SEARCH finds Backlander-themed arguments, news and articles. Ask any question!

Why Persons Cannot be as Advertised

 I was born  in 1942 , which probably  explains why I have been 'looking back' with a view to figuring out what happened. This is what I have come to understand:

  • I was a homely lad raised on a small Ontario farm.
  • I am a bit tongue-tied, which means I have a sort of accent. This has been a boon all of my life. People give me the benefit of the doubt because they have no idea what country, or planet in some adolescent episodes, I come from.
  • Since I lacked entertainment options other than libraries, my young life included Henry David Thoreau's Walden, taking a run at Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and, in another venue, a stint as altar boy at St. James Church in Stirling, Ontario.

These experiences spawned notions I have been attempting to share. To my astonishment, these overtures have rarely been welcomed. I once imagined all adults eagerly seeking out such conversations. After all, life rarely gets better than when outside the box ideas  are being vigorously exchanged. As well, as Terry Pratchett observed, the company of individuals pursuing truth is far better than the company of those who think they have found

I know that I have  profited from such interchanges. I also know that "my ideas" rise into consciousness unbidden and so I cannot see how I can claim to have authored them. For all  I know, they could be tracked back to  morsels of undigested beef. As well, any idea that ever swam into view has needed improvement.  As soon as I write or say something, an improved idea, or a better way to express it, rushes at me!

Surely this is useful to understand and an important defence against arrogance. As well, the alternative is repairing understandings the hard way: by making mistakes and suffering consequences.  Far better to seek out individuals who have distilled experiences into cautions, essays and books.

Yet few of us seemed interested in anything beyond here and now issues and our own increasingly minute opinions masquerading as solutions.

So here is my question: What if this mutual indifference does not reflect decisions we have been taking as moral and rational agents?  What if this indifference is the ugly spawn of confusion about the nature and purpose of consciousness? What if conscious episodes do not signify active intellects at work? What if consciousness is nothing more than an enabling element in otherwise non-conscious proceedings resolving what human beings get up to?

 I remain hopeful that this 'magic bullet' insight will one day challenge the idea that we are inner persons  making supernatural decisions conducting bodies we see themselves inhabiting and controlling.

A version of this difficulty confronted St. Augustine when he recognized that God's omnipotence and the idea of persons with free will were incompatible.

St. Augustine settled upon an  awkward compromise:  Human beings possess free will, but it is 'defective'. We have enough that we can be consigned to Heaven or Hell according to what we choose to get up to,  but not enough to constitute a significant constraint upon God's omnipotence and omniscience.

There is secular way of coming to the same suspicion. If the the notion of God is  replaced with that of  future selves, St. Augustine's  problem becomes the claim that future persons can enjoy the same free-will as present persons. The reason is that our decisions today must constrain our future narratives if they are to have intelligible meaning. Thus, as free will agents pass through time and make decisions, they lumber and constrain their future lives so they enjoy less and less wiggle room. As evidence, I submit  our lived experiences.

I think this means that, as presently understood, persons cannot exist.