the smallest choices in his life, like choosing what to wear for instance. Facts are based on our observations, our experiences, and that's why there's no doubt in my mind that I have free will. Even if all my choices were written down some billions of years ago, I don't know and can't know it. I only know what I can experience, and in that sense freewill and predestination can coexist,

Verdict: Think of it that way. You are a protagonist of a story. Within the story you have all the free will, but your actions are predestined by what's in every page. In your reality you make all the choices, while in the writer's reality, your choices are predictable. Different realities mean different perceptions.

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