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Free Will is mostly an illusion, but still real
Posted: 22 April 2012 01:36 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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“A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”  OK, sure, but what if a puppet was the one controlling his strings?  In such a case, that puppet would have complete free will (at least as far as the puppet analogy allows).


In his book on the topic, Sam Harris mentions something about being able to manipulate one of the strings that controls our puppet of a mind.  This is a crucially important point in arguing for the existence of free will.  Essentially, the process of grabbing hold of one of strings is when one of the neuronal outputs of a conscious thought leads into a chain that ends up as a neuronal input for a proceeding conscious thought.  When that were to occur, it would mean that consciousness is affecting itself.  This is the essence of free will.


Sure, currently we are able to exert minimal control over the thoughts that arise within the mind, but there is some control.  Hence, free will, despite being mainly an illusion, exists nonetheless.  And the possibility exists for rewiring the brain (simply thought meditation, perhaps) to increase the amount of control one can consciously exert over one’s conscious state.  One could even hypothesize a mind in which one exerts full control over their consciousness (ie, where every neuron which serves as a conscious input is controlled by a chain of neurons leading out of a neuron of conscious output).  That would be true and complete free will. 


But even incomplete free will leaves as it currently exists within our minds, is a real property of thought deserving more than just a description as being an illusion.  Free will can exist, does exist, and it plays a huge role in human behavior and morality.  We would definitely serve to gain as a society by shifting the zeitgeist towards a mindset where personal responsibility is not assigned to such a large aspect/vast plethora of behaviors, but if we are to proceed in a truthful manner, it must be admitted that free will does exist in varying degrees.

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Posted: 22 April 2012 06:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I liked your post. I see the problem as one of continuing to express ideas about a system we know very little about in terms which are effectively pre-scientific.


It’s not really interesting to argue that we don’t have freewill, in the same way it’s not interesting to say there are no unicorns. It is simply an assertion of the non-existence of a particular intellectual construct. Meanwhile, our inner lives roll on. 

 


We all have, for instance,  the experience of “deciding” to take one course of action instead of another often after some inward “struggle” etc etc on and on like this.  What is this about? To say it’s an illusion is a form of hand waving, right? You haven’t accounted for the inner life, you’ve just tried to BF Skinner it away.

 


What freewill is about goes to the heart of what it is to be a self within a world of stuff that is not-self and what it means to be impinged upon and in turn impinge upon this other not-self stuff.

 

Freewill assumes there is an independent self that fits the above description (otherwise it makes no sense).  So what does determinism have to say about self and other? It seems incumbent upon determinism to address these concepts also.

 

If determinism also denies the existence of these things, then it has some explaining to do, which is not to say it can’t be done. However,  until we can really give a satisfactory and complete explanation of what the self is, what its boundaries are, if it exists at all and in fact what conscious experience is and why it exists at all, then we really haven’t said much about “freewill”  in relation to self and consciousness. The assertion of their non-existence is not very interesting.

 


The *argument* about freewill involves two sides asserting or denying the existence of a thing which both sides at least accept as a coherent idea.  Those who say we don’t have freewill also invariably assert what they assume to be its opposite - that billiard ball style determinism is an accurate description of all reality.

 


But what if THAT is not a coherent idea in the first place either? What if neither freewill nor determinism is an accurate picture of reality and something else, something that fucks with our notions of self and other, of time and causality, of the very boundaries of things - including ourselves- as we normally understand them, is actually the case ? What then?

 

 

Freewill and determinism is then an argument like “how many angles can sit on the head of a pin?”. Since the terms of the argument are based on notions which are fundamentally incoherent, who really cares what answer we give or what the arguments are.

 


To give you a flavor of what I am talking about, what if final full-on shit-fuck reality goes something like this:  we are all, each of us, simultaneously individual selves and also every other thing in the universe. As far as unconscious-type matter goes, there is no such thing ultimately; there is no “not-self stuff” in the universe. Only our limited knowledge and a brain that severely prejudices us to think there is prevents us from knowing this. The universe can not *really* be broken into parts; it is one thing and that thing is a kind of conscious self.  Or something like that, perhaps even weirder. Perhaps so weird, we will never be able to grasp it.

 

Suppose also that how   the “billiard ball universe” unfurls itself under what we think of as mechanical laws is an expression of our universal self-will and what’s more,  you can experience this for yourself as clearly and fundamentally and convincingly as you experience what you call your normal, active decision-making “free” self. 

 

What if when you experience your “true self” in this way, the paradoxical aspects of what I am describing become as self-evidently true as Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” and the paradox of self and not self,  of free will and determinism all drop way and are seen as illusions or mistakes in thinking.


Is such a reality subject to freewill or is it deterministic? It’s irrelevant to even talk that way about such a universe.


This is a baseless,  just-so type argument, but it’s not presented to prove its own correctness. It’s there to viscerally evoke the sense of “differentness” and strangeness that further knowledge about the universe can bring.


One thing we can take away from the 20th century progress in science is things are so much different than how they appear to the natural untrained mind, say to the mind of a very educated citizen of ancient Greece, that you can’t even conceive of what reality really is if all you have to go on is reality as it presents itself to your ordinary thinking mind.

 

You need a few thousand years of science and progress to even begin to get at the truth and a few thousand more years of science and progress may fundamentally invalidate the first few thousand years’ concepts NOT SAY TO THOSE YEARS’  EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS which always have to be satisfactorily accounted for in new theories.

 

As far as psychology and cognitive science goes, the joke is -  all the really good experiments are unethical. We’re a million miles away from the theoretical constructs we need to make statements of the kind - “the world is deterministic” or “we have free will” .

 

We are passionate about these things because it impinges directly upon our ideas of ourselves and goes to the heart of a lot of people’s motivational structures. There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie where he’s a little boy talking to a therapist citing the cause of his depression as the fact that the earth and all our good work is going to incinerate when the sun explodes in a few billion years.


Actually, I myself had that thought when I was a kid. What’s the point of doing anything? It’s all for nothing- we’re doomed .


This thought, the first time you encounter it, can actually strike right at the root of your motivational structure. Implicitly, things were all “going” somewhere and all effort was a part of an ongoing eternal effort to make thing better and better, into perpetuity.  Without that , what’s the point?

 

The arguments about freewill are similarly dynamic and effecting. If we don’t have freewill, what’s the point of struggling with ourselves? If we do X, then it was determined from the time of the big bang that we were going to do X, so it’s not to our fault nor is it to our credit.

 

Obviously, this kind of thinking can mess with people’s motivational structure, since the belief that we have a self and that we decide things   is apparently an inherent part of the human mind. It’s emphasized by society, where emphasized means, amongst other things, is built into the basis of a lot of crime and punishment type law,  and is also intricately intertwined with having a conscience.

 

My advice is-  fuck it; believe in your inner experience and don’t let very partial and nascent theories ,  which themselves inevitably involve more concepts than those theories can cope with and which are themselves doomed, DOOMED, to be replaced by who knows what,  undermine what you call your self-knowledge.

 

Self knowledge is hard to come by and incredibly valuable. Don’t get talked out of it in the name of some misplaced pledge to a kind of scientific purity of mind.

 

Some people here might see this as opening the door to a kind of religiousosity or a validation of faith based reasoning or introspection over our best scientific knowledge.  It’s just not true. Theories of self are special in this way. It’s not just that the objects of discourse are known to us through introspection, although there’s that. . They’re special also because they potentially go straight to the heart of our real lives and our ability to function like nothing else.  We shouldn’t take them that seriously,  where seriously means: accept them as final or even particularly accurate descriptions of reality. 


Theories of mind at this stage of our knowledge just don’t have the power to compel our allegiance. There’s something you know that can’t be told to you or given to you by someone else. Are you really going to let someone talk you out of that knowledge?


We may not know the ultimate epistemological fate of what we call self knowledge,  but so what? If you’re sailing by the stars in pre-scientific times, are you going to stop using them as a guide because you’re probably wrong about what stars are?


Just do what I do and enjoy these debates and theories as interesting things worthy of our best thinking and attention but not cauldrons of roiling moral compulsion which we have to pour over ourselves in order to purify ourselves from scientific error and live modern, moral and upright lives.

 



[ Edited: 23 April 2012 04:46 PM by softwarevisualization]
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Posted: 24 July 2012 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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just wanted to say i enjoyed reading your post thanks smile


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[ Edited: 10 August 2012 10:00 AM by doug4knfpu]
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Posted: 22 August 2012 05:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Free Will/Won’t ——-  a different angle
Before language we lived in groups and members cooperated. When we learned more efficient cooperation it was due to improvements in communication of what the different organisms   intended to do. It was done by by signs,  sounds and, later,  words.  The intensions/decisions were formed in the (sub)conscious workings of that organism.
With time,  we got better and better in communications and we even created a word for the ‘announcement’:  ‘I’ !  But that did not mean that we added a function to our organism:  an ‘I’  that suddenly could deliberate and decide about things! 
Through 1000s of years we then used ‘I’  to give agency to decisions that were communicated and then we started to believe that what was communicated was really made by   ‘I’,  as we had little idea about how a decision came to. 
We are still in that situation;  most people have no idea about how an organism makes decisions….they just assume that ‘I’  did it.
And …. As ‘I’  did it…‘I’  have Free Will.
Voila!
But…..
My organism is still doing decisions in the same way as it has done for 1000s of years! Only   better due to access to more information.
A big confusion was created when this witnessing and announcing function of my organism’s deliberations and decisions was also supposed to have the powers to do them; i.e.  when the announcement got the confusing ID:  ‘I’ ?  Or rather:  Who is there to have Free Will?  There is no one! 
Without anybody   to own the Free Will/Won’t mechanism; it can not exist.
But my organism will continue to make decisions and announce them and many people will continue to believe that a Free Will decision has been announced.

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Posted: 11 September 2012 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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runlikell - 22 April 2012 01:36 AM

“A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”  OK, sure, but what if a puppet was the one controlling his strings?  In such a case, that puppet would have complete free will (at least as far as the puppet analogy allows).


In his book on the topic, Sam Harris mentions something about being able to manipulate one of the strings that controls our puppet of a mind.  This is a crucially important point in arguing for the existence of free will.  Essentially, the process of grabbing hold of one of strings is when one of the neuronal outputs of a conscious thought leads into a chain that ends up as a neuronal input for a proceeding conscious thought.  When that were to occur, it would mean that consciousness is affecting itself.  This is the essence of free will.


Sure, currently we are able to exert minimal control over the thoughts that arise within the mind, but there is some control.  Hence, free will, despite being mainly an illusion, exists nonetheless.  And the possibility exists for rewiring the brain (simply thought meditation, perhaps) to increase the amount of control one can consciously exert over one’s conscious state.  One could even hypothesize a mind in which one exerts full control over their consciousness (ie, where every neuron which serves as a conscious input is controlled by a chain of neurons leading out of a neuron of conscious output).  That would be true and complete free will. 


But even incomplete free will leaves as it currently exists within our minds, is a real property of thought deserving more than just a description as being an illusion.  Free will can exist, does exist, and it plays a huge role in human behavior and morality.  We would definitely serve to gain as a society by shifting the zeitgeist towards a mindset where personal responsibility is not assigned to such a large aspect/vast plethora of behaviors, but if we are to proceed in a truthful manner, it must be admitted that free will does exist in varying degrees.

Don’t take this as sarcasm…it’s an honest question and I mean no offense.  I’m learning just as we all are grin

In this scenario, where consciousness intervenes and influences (“exerts” control) over one’s conscious state: Where does the impetus come from?  What wills this force into existence, and what are it and it’s source made of?

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Posted: 12 September 2012 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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runlikell - 22 April 2012 01:36 AM

“A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”  OK, sure, but what if a puppet was the one controlling his strings?  In such a case, that puppet would have complete free will (at least as far as the puppet analogy allows).


In his book on the topic, Sam Harris mentions something about being able to manipulate one of the strings that controls our puppet of a mind.  This is a crucially important point in arguing for the existence of free will.  Essentially, the process of grabbing hold of one of strings is when one of the neuronal outputs of a conscious thought leads into a chain that ends up as a neuronal input for a proceeding conscious thought.  When that were to occur, it would mean that consciousness is affecting itself.  This is the essence of free will.


Sure, currently we are able to exert minimal control over the thoughts that arise within the mind, but there is some control.  Hence, free will, despite being mainly an illusion, exists nonetheless.  And the possibility exists for rewiring the brain (simply thought meditation, perhaps) to increase the amount of control one can consciously exert over one’s conscious state.  One could even hypothesize a mind in which one exerts full control over their consciousness (ie, where every neuron which serves as a conscious input is controlled by a chain of neurons leading out of a neuron of conscious output).  That would be true and complete free will. 


But even incomplete free will leaves as it currently exists within our minds, is a real property of thought deserving more than just a description as being an illusion.  Free will can exist, does exist, and it plays a huge role in human behavior and morality.  We would definitely serve to gain as a society by shifting the zeitgeist towards a mindset where personal responsibility is not assigned to such a large aspect/vast plethora of behaviors, but if we are to proceed in a truthful manner, it must be admitted that free will does exist in varying degrees.

I agree.

Here’s an explanation of how to do just that.

http://fallibleideas.com/emotions

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Posted: 17 November 2012 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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I agree with “softwarevisualization” and I am curious what you might think of my recent post ... “God will steer if you row the boat.” under “other reading.

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Posted: 17 November 2012 12:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Rami ..... Iooked at your “fallable emotions” reference and liked it. That process of change exists in the 12 step programs and works. What I am interested in is how the concept of “a higher power of your own understanding” can be instrumental in that. I see it working very effectively as a catalyst of change in groups of people with a like understanding of the process. I see a synergy of like minded people using the 12 steps that produces unexpected results. This does not infer a “God” being or even that a “higher power” exists, only that IT WORKS! smile


I am very interested in discerning comments or speculation on that synergy and “How it (might) works”

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Posted: 17 November 2012 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 12:40 PM

Rami ..... Iooked at your “fallable emotions” reference and liked it. That process of change exists in the 12 step programs and works. What I am interested in is how the concept of “a higher power of your own understanding”

I don’t believe in a “higher power”.

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 12:40 PM

can be instrumental in that. I see it working very effectively as a catalyst of change in groups of people with a like understanding of the process. I see a synergy of like minded people using the 12 steps that produces unexpected results. This does not infer a “God” being or even that a “higher power” exists, only that IT WORKS! smile


I am very interested in discerning comments or speculation on that synergy and “How it (might) works”

What is the “it” in your last sentence?

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Posted: 17 November 2012 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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“IT”  is the “Process”

psssst ...... stop looking for something I am not saying, i.e. God, Being, IT etc., I do not believe in supernatural beings.  LOL

I dont believe or disbelieve in a “Higher Power” .... it is a construct that helps me try to understand a process that I have observed working effectively for change in people, change that implies some measure of “free will”

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Posted: 17 November 2012 12:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 12:47 PM

“IT”  is the “Process”

Do you mean the process by which people create knowledge? Its called C&R. Karl Popper discovered it. Here’s a simple exlanation of how it works: http://fallibleideas.com/knowledge-creation

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 12:47 PM

psssst ...... stop looking for something I am not saying, i.e. God, Being, IT etc., I do not believe in supernatural beings.  LOL

Then stop saying “higher power”. The phrase “higher power” has meaning in our culture. If you don’t want people to think you mean “God” then don’t say “higher power”.

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 12:47 PM

I dont believe or disbelieve in a “Higher Power” .... it is a construct that helps me try to understand a process that I have observed working effectively for change in people, change that implies some measure of “free will”

I have no clue what that means. First you said “higher power”. Then you said it doesn’t mean “God”. Now you say it again and then also say that “it” (the idea of “higher power”) helps you understand free will. Why do you think that to understand free will you need some “higher power” idea as part of the explanation of free will?

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Posted: 17 November 2012 12:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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“Self knowledge is hard to come by and incredibly valuable. Don’t get talked out of it in the name of some misplaced pledge to a kind of scientific purity of mind. ”

“Some people here might see this as opening the door to a kind of religiousosity or a validation of faith based reasoning or introspection over our best scientific knowledge.  It’s just not true. Theories of self are special in this way. It’s not just that the objects of discourse are known to us through introspection, although there’s that. . They’re special also because they potentially go straight to the heart of our real lives and our ability to function like nothing else.  We shouldn’t take them that seriously,  where seriously means: accept them as final or even particularly accurate descriptions of reality.”

I lean in the direction of this quote from a previous poster and I understand why my thinking out loud about the process that utilizes a belief in a “higher power” somehow opens the door to religiousity”. 

What I am interested in is why the process works so effectively to bring about fundamental, profound changes in people and why 99% of these people that have undergone change, attribute that change to “a higher power of their own understanding”? 

So, even if the “Higher Power” thing is COMPLETELY BOGUS, why does belief in that provide an unusualy effective way to create changes in the “self”?

[ Edited: 17 November 2012 01:06 PM by GenerousGeorge]
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Posted: 17 November 2012 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Rami, is the FORCE in Starwars a God? You sound to me that you have a knee jerk on the “God Thing” that prevents you from trying to understand what I am trying to communicate to you.

Or .... maybe you just like to disagree. LOL

Then again, I might just be a lousy communicator! LOL

Lets concentrate on the process of change that I observe and people relate to a “higher power”. What do you think of that process?

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Posted: 17 November 2012 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 12:59 PM

“Self knowledge is hard to come by and incredibly valuable. Don’t get talked out of it in the name of some misplaced pledge to a kind of scientific purity of mind. ”

“Some people here might see this as opening the door to a kind of religiousosity or a validation of faith based reasoning or introspection over our best scientific knowledge.  It’s just not true. Theories of self are special in this way. It’s not just that the objects of discourse are known to us through introspection, although there’s that. . They’re special also because they potentially go straight to the heart of our real lives and our ability to function like nothing else.  We shouldn’t take them that seriously,  where seriously means: accept them as final or even particularly accurate descriptions of reality.”

I lean in the direction of this quote from a previous poster and I understand why my thinking out loud about the process that utilizes a belief in a “higher power” somehow opens the door to religiousity”. 

What I am interested in is why the process works so effectively to bring about fundamental, profound changes in people and why 99% of these people thgat have undergone change, attribute that change to “a higher power of their own understanding”? 

So, even if the “Higher Power” thing is COMPLETELY BOGUS, why does belief in that provide an unusualy effective way to create changes in the “self”?

You’re talking about problem solving. People have problems. And when they want to solve their problems, they are creative in thinking up ideas to solve them. If someone believed that his problem is insoluble, then he won’t use his mind in creating ideas for solutions. If instead he believed that his problem is soluble, then he will use his mind to create ideas for solutions.


If someone believes in a higher power, and if that belief leads him to believing his problem is soluble, then he may solve his problem.


If that person instead did not believe in a higher power, and if he believed that his problem is soluble (for unrelated reasons), then he may solve his problem.


If either of those people, the God believer and the atheist, does not believe that his problem is soluble, then he won’t use his mind to create ideas for solutions, and he won’t solve his problem.

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Posted: 17 November 2012 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Obviously you do not want to even open the door a crack to anything you cannot measure or quantify. I won’t use the term “Higher Power” if it makes you so nervous, you have to invent meanings for it.

This is not about “problem solving”! It is about fundamental changes in human behaviour, emotional responses, understanding of self and about how self will might effect all that. I know I am wasting my time with a hostile audience, but it is a good exercise for me.

There is an axiom in AA, that you regain control of your life (self will) by giving up control (self will) to something outside yourself. Maybe that “something” is just the target to dump your old learned habits of self destructive self will on and then when you have demonstrated willingness to let go of the nonproductive ways acquire new ones with a new self will that arises from a different understanding of the world and your place in it. Just sounds like gobbldeygook to you, I know and you are afraid to even consider that there might be some substance to a concept you cannot quite pin down with logic. (especially if you don’t try)

I am earnestly trying to discover how groups of people can effect fundamental, radical changes in their emotional construct, ideas of right and wrong etc.with a process like a 12 step program. Maybe a Higher Power has nothing to do with that, but most that undergo the change allude to some form of that.

If you (or anyone) would like to help me understand that process fine. If you just want to contiunue with your ill disgusied “Straw Man” replies, go right ahead. It’s your “Self Will”!

Anyway I think “Thou Doth Protest Too Much!” LOL

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Posted: 17 November 2012 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 01:28 PM

Obviously you do not want to even open the door a crack to anything you cannot measure or quantify. I won’t use the term “Higher Power” if it makes you so nervous, you have to invent meanings for it. This is not about “problem solving”!

Yes it is problem solving. If I don’t like that I’m getting angry, then that is a problem. And I can solve that problem by changing my emotional habit of getting angry. For an explanation about how to do that, see this:


http://ramirustom.blogspot.com/2012/10/abuse-and-anger.html


And for a more general explanation, see this:


http://ramirustom.blogspot.com/2012/09/psychology.html

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 01:28 PM

It is about fundamental changes in human behaviour, emotional responses, understanding of self and about how self will might effect all that. I know I am wasting my time with a hostile audience, but it is a good exercise for me.

Yes. And if you don’t like your “human behaviour and emotional responses”, then these are problems for you. In which case you should solve these problems.

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 01:28 PM

There is an axiom in AA, that you regain control of your life (self will) by giving up control (self will) to something outside yourself.

That is horrible. Only you can change yourself.

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 01:28 PM

Maybe that “something” is just the target to dump your old learned habits of self destructive self will on and then when you have demonstrated willingness to let go of the nonproductive ways acquire new ones with a new self will that arises from a different understanding of the world and your place in it. Just sounds like gobbldeygook to you, I know and you are afraid to even consider that there might be some substance to a concept you cannot quite pin down with logic. (especially if you don’t try)

Afraid? Why do you think I’m afraid? And what do you think I’m afraid of?

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 01:28 PM

I am earnestly trying to discover how groups of people can effect fundamental, radical changes in their emotional construct, ideas of right and wrong etc.with a process like a 12 step program. Maybe a Higher Power has nothing to do with that, but most that undergo the change allude to some form of that.

I gave you an explanation. And you didn’t respond to that.

GenerousGeorge - 17 November 2012 01:28 PM

If you (or anyone) would like to help me understand that process fine. If you just want to contiunue with your ill disgusied “Straw Man” replies, go right ahead. It’s your “Self Will”!

Anyway I think “Thou Doth Protest Too Much!” LOL

Now you’re asserting that I made a straw man argument. Quote me and explain how my explanation is a straw man.

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