Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy

Autism

April 11th, 2014

Window on Normalcy

cafe

Mockingly calling ourselves the Concept Exchange Society we meet once a month to hear from someone who has spent time researching and thinking about a subject. We gather in a volunteer host’s home to hear the fruits of considered thought. This month’s speaker has given thought to autism, an isolating mental affliction seen in children and characterized by lack of compassion and of empathy.

Janette’s presentation was enthusiastically received. Preceding her exposition she had each of us write a few words capsulizing our notions about the condition. Our cultivated ignorance was exposed. Many among us focussed, not on the debility itself, but on a rarety within it. The occurence of autistic idiot savants who perform feats of mental or musical gymnastics. Sensationalist journalism misrepresents this as genius. This phenomenon captures nothing of the isolation, the rage, the helplessness and despair that sufferers of autism experience. (See the New Yorker article on Adam Lanza, the murderer of 26 innocent children in 2012.  “The Reckoning” by Andrew Solomon in the March 17, 2014 issue. Adam was autistic.) (more…)

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Synchronicity

March 24th, 2014

Probability of the Improbable

According to Deirdre Bair, biographer of C. J. Jung, (“Jung”, Little Brown, 2003) the term ‘synchronicity’ was introduced by the well known psychologist that was her subject.

Synchronicity refers to a confluence of events that is so startling and improbable as to constitute a miracle – usually received as a blessing conferred by unknown and unfathomable forces in nature.  It is currently popular among devotees of the mystical and supernatural. For them it validates their belief that nature has aspects that are beyond access to the methods of science.

Synchronicity is a highly improbable conjunction of events that may be received as a message or insight delivered to enter ones consciousness from the universe itself. You are in distress and have abandonned hope when, lo, someone arrives unexpectedly whose presence precisely meets your needs. This is the classic generic synchronicity. You gave your precious and only shawl to your aunt who was suffering from the cold. The next day you receive, quite unexpectedly, a gift from someone. It is a shawl of just the same weave and fabric. Synchronicity, is what your friends call this improbable event.

But, we may ask ourselves, what, in fact, is the probability of the improbable? With what frequency may we expect events that we might deem improbable? Are they, in fact, more probable than we think! Does our intuition compute probabilities differently than does mathematics? According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, (2011) that is exactly the case.

Do we mistake for magical synchronicity, events that are merely less-than-probable? I propose we can answer this question via a conceptual model.

(more…)

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A Case for Free Will

February 26th, 2014

A Case for Free Will

fawn

I have a friend whom I respect and admire as a rational man of intelligence and insight. He disdains belief in the supernatural. He rejects the idea of a God who intervenes in natural process. He subscribes to the notion that whatever happens is the result of natural cause. That there is nothing outside of nature. That superstition is the refuge of the ignorant. I agree with him on all these issues.

But on the issue of free will vs. determinism he is unswayable. He believes that free will exists; that it is not an illusion.

He insists that the decisions he makes come from something beyond what is accessible to science. From beyond natural cause! That choice arises from unexplainable sources – not computable by science. He insists that there is a fundamental residue in nature that is beyond the reach of science. Not everything of coercion by nature is ‘computable’. “There are elements of nature inaccessible to knowability and these elements produce free will”, says my friend.

As to his decisions being coerced by nature and thus determined by it he rejects this. “There are coercions you can’t predict,” says he. Some behavior is not figure-outable. From that comes ‘free will’.

Among his words there are no specific references to the supernatural. But their import is surely an appeal to the supernatural. If nature governs without exception, can there be a hidden residue where it does not govern? Since we are part of nature must we not be governed also by its imperatives? So the argument for a resevoir of free will – barricaded from nature – is no more than a recasting of the supernatural. But by the use of language like ‘non-computable’ the notion is made to appear scientific.

I believe free will is an expression of our ignorance of the cause of our actions. But this ignorance, although steadily decreasing, covers what is, in fact, completely determined by nature. That is the content of the behavior circle. Whereas my friend believes that there is a kernel of nature inherently inaccessible to inquiry – the seat of free will.

To me his argument lacks logic. Evidently the idea of free will is very precious to my friend – something that must be preserved. As must also a disdain for supernatural belief be preserved in his cache of values. But, in fact, the two are not compatible.

Is this a case of ‘commitment bias?’ Sometimes the need to preserve a prejudice overcomes rationality. Or a case of ‘wishful thinking’ in wanting inconsistent outcomes? That a supernatural free will be natural. Our minds are such tricky things.

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