Aug 2, 2011, 9:46 AM |

[Title Modified, as the original one probably sent the message that I believe the issue to be solved, which is not the case.]

I used to think that the concept of determinism, essentially the refutation to free will was too abstract and "technical" to be worth talking about -- even if it was true, who cares, right? Why get so confusing?

But I think there are simpler ways to look at this. Is killing yourself easy? Maybe -- after all, all you really need is a ridiculous overdose of some dangerous drug for example. Just swallow lots of pills. Swallowing is easy. But when you put that stuff in front of you, is it really easy? Just the thought of it would make it hard for me to make the movement with my petrified arm and put even one of those things in my mouth -- to destroy your body so voluntarily? It would probably be one of the hardest things for us to do, and when you look at it this way, it's very easy to understand how this demonstrates determinism -- a physically simple thing became nearly impossible purely because of our psychology.

But what about the people who do commit suicide? First of all, very few people commit it before giving off signs, almost signaling people to support them if they're going through a miserable chapter. You really have to truly give up. Anyway, one could argue the people who actually do it "beat the system," actually did what I said was nearly impossible -- but that was from my perspective.

If anything, this actually supports determinism: their mindset was characterized in that they had no other way out of their wretched life; at one point, what is nearly impossible for most of us became very easy once more; it was now the "obvious" decision.

Everything we do is doomed to our biology; our decisions are determined by, among other things, a combination of our personality, outside influences, and the level of ability to react appropriately to things that may contradict our personal desires (i.e., ethics; maturity). That is not the equivalent of predictable. However, sometimes predicting can indeed be easy or at least possible if you understand someone's psychological state: in the above example you would guess the person who committed suicide was probably not too happy; you would not predict someone who was genuinely smiling all the time to ever make such a decision.

For the person committing suicide, the decision depended on this question: "Is this really all I can do? And if so, would it be right to leave my family like this, or would it cause them too much pain?" In other words, you had to factor in his desires combined with morals (not leaving everyone forever); whichever feeling was more powerful would ultimately be the one to take over the decision.

We can flip this around and say that hard things can become easier depending on circumstance. For example, if your house is burning, you get out, and find out that someone is still inside, for some it may be, almost easy (as scary as it may be), to run into a burning building if it has purpose -- saving someone you love -- as opposed to say running in there to the second floor because you think you forgot a couple 10 dollar bills; for some, it's the only decision. It depends on whether or not the danger involved, factored with your judgment on the chances of success, overrides the desire to save a family member.

Really, our decisions are made easy or difficult on what seems to be just an extremely complicated equation! Sometimes it's predictable if you know the person, other times it's mysterious, but whatever it concludes is, easily or not, attributable to the brain's assessment of these factors, among dozens of others; in a sense, we aren't really choosing anything but merely observing these things play out in our head.