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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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The Eternal Debate: Are Our Lives Predetermined or Not? (Conclusion)

Paul Kiritsis - Sunday, April 03, 2016

Determinism and non-determinism, most frequently recognized as “fate” and “free will” to the dilettante, are two theoretical lenses focused on the trajectory of Life. Their cross-cultural entanglement in history is inexplicably linked to explicit religious and philosophical convictions about the cosmos. Popular opinions and rationalizations regarding which of the two is a veridical perception remains fairly divided, especially among theoreticians. However, the scientific disciplines of inquiry (i.e. physics, biology, neuroscience) which have encroached upon traditionally philosophical domains, are now abandoning this either-or logic and converging upon the paradoxical notion of a “soft” determinism, the idea that both are veridical mechanisms mediating the life trajectory.

            Science converges under the following dramatic metaphor: We are all marionettes recapitulating the same circular motions within linear, co-created narratives across expanses of time. On the rare occasion we peer upwards and become aware of the prehensile forces to which we are attached with strings, the pressurized gravity of the past, and rarer still do we mobilize internal resources and twitch so that a specific self-action can thwart an imminent interaction from commencing or being carried to completion. Contingent on timing, this minor amendment to the theatrical act may have far-reaching consequences for the scene, the crescendos and diminuendos within particular scenes and acts, and sometimes the entire play and the nature of its closure.     

            Because the vast majority of Homo sapiens, like Sisyphus in Hades, wouldn’t find serenity and contentment in pushing boulders uphill only to watch them roll back down, it might be logical to deduce that habitual addiction to ingrained attractor states is the norm across all times and sociocultural milieus. To the extent that we persistently navigate these paths of least resistance our lives will be rendered predetermined. What might be able to change that ostensive linear path is higher order, goal-orientated action or non-action wrought by the normative functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This complex structure with highly differentiated neural connections is miraculously equipped with a nonphysical ability to veto, interrupt, or derail acquired unconscious processes embodying characterological and attachment patterns, behaviors, mental and emotional states, memories, and idiosyncratic habits and talents. Assisted in part by the aptitude to veto unconscious processes, increased mindful sensitivity to the sensory world, to the present, will activate random attractor states, introducing previously unbeknownst elements of variability, novelty, and creativity into the current perceptual homeostasis of each individual. In experiencing these atypical attractor states the latter’s continuum of possible choices expands like an inflating helium-filled balloon, and lo and behold, a nonphysical cocoon able to necessitate alterations in life paths has spontaneously manifested. Free will has been saved!

            To have some scientists step in and preserve the integrity and validity of nondeterministic views and free will must be a relief for most, particularly for a universal judicial system with ethical and legal guidelines presupposing the objective existence of self-determination. There would be a lapse into social disorder and chaos if there was no existing impetus to hold peers accountable for actions deemed immoral and unacceptable by the collective social prerogative. Ultimately, an arranged marriage between the two archaic philosophies shouldn’t be discouraged, for it keeps all complacent and simultaneously preserves order in the kingdom of scientific intelligibility and all humanity itself.

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