Choice and "Randomness" as Illusions

Wed, 25 May 1994 09:24:48 CDT

C. Pate's remark that I seem to define choice as an illusion is quite
correct. Randomness is readily mistaken for evidence of indeterminacy,
as is our impression that we make choices out of our own free will. But
the belief that randomness inheres in phenomena, and the belief that
free will inheres in us, are equally illusory in the strict sense of
the term as Freud used it: illusions are not necessarily false; they are
beliefs we embrace because of wishful thinking rather than evidence.
Maybe God does take all Believers to be with Him for Eternity; but the
belief is an illusion. Part of the problem is that most of us still
assume things are more or less as they seem. Once one takes seriously
the overwhelming evidence,especially from physics, that reality is quite
different from immediate appearances, it becomes plausible--to me,
undeniable--that choice, which feels like an act of a free will, is not
that at all. It appears that a coin is free to come up heads or tails,
just as it appears we are free to believe or behave as we will. But
these appearances are illusions. We embrace the illusions because they
"feel good," and they are sustainable because we are ignorant of the act
ual determinants. In the case of the coin, we--physicists, anyway--know
the determining variables but not their values on a given flip; In the c
ase of the human, we social scientists do not even know--though we have
some general hunches--what the determining variables are. Our ignorance
of the determination of our own behavior is fairly profound; but that
ignorance is neither a necessity nor a virtue. --Bob Graber