(urth) 5HC : Skinner, Turing (fwd)

James Wynn thewynns at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 9 16:21:15 PST 2005

>>From: maru
>>So you are confronted with a di-lemna: Either you are a slave
>>to your desires, and free will is an incoherent, but comforting illusion;
>>or you are doomed to unhappiness, when you 'freely' choose against what
>>really matters to youy, what makes you happy.
>>Nice bilemna eh?

The thing that bothers me about this is that is clumps all desires into the
same bin. It gathers my (once a week or so) desire to run away from home
leaving my wife and children to start a new life where no one knows me with
my "desire" to do what I am convinced I "ought" to do--sometimes by reason,
sometimes by instruction -- which is contrary to what I generally think of
as my "desires".  This willy-nilly reductionism does not strike me as
reasonable. (Of course Hume apparently deals with choices, not desires - so
this has nothing to do with his theories).

Also, while this has nothing directly to do with the current discussion, it
has brought to mind the characters, John and Vertue in C.S. Lewis' allegory
_Pilgrim's Regress_. Both John and Vertue are traveling the same road
together. John is seeking an Island he saw in a vision where he desires to
be with all his heart. Vertue traveling the road because he wants to exert
his free will, choosing without regard to "bribes" of happiness or "threats"
of consequences.  The worthiness of a path in Mr. Vertue's mind is that it
is the path he has chosen on his own and not one chosen for him. Otherwise,
he doesn't see any particular value of one path over another. But Vertue,
after discussion with a Nietzcheistic Nazi dwarf named Savage, comes to an
impasse where he cannot choose between two (moral) forks in the road because
he has no basis to pick between them:
"John, I do not know what is coming over me. Long ago you asked me...where I
was going and why: and I remember that I brushed the question aside. At that
time it seemed to me so much more important to keep my rules and do my
thirty miles a day. But I am beginning to find that it will not do. In the
old days it was always a question of doing what I chose instead of what I
wanted; but now I am beginning to be uncertain what it is I choose."

"How has this come about?" said John.

"Do you know that I nearly decided to stay with Savage?"

"With Savage?"

"It sounds like raving, but think it over. Supposing there is no Landlord,
no mountains in the East, no Island in the West, nothing but this country. A
few weeks ago I would have said that all those things made no difference.
But now--I don't know. it is quite clear that all the ordinary ways of
living in this country lead to something which I certainly do _not_
choose....Then there is the life I have been leading myself-- marching on I
don't know where. I can't see that there is any other good in it except the
mere fact of imposing my will on my inclinations. And that seems to be good
_training_, but training for what? Suppose after all it was training for
battle? Is it so absurd to think that that might be the thing we were born
for? A fight in a narrow place, life or death; -- that must be the final act
of will -- the conquest of the deepest inclination of all."

"I think my heart will break," said John after they had gone many paces in
silence. "I came out to find my Island. I am not high-minded like you,
Vertue: it was never anything but sweet desire that led me. I have not
smelled the air from that Island since--since--it is so long that I cannot
remember. I saw more of it at home. And now my only friend talks of selling
himself to dwarfs."

"I am sorry for you," said Vertue, "and I am sorry for myself. I am sorry
for every blade of grass and for this barren rock we are treading and the
very sky above us. But I have no help to give you."

"Perhaps," said John, "there are [good and bad] things East and West of this
country after all."

Don't you see?" he said. "Suppose there is anything East and West. How can
that give me a motive for going on? That is a threat. I meant to be a free
man. I meant to choose things because I chose to choose them -- not because
I was paid for it. Do you think I am a child to be scared with rods and
baited with sugar plums? It was for this reason that I never even inquired
whether the stories about the Landlord were true; I saw that his castle and
his black hole were there to corrupt my will and kill my freedom. If it was
true it was a truth an honest man must not know."

Evening darkened on the tableland and they sat for a long time immovable.

"I believe that I am mad," said Vertue presently. "The world cannot be as it
seems to me. If there is something to go to, it is a bribe, and I cannot go
to it: if I can go, then there is nothing to go to."

"Vertue," said John, "give in. For once yield to desire. Have done with your
choosing. _Want_ something."

"I cannot," said Vertue. "I must choose because I choose because I choose;
and it goes on forever, and in the whole world I cannot find a reason for
rising from this stone."

"Is it not reason enough that the cold will presently kill us here?"

It had grown quite dark and Vertue made no reply.

"Vertue!" said John, and then suddenly again in a louder voice, frightened,
"Vertue!" But there was no reply.

Based on Wolfe's major characters in the Sun cycle, and other novels, I
suspect that he is very much compelled by Lewis' argument (he makes it
elsewhere as well) that our truest desires were designed to lead us to the
highest Good.

~ Crush

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