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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Free Will"-ly

Yesterday Rosa asked me to accompany her to our dentist (who coincidentally was a good friend of mine back in college and has even been mentoring our beloved Monster, Ana) and I was relieved to find a singular issue of National Geographic among the usually lame fare of People or Golf Digest. In it was a short article on more discoveries about how a variety of our apparent 'personal' choices are actually made. Since it's a quick read I am linking it here: (article). For the sake of this post you might want to read it before continuing.



Granted, it's not extensive, but I'm sure this topic.....especially if you go into the different reasons behind different types of preferences, would fill pages, perhaps volumes. Even those nagging questions of why we are the way we are with regard to kink might be rendered less "sexual oulaw-ish" and more biologically driven than the more bold of us would like to admit.


The truly adventurous among us, no doubt take a certain pride in being "out there" by sheer will and choice. But what if timidity and boldness were just points on a spinning wheel of genetic chance? 


But for me the most interesting section was on how the amygdala might well determine political allegiances. In an age where members of each diametrically opposed "tribe" seem utterly incapable of understanding the other side's point of view, and equally ineffective in changing it, it sounds both reassuring and defeatist to think that there may well be an inescapable imperative involved tied directly to our accidental differences in anatomy. When one considers the long anthropological history behind 'tribalism' and its younger, cultured cousin, 'nationalism', it begins to make depressing sense.


What if, at the end of the day, as bad as we all seem to think "tribalism" is, we learn that it is as inescapable as our imperative to live, eat, or reproduce? Even to deciding which tribe to join? What if we learn that our choices, even the ones that seem so rooted in experience and individuality are all "determined" by factors similar or identical to the ones discussed in the article? What if our "individuality" is accurate only in the mathematical permutations of genetics and environment? 

I have been a 'determinist' most of my later adult life, so much of this is not a surprise. But in a political climate that has frustrated me so much with seemingly irreconcilable polarities, I feel somehow less inclined now to argue political points. It had seemed futile for a while.....but now I am faced with evidence that it is not merely emotionally pointless, but biologically impossible. And while aspects of this feel discouraging, there is a peace in it as well.....like coming to grips with mortality (although THAT'S one I'm STILL working on.)

26 comments:

  1. I'm a National Geographic fan, but I often find their articles to be pretty surface level. This being one of those. Is it really a profound insight that our sense of taste is somewhat genetically hardwired? Does anyone really assume they can just decide to like a taste they've always hated?

    On political issues, I have no doubt that chemical disparities caused by genetic differences can incline people toward certain preferences. But, as the article itself (kind of) points out, scientists now know that environment and experiences *activate* different genes, so our genes and environments and thoughts about those all interact in mutually interdependent ways. I think it goes way too far to say genes determine our political affiliation or ideologies, and my own political drift over the years would seem to refute it. I was fairly liberal going into my first year of college. I was very conservative, or very libertarian, by the time I got out of college. Today, I'm pretty embarrassed by some of the ideological positions I was attracted to in college.

    My preferences in women also don't seem to be very hard-wired, at least not in terms of the choices I find myself making. I am heavily inclined toward brunettes but ended up marrying a natural blond. So, you could say that something inclines me toward brunettes, but who knows whether that is genetic, or is it because my mother and several of my aunts growing up were brunettes, so maybe the preference is more Freudian? But, either way, I have an *inclination* toward certain types, but ultimately acted contrary to the inclination.

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    1. I fully concede this is a brief article but it does pack a lot into a concise essay. As such I found it to be perfect for a blog ‘thought starter’.

      While there may not be objective truths, there are scientific facts and this may be part of one or a mistaken conclusion. We just don’t know yet. But our knowing or believing is immaterial to what the reality is.

      What I found noteworthy was how the article explains several influences on choice that encompass everything from straight genetic factors to ones requiring an environmental component, to the mere relative size differences in anatomical structures. The one unifying theme though is one of deterministic process frustrating the innate desire for a feeling of free will choice.

      ( On one specific point I would like to clarify the legitimacy of biological attraction despite your example of hair color. Other than a visual style preference similar to having a favorite color for clothing or a room.....which again is probably determined by some combination of factors, hair color would not be something that would override a pheromonal assessment of a good gene-pool-based mate. You probably sensed something more significantly beneficial in Anne that overrode your visual preference.)

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    2. Again, I don't dispute biological influences on attraction. I just think there is a very big difference between "influences on choice" versus a "deterministic process." Ultimately, I don't think there is a way to determine what the reality is, because any example a non-determinist like me offers up in respect of free-will will be met with a claim that determinism is just like weather prediction, and that what looks like freewill is really just a lack of data or a deficient understanding of the causal mechanisms. As long as that remains the trump card, no amount of counter examples is going to sway things. I also do think that simple consistency demands that if one believes that political views are predetermined then you also have to drop all moral judgments against someone for the views they advocate, since they have no choice about their belief structure.

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    3. Exactly. And precisely why I feel much calmer about this whole situation politically: it can't be helped. Perhaps understanding the inherent and immutable "blueness" or "redness" of a body of constituents is why the Republicans have resorted to gerrymandering rather than persuasion? I was becoming apoplectic over some of the things I heard people say recently.....but now it all makes sense. Instead I will probably be more focused on outcomes rather than understanding or persuasion.

      And it is also why I don't even feel particularly confrontational on the issue of Determinism with you. We've been through it before, and now I see more clearly that you can't help your views any more than I can help mine. We are locked into our positions by a myriad of factors outside of our control. Even if one or both of us change positions, it will still be due to factors we have little choice but to succumb to. So rather than argue, I think it's more realistic and personally gratifying to just enjoy our commonalities

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    4. I hate to say "I told you so," but I seem to recall a certain someone arguing tooth and nail against an aphorism about there being freedom in submission or happiness in loss of choice. Yet, you're basically saying that you've been calmed by realizing you have no choice. I totally get that it must *feel* freeing or comforting to believe in a lack of freewill, but shedding responsibility almost always *feels* freeing for the person no longer taking responsibility. I totally admit that's a key part of my attraction to FLR and some version of D/s -- letting go of control *feels good* because it means responsibility is removed from your shoulders. But, on things like politics and personal morality, I'll still forego the freedom of throwing in the towel.

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    5. Oh I still want to entertain the illusion of making my own choices....politically and DD-wise. I'm not looking to give in to anything. I'm just feeling less "angst-ey" over OTHER people's choices....since rather than wasting time persuading, faulting, or getting crazy over seemingly indefensible positions, I can just think: "eh, they can't help it. No sense wasting time or effort here. What ELSE can be done instead?"

      Eternal stimuli are still a contributor to choices. Perhaps in a less linear way than 'fact processed logically = different conclusion', but even politically now polls show some people 'changing their minds'. Something is prompting that. So that's good....but ultimately I feel less inclined to get angry over it all. It's kind of like trying to execute every move correctly as possible in a pool game only to flinch at the last moment and still have the balls do exactly what was called ......but in a totally unpredictable way. I am the type of person who almost felt guilty when that would happen. Like, "yeah, that's the shot I 'called'.....but nowhere the way I intended to get it to happen." Maybe now I can be more like, "what the hell? As long as it went in."

      Your DD example is good to show how this is not that much different for me personally since a surrender to choice right now could very well lead Rosa to deciding to do something to/with me that I am just not really in the mood for. So giving into having no choice rather than exercising my (perceived) choice would only make me unhappy and resentful....not euphorically 'free'. So .....still no desire to submit utterly.
      In fact, I'm still liking the occasional BDSM play.....but not really feeling the desire for DD-type accountability. Maybe it's why reading DD accounts seem to irritate me more than resonate?

      I still like the notion of personal responsibility though. Where I think I was needlessly spiraling downward was in attributing too much importance to other people's choices. I felt baffled by things that made no sense and wanted to understand WHY.....but now I know why they make no sense to me but seemingly do to the person in question. I'm still going to do my best in deciding what to do or not do, but now when I hear something I think is stupid, instead of my blood pressure soaring, I'm going to try to just think "wow, that's really stupid....but the poor bastard probably can't help it. It's his damned amygdala!" LOL

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    6. I agree with a lot of this, including how you hope it plays out in your own life, in terms of not getting wrapped around the axle about external things you can't control. I read something recently about two basic orientations people have in terms of how they think about things that happen to them. I don't remember the labels that applied to each type, but the gist is that some people are oriented toward attributing their current state (good or bad) to things that are being done *to* them by outside forces. The other group attributes their current state (again, good or bad) to their own acts, assuming that if bad things are happening in their life they must have done something themselves to bring it about. When I read that, the first thing I thought about was you and I and our debates about this stuff, because based on those exchanges, I would say you are very highly oriented toward the former, and I am very highly oriented toward the latter. In fact, my guess is we are kind of at the extremes of each pole, and extremes are seldom good. For me, the upside is I don't tend to think of myself as a victim of circumstance, which gives me a sense of agency and an absence of a sense of "learned helplessness." The downside is, I blame myself for every bad thing that happens to me, and I take on more than my share of responsibility for what happens to others. I don't have any doubt my extreme sense of my own agency contributes to my desire for DD and also for my desire to give up control and have consequences imposed. I'm so unbalanced on one side, DD comes in to bring it back to something more "normal."

      Where I have more of a problem is with the "I still want to entertain the illusion of making my own choices....politically and DD-wise." Ultimately, its up to you to decide whether your choices are illusions. I think the most your article and the examples you've given is that your choices are *influenced*, and in some cases *conditioned*, but that doesn't mean there was not a choice. To me, until determinists can come up with something a hell of a lot stronger than they have to date, what we know is that: (1) it feels like we have freewill, i.e. we consciously experience making choices; (2) if we try to stop using freewill, it still seems like we have it; (3) if you stop recognizing free will, then give up on morality, ethics, criminal justice, etc. So, to me the experiential evidence is on the side of free will, the utilitarian arguments are on the side of free will, and even the hardcore determinists never seem to have the stones to throw away morality and ethics and just live the logical implications of their theory. So, in the absence of something more than a mechanistic cause-and-effect model that can't be proven or disproven (conveniently for the determinists), if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck.

      Now, when you detect a tone of annoyance in my responses, it is because of that line about preserving your illusion of choice. You can be pretty aggressive in your tone with people who have any religious belief or a belief in free will, accusing them more than once of a lack of bravery in the face of what you see as the nihilistic truth. I don't think that believing in freewill reflects a lack of bravery at all, and nor does *some* religious beliefs (there isn't much about an after life in Judaism or Buddhism or most non-Hindu derived Eastern religious philosophy. In fact, believing in free will requires a lot more bravery, because it doesn't let anyone including oneself off the hook. So, I'm glad to see you admit your relying on an illusion in order to live with your determinism, but I would think that might lead to a little more tolerance for others who are similarly prone to rationalizing their way into their belief systems.

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    7. If I'm intolerant in any given moment it's probably because everything leading up to that moment...from my genes to my experience, to whatever might be coursing through my system or fresh in my head....leaves me no choice to be anything else. ;-)

      As for each other point? I don't even know where to begin. I guess it's funny that just before replying to you, I just happened to have had a phone conversation with Ana where she basically put me in the opposite category that you did and before she called, I had considered myself a blend of both categories.

      It's a bit confusing and frustrating that someone I thought sort of understood me, has such a different picture of me than I have of myself, or that others that know me in RL have. Even as tolerance goes. I'm no saint, but whereas aspects of religious belief confound me to a point of the "intolerance" you accuse me of, you were also the one who said you couldn't understand my tolerance of a particular poster that drives you crazy. So is it a matter of being generally intolerant as a trait? Or just having different things be more or less of an issue or trigger for each of us?

      And I suppose the other thing that is frustrating is that I try to choose my words carefully. And when I write a post, or even a long comment, there is a lot there. And yet it seems so many of the things I write are taken differently than intended. It makes me doubt my own clarity, especially when there are other sentences that I feel explained things much more specifically are seemingly overlooked.

      But I appreciate that you comment and participate, so thanks for that. All the best.

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    8. I think we all are probably condemned to see ourselves differently than others do, and god knows I am often accused of being more aggressive or intimidating than I feel should be the case.

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    9. I think when it comes to people, we are all just one of the "Blind Men and the Elephant". We only know limited aspects of complex people with multiple aspects because we are only exposed to the personality presented to us. And nowhere is that more true than online....and perhaps at work.

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  2. BTW, I just realized, our entire debate above is basically the plot-line of The Matrix in short form. You're Cypher. I don't see myself as Neo, so maybe I'll do some gender bending and play Trinity.

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    1. It's also a little like the discussion of Murti-Bing pills in The Captive Mind. Wonderful book I was introduced to as required reading in a college Poli Sci class: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Captive_Mind

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    2. Not overly familiar with either. I did watch the first Matrix and was annoyed by it. I never watched any of the others. I took a quick look into the book though. Man we Poles are a joyless bunch! LOL

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    3. You kind of are, though I suppose a few hundred years of getting steamrolled by history would do that to you! Seriously, my favorite professor in college was a Polish immigrant who taught courses on WWII and on the Soviet Union, and I left with an abiding belief that the Poles were about as gallant as it gets.

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    4. We're like anyone else. Growing up around my fellow Poles and still knowing plenty now, there are PLENTY who are as "UN-gallant" as it gets. (Wanna meet my uncle?) ;-)

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  3. oh boy....you asked a few posts ago for me to weigh in with my philosophy degree


    determinism vs free will

    big ask in values philosophy

    the arguements not saying i believe one way or another

    determinism is self refuting. free will is an illusion so the ultimate cause of why a person thinks free will is an illusion is they were predetermined to do so
    can a belief be true or false if ultimately events are predetermined?

    ordained morality is it incoherent?

    moral responsibility and free will are logically necessary

    a for deity to deem something moral and therefore some other being is immoral in a dererministic world implies the deity deemed them to be immoral. Why? so they can maintain their own morality?
    does a moral concept need a root in experience or an analogy to have a meaning? is it vacuous without it?

    throw a ds reference in there are the people at the other end of our spankings the morality bringers and therefore punishers by choice? can their statements of right and wrong be deemed to be correct only because they say so? i choose to submit to the rules or the rules are just right?

    Can determinism be refuted by actions?
    does how i act show you my belief more than what i say? i still act in a manner that gets me spanked.

    if you consider the question of free will vs determinism are you not demonstrating a free will / at least that there is a choice to be made?

    can a belief that cannot be consistently acted on actually be true?
    does that make determinism false?

    at our house we all agree on the things that will be done to me well in advance sometimes months in advance. my choice my free will sometimes a biological component agrees for me. my sexual arousal at a concept that is my action vs my words. i am made to admit the idea excites me and i therefore agree.

    when the thing happens it is in a deterministic way. my wife and the ladies we play with take over that 'deity' role. what they say goes. i have no 'choice'. But i do i can safeword full stop proceedings. i can ask for something else if i am not feeling it. the compromise we have is that what we do instead has to be worse...dont feel into the spanking eat something awful wear something embaressing instead. that leads to rankings of 'bad' where we have all talked and agreed to such ranking.

    it plays out in a deterministic way however ultimately i am choosing.

    hard to type all this on the phone please excuse typos or lack of clarity

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    1. determinism is self refuting. free will is an illusion so the ultimate cause of why a person thinks free will is an illusion is they were predetermined to do so
      can a belief be true or false if ultimately events are predetermined?

      [[[[Yes, because facts themselves are pre-existing and therefore pre-determined.]]]]]]

      ordained morality is it incoherent?

      [[[[ordained by whom?]]]]

      moral responsibility and free will are logically necessary

      [[[[ Yes they are. ]]]]]

      a for deity to deem something moral and therefore some other being is immoral in a dererministic world implies the deity deemed them to be immoral. Why? so they can maintain their own morality?

      [[[[[Debating the intentions of fictional entities seems a waste of effort.]]]]]]

      does a moral concept need a root in experience or an analogy to have a meaning? is it vacuous without it?

      [[[[[ If it is a "moral" concept, it is by its nature rooted in human experience and therefore originated through that experience. Take out the experience and where would the concept come from?]]]]]]

      throw a ds reference in there are the people at the other end of our spankings the morality bringers and therefore punishers by choice? can their statements of right and wrong be deemed to be correct only because they say so? i choose to submit to the rules or the rules are just right?

      [[[[[ By choice through accident.]]]]]

      Can determinism be refuted by actions?
      does how i act show you my belief more than what i say? i still act in a manner that gets me spanked.

      [[[[ What you say is as determined as what you do, even if they are not the same or even contradictory.]]]]]

      if you consider the question of free will vs determinism are you not demonstrating a free will / at least that there is a choice to be made?

      [[[[[ No, the question is merely observation of seemingly disparate conditions that exist. We know certain things 'determine' actions. We also 'feel' like our decisions are freely made. These are part of human experience.....hence the question of "which is it?"]]]]]]

      can a belief that cannot be consistently acted on actually be true?
      [[[[[ Yes. We sort of accept it's wrong to kill someone in cold blood for spite or malice, yet it happens.]]]]]
      does that make determinism false?
      [[[[Determinism either is or isn't factual. Our actions or beliefs are irrelevant to the reality of where choice actually originates.]]]]]]

      at our house we all agree on the things that will be done to me well in advance sometimes months in advance. my choice my free will sometimes a biological component agrees for me. my sexual arousal at a concept that is my action vs my words. i am made to admit the idea excites me and i therefore agree.

      when the thing happens it is in a deterministic way. my wife and the ladies we play with take over that 'deity' role. what they say goes. i have no 'choice'. But i do i can safeword full stop proceedings. i can ask for something else if i am not feeling it. the compromise we have is that what we do instead has to be worse...dont feel into the spanking eat something awful wear something embaressing instead. that leads to rankings of 'bad' where we have all talked and agreed to such ranking.

      [[[[[Sorry but you lost me on this one.]]]]]]

      it plays out in a deterministic way however ultimately i am choosing.

      hard to type all this on the phone please excuse typos or lack of clarity

      [[[[[[You are excused. Phone typing is rough and the subject complex. I did my best responding honestly to your points. Please elaborate on anything you wish to delve deeper into. And thanks for commenting so extensively.]]]]]]]]

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    2. Oh I forgot to address the first one! (Silly me)

      "determinism is self refuting. free will is an illusion so the ultimate cause of why a person thinks free will is an illusion is they were predetermined to do so"

      [[[[To me, this argument makes determinism more self-evident than self-refuting. If I claimed to hold determinism to be true through a free choice I made, then the statement would be self-refuting. But I did not say that. The belief in free will or determinism is still the result of determinism at work.]]]]]]]

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    3. "Can a belief that cannot be consistently acted on actually be true?
      [[[[[ Yes. We sort of accept it's wrong to kill someone in cold blood for spite or malice, yet it happens.]]]]]

      This! Right here! The crux of our disagreement. Under your deterministic view, killing someone "in cold blood" is not only not "wrong," it is morally meaningless. There is no basis at all for judging the act as "wrong" or the murderer as culpable if they literally did what they were predetermined to do.

      But, again, I just don't understand how you even get there in the first place, since there is basically no evidence that this mechanistic cause and effect view of determinism is right. To the contrary, most modern physics strongly suggests it is NOT right. The whole thing is more "angels dancing on the head of the pin" than most religious doctrines in terms of its sheer lack of experiential and logical support. As I said before, I see this hard form of determinism as barely different from Flat Earth theories. In both cases, the adherents are spinning up a theory that doesn't fit the experienced world or the available data. And, all this coming from a guy whose assessment of the contributions that led him away from writing and into "science," was "I had nothing important to say." Couldn't agree more.

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    4. >Sigh< Ok, you seem hell bent on wanting to do this again, so fuck it. If that's what you want, fine.

      "This! Right here! The crux of our disagreement. Under your deterministic view, killing someone "in cold blood" is not only not "wrong," it is morally meaningless."

      Where did I say anything even remotely close to that?

      "There is no basis at all for judging the act as "wrong" or the murderer as culpable if they literally did what they were predetermined to do."

      As they like to say, "tell that to the judge." If science tomorrow figured it out completely and was able to prove it definitively, it would in all likelihood change NOTHING in...1: how laws would continue to function, 2: how most people still 'feel' choices are made, and 3: how an overwhelming majority of people who believe in a deity will continue to see "free will" as an essential "god-given" component of their faith. So regardless of what determinism means if true, people WILL continue to believe "it's wrong to kill someone in cold blood for spite or malice".

      Certain components of the myriad of factors in determinism are not biological. Experience and environment are also factors. And a key element that most people are presented with from early on is the wrongness of killing. Now even if somewhere in their heads there's an imperative to kill, they may still not act on it because of the environmental conditioning against it....or even merely the fear that even though they would like to kill, because they could suffer unpleasant consequences if caught. Their fear of consequence could override their desire. So having laws to protect a society isn't inconsistent with determinism, it's just one more factor in it. (And you could say that the desire to preserve oneself, family, and tribe is also innate and therefore 'determined' by the genetic selection for success in social primates. Social primates require cooperation to survive. Cooperation requires a degree of trust. If an organism is a lone opportunist who will kill and eat anything that comes close to it, it may very well do fine in its environment, but it will not become a social creature. Social organisms then in turn cannot compulsively kill whoever comes close to them and then expect others to assist in a hunt. So the belief that random, malicious cold-blooded killing is 'wrong' could very well be something programmed into our genes and hence a 'belief' that we are determined to pass along.)

      "But, again, I just don't understand how you even get there in the first place, since there is basically no evidence that this mechanistic cause and effect view of determinism is right."

      No evidence? None? really? I'll concede we don't have the knowledge right now to prove it definitively across the board, but there's more and more being added all of the time.

      "To the contrary, most modern physics strongly suggests it is NOT right."

      Source please?

      "The whole thing is more "angels dancing on the head of the pin" than most religious doctrines in terms of its sheer lack of experiential and logical support."

      I would agree when you qualify it with "in terms of sheer lack of experiential support", but it is logical. What about the mysticism in any religion is "logical" by the way?

      "As I said before, I see this hard form of determinism as barely different from Flat Earth theories. In both cases, the adherents are spinning up a theory that doesn't fit the experienced world or the available data. And, all this coming from a guy whose assessment of the contributions that led him away from writing and into "science," was "I had nothing important to say." Couldn't agree more."

      Who are you talking about?

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  4. i hope i have not offended

    the beauty of the philisophy degree is we are taught the arguements not which is right or wrong hence the number of questions in my post

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    1. Offended? Hell no! This was great. If my answers seemed curt it was probably because you brought up a lot of points and I wanted to address as many as I could in a concise way.

      Keep it going as long as you want
      . ;-)

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  5. The brief article makes complete sense to me. It only (once again) confirms what I've always believed. No matter how many times I have struggled with myself over the years to follow a universally accepted "norm," I've always gone back to those things that are considered "perverse" by most people's standards.

    Like Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" told Eddie Valiant (the detective) "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

    I am who I am, and nothing can change that hard-wiring.

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    1. Hmmm. Interesting point, Merry, but I'm not sure that any components of determinism ensure permanence. People can and do change, but the deterministic explanation for that would be that whatever factors are motivating that change make it impossible to do otherwise.

      In the case of the "hard-wiring", you might also experience something traumatic enough to kick another latent trait gene into action thereby changing the 'wiring' to something else. Of course that's just a single and oversimplified example.

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  6. i am who i an is popeye stealing from descartes. moral luck .

    i am lucky that the morality of the times i live in match up to the morality that i believe in

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