Category: Whitepills

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Whitepill 3: Free Will

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

According to neuroscience, free will is an illusion (Heisenberg 164), and those interested in preserving this notion argue that we can instead consider it a social construct (Feldman; Then & Now). This suggests it simply feels like we have free will, when in actuality, we are operating under a sort of probabilistic determinism. This feeling of free will is what Sartre describes in Nausea (Sartre 362), however, he summarizes the point nicely in Being and Nothingness as well: “nausea… is not knowledge; it is the non-thetic apprehension of the contingency which he is” (Sartre 366). By non-thetic, he is referring to one’s visceral, immediate experiences that conscious awareness can later reflect on. In a nutshell, the awareness of life’s fragility emerges from sickness at the thought of just how easy it is to terminate one’s existence in certain situations, like walking close to a steep drop or cliff side (Sartre 56). These bodily reactions indicate some degree of significance to possible courses of action, where their perceived reality influences how decisions are made. Our belief in free will enables us to act responsibly by motivating us toward some action or goal, and this belief is beneficial for self-esteem and personal growth.

From an objective or third-person perspective, reality likely operates under a probabilistic determinism, where events and decisions are roughly predetermined as an outcome of prior circumstances. To some, this determinism should be welcomed with open arms, as it frees individuals from over-focusing on their decisions and futures. This generally applies to those in industrialized societies with individualistic attitudes, as it may alleviate some of the emotional burden people face as they try to navigate such a complex and threatening world. That said, letting go of one’s need for control or fear of losing it must be met with balance, since passively relying on external factors for guiding action is likely going to lead to depression. Without an intrinsic drive and a goal, introduced by belief in free will, it becomes too easy to stagnate and fall into hedonistic patterns of living. Belief in free will introduces a beneficial responsibility for perspective and action.

In this case, and probably most, the cognitive dissonance that arises from this supposed paradox is a feature and not a bug. Believing in free will while knowing some alternative reflects objective reality creates a contradiction to be resolved, serving as an engine to drive reasoning. Equilibrium indicates a body at rest is not engaged in activity, and mentally, without a mismatch of some kind, there is no activity to fuel mental operations. When encountering paradoxes, they should act as cues to orient one’s perspective and consider things from a new point of view.

Because life is inherently lived from the first-person perspective, and because humans are able to reflect on the world from an abstracted, third-person perspective, we are able to choose different strategies based on the circumstances and their contextual factors. We can know one thing while simultaneously respecting the significance of an alternative idea, based on what is felt rather than as suggested by empirical consensus. To state that free will is an illusion is to suggest the subject matter of phenomenology is an illusion, and when we consider how effective these perceptions are for getting stuff done, I don’t know that the word truly applies. The pond in the distance is either water or a mirage based on whether you are able to approach the water, where the brain receives additional information to determine its reality. Biological organisms react to changes in the environment to mitigate their actions to ensure their survival, and therefore, subjective perceptions reflect aspects of the external world. Therefore, free will is not really an illusion because one’s choices and actions still impact others for better or for worse, even if they were likely to perform that action anyway. An individual is still the physical source of some action and must therefore take responsibility for their consequences.

Be the self-fulfilling prophecy you want to be. As probabilistic in nature, rather than fixed or logically necessary, determinism is still speculative and as predictions still have yet to obtain. In each moment, you have the capacity to do what you think is best for yourself and others.

Works Cited

Feldman, Gilad. ‘Making Sense of Agency: Belief in Free Will as a Unique and Important Construct’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, p. e12293. Wiley Online Library, https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12293.

Heisenberg, Martin. ‘Is Free Will an Illusion?’ Nature, vol. 459, no. 7244, 7244, May 2009, pp. 164–65. www-nature-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca, https://doi.org/10.1038/459164a.

Sartre, Paul-Jean. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203827123.

Then & Now. Free Will Is Political. 2022. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5wFFRBBG7M.

Whitepill 2: Morality

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

Just as individuals are required to adopt meanings suitable for their lived experiences, they are also required to identify ways of acting which are beneficial for themselves as individuals as well as the groups they belong to. This involves a renunciation of utilitarian attitudes in favour of a naturalized deontological moral framework instead. Although utilitarian principles claim to support good intentions in their attempt to benefit as many as possible, when applied at the societal level in contemporary capitalistic environments, an incentive to cooperate with or assist only those within a particular community arises which negatively influence individual behaviours. Those outside their in-group may suffer as a result of this utilitarian framework, and when applied to structures of governance, threatens the reciprocal relationship required between the organization and the humans it involves or interacts with. Therefore, we ought to avoid appealing to these types of zero-sum moral frameworks if we are interested in establishing peace and harmony between diverse groups of people (Habermas, ‘Religious Tolerance as Pacemaker for Democracy’ 254).

This naturalized deontological framework is implicitly suggested by Habermas in The Future of Human Nature, where one’s moral duty requires a consideration for other human beings, from all walks of life, as autonomous individuals with an inherent capacity for self-governance (33-34). While Habermas appeals to a naturalized version of Kant’s deontological principles to provide a perspective on the future of genetic engineering (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 55), this secularization of Kantian morality is suitable for guiding reasoning and decision-making within liberal societies as well. By instilling a feeling of obligation to consider another’s perspective, citizens in pluralistic societies engage in “regulated relations of mutual recognition” (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature34), where individuals learn to recognize themselves as members of an inclusive yet culturally diverse society (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature35). While Habermas is interested in this framework as it pertains to liberal democracies, it is also appropriate as a universal norm as globalization motivates us to consider humanity as a whole, rather than a collection of separate states or regions. This avoids negative outcomes associated with utilitarianism, as Kant recommends not to appeal to a “formula of ends” since doing so treats individuals as a means to an end, rather than “as an end in himself” (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature55). Thus, pluralistic or globalized societies interested in developing cooperation, tolerance, and peace between diverse peoples must instead view its population not as a mass to be controlled, but as a collection of human beings with an innate capacity for self-governance (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 56).

This duty to others, however, still requires one to balance the needs of the self with the needs of others. Once these prerequisites are met, one is then able to take care of others, just as recommended when fixing oxygen masks for others if an emergency were to occur while flying on an airplane. Alternatively, if one were to try to help a drowning person if they themselves were not a strong swimmer, one risks their health and safety if the person needing rescuing is thrashing about in desperation. Thus, in addition to concerning yourself with your duty to others, focus on building a habit of reflecting on your own needs, desires, and lived experiences. Drawing explicit boundaries in this way is beneficial, even if it does impose limitations, provided the reasoning for doing so is transparent to others. Similarly, one must be open to considering critical feedback from others in their acts of self-reflection, as the boundaries we draw for ourselves nonetheless remain in social contexts. As a result, these efforts contribute a source of meaning to the lives of individuals as they work to better themselves within a wider community, a notion similar to eudaimonia (Aristotle 234).

To finalize with one last Kantian idea, it’s important to keep the faith even when all feels hopeless. He reminds us that the human species is advancing, morally and culturally, and that while it may be “interrupted” at times, it is “never broken off” (Kant 88). Furthermore, the unselfish goodwill one must demonstrate to others must be performed knowing that the beneficial outcomes or returns may not be readily apparent, however, they will nonetheless manifest in due time (Kant 89). Moreover, Kant believes that practical moral reason will eventually triumph over evil (Kant 92), as attitudes which support cooperative efforts give rise to emergent phenomena as effects from humans working together. Although Kant may have originally been appealing to religious ideals for his claims, we are justified in maintaining these beliefs based on the mathematical brilliance of John Nash as demonstrated in game theory. In this way, it could be suggested that even the laws of nature support this type of moral framework, suggesting its suitability for contemporary human societies.

(still searching for the creator on r/philosphymemes)

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Habermas, Jürgen. ‘Religious Tolerance as Pacemaker for Democracy’. Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, Polity Press. Ares.

—. The Future of Human Nature. John Wiley & Sons, 2003.

Kant, Immanuel. ‘On the Common Saying: This May Be True in Theory, but It Does Not Apply in Practice’. Kant: Political Writings, edited by H. S. Reiss, translated by H. B. Nisbet, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 323. Ares.

Whitepill 1: Why Question?

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

Socrates famously claims “the unexamined life is not worth living” during his trial in Plato’s Apology. Is this correct? Do humans need to examine everything in order to live well? Yes, and developments in philosophy since then demonstrates why this is the case.

Habermas nicely summarizes the progression of human belief and thought in Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking, pointing out that modern empirical science operates through rational procedures of examining the world and its contents. Specifically, this way of thinking supplanted metaphysical and religious beliefs, resulting in a turning away from faith and the values identified by spiritual examination (Habermas, ‘Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking’ 34–35). Although this development led to an improved understanding of the sciences, resulting in a growth in technology and mastery over the physical world, we introduced a conceptual void that cannot be filled by the same means or thought-processes that brought about improvements in our standard of living (Habermas, An Awareness of What Is Missing 19).

Luckily, existential philosophers like Kierkegaard and Camus show us how we can begin to reintroduce meaning within our lives, essentially by turning inward to examine one’s own perspective of the world. Through this process, one becomes better able to achieve an Aristotelian self-actualization which is not unlike Nietzsche’s ‘child’, as the individual is now secure within itself as a human, thus enabling the ability to create something new. The notion that happiness emerges from these processes is explicitly articulated in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as he shows us a way out of even the darkest caverns of life by reminding us that as subjects, we have the capacity to reframe our attitudes toward our perceptions. Though the responsibility we have for our actions and beliefs may make us feel nauseous (Sartre’s Nausea), by reflecting on our experiences, we can begin to understand and accept elements of our world in their multitude of forms. Human consciousness involves a capacity to reflect on phenomenal experiences, and by engaging in this self-reflection, one becomes better aware of precisely what gives their life meaning and how best to organize their conduct. This includes the participation in practices and communities to create cultural products and ways of contributing to society in various ways. Most importantly, these contributions may not be measurable in dollars or hours, much to the chagrin of those who are interested in reinforcing the values held dearly by the mindset adopted by industrialized societies.

The unexamined life is not worth living because one risks falling into a whirlpool of autopilot and materialism, and therefore a lack of meaning. Moreover, while meanings provided by others may seem to fit our own perspectives at times, it is the passive, unreflective application that renders one feeling empty inside. This has the capacity to leading to depression as one feels disconnected from and ineffectual to both themselves and others. Unfortunately, certain beliefs we hold as a result of this modern, scientific society and culture fosters unexamined living. You, as a human, however, have the capacity to turn away from blind faith into a relationship with yourself that allows you to both expand your knowledge and produce works or actions that are beneficial and purposeful.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Habermas, Jürgen. An Awareness of What Is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age. Polity Press, 2010.

—. ‘Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking’. Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, MIT Press, 1994, pp. 28–53. Ares.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Mildred Mary Bozman, and A. Tille. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Dent, 1958.

Plato. Apology. Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Project Gutenberg, 1999, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1656/1656-h/1656-h.htm.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. Penguin UK, 2021.