Will, Lynchpin of Worldviews

After a lively discussion in a previous thread has brought me to a refined understanding, I would like to try again. I believe what is referred to (at least by us, in our thread) by the word ‘consciousness’ is:

  • tied to biology
  • affected by injury (unconsciousness) or drugs (altered consciousness)
  • pretty much synonymous with the word ‘awareness’
  • ‘undiminished in the womb’ in, say, the final trimester
  • obviously not present at conception (1-2 cell-level)
  • shared with chimps, and to a diminishing extent, with lower mammals/animals

So I propose instead that the word that best captures what we have that animals don’t — part of what defines man alone as “made in God’s image” — is Will.

Why do animals do what they do? I think the materialist and the Christian would agree that it is in pursuit of physical gratification. Are they hungry? They eat. Tired? They sleep. Horny? They, um, perform a nature video. How about in the converse? Why do animals not do what they don’t? Because of the risk of physical pain. Hyenas don’t dare approach a carcass until the lions have abandoned it. Every animal knows it’s not safe to sleep in locations that are susceptible to predation. A junior gorilla wouldn’t dare messing with the females claimed by the silverback. Might makes right.

So why do people do what they do? An argument can be made that everything traces back to pleasure/pain. Indeed, my buddy limejelly, in his very first post ever, said

What’s important? I think the most important thing is to help the people around you find happiness without being pushy. Currently, I think this stems from selfishness, because you’re much more likely to be happy yourself if you surround yourself with joy.

(I’m not sure how the ‘without being pushy’ qualification is relevant to the ultimate question of “What’s important?”)

But why do people do what does not bring them pleasure? I understand that evolution has made some attempts to explain altruism as beneficial to a larger population, but I’m not convinced. Even granting a possible mechanism whereby selective pressure can be made to work for altruism and self-sacrifice rather than simply breeding it out, there are other kinds of human behavior contrary to the pleasure/pain principle that defy materialistic explanation.

Why is it that people don’t murder, rape, or molest children? There doesn’t seem to be any evolutionary advantage to abstaining from these practices (If you can’t survive an attacker, then get out of the gene pool! If you are strong enough, why shouldn’t you promulgate your genes by force? And what’s so special about children anyways? If it weren’t for society projecting a (less-and-less) agreed-upon dignity of sexuality upon them, they would be harmed by sex no more than if they were to help an adult blow their nose!). I contend, rather that people don’t murder, rape, or molest children in recognition of universal moral absolutes. (Why do people murder, rape, or molest children? Because the human will is fallen, and continually asserts autonomy and selfishness against universal moral absolutes.)

Why do people exercise despite the fact that it hurts? Why are people vegan even though the food brings no pleasure? How can you explain chastity? What’s up with Lent? It might seem that the answer to all of these is that immediate pleasure is denied in hopes of a future greater reward. But then why do people give in to their tempations? Fitness club memberships go unused by the millions. I’m sure that there are plenty of vegans hiding in closets, snacking on bacon. And is the world not full of sexual addicts who hate themselves for repeatedly falling into self-destructive sex? Why? The answer to all of these is lack of will. The (fallen) human will is incapable of forcing the self to abide by the principles that self understands would lead to the best possible life (see the hypocrite tagline, above right).

And this is the problem that Christianity answers so precisely. By definition, our selves are incapable of rising above the limitations of our selves. We do what we know we shouldn’t, because we are enslaved to sin. However, by becoming a new creation, being transformed by the renewal of our minds, we become able to mortify and crucify the flesh, replacing self-gratification with the fruits of the spirit.

Whew! That’s a lotta links! Back to my thesis: Will is a component of Soul, which is distinct from Mind (which contains a component of Consciousness / Awareness, which we were discussing before), which is distinct from Body. And being unique to humans, being part of what it means to be made in God’s image, Will is something which helps us realize that there is a God.

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10 Responses

  1. Got to be brief, but will have more time next week:

    When you erase references to God there, I believe you might find a structure entirely congruent with mine. The higher morality you refer to is emotional in origin, and relates to social survival. We are horrified by the destruction of innocence. This may have evolved as a combination of genetics and education. For whatever reason, it’s very hard to be objective about our children. I presume it’s love, and I know there’s love. Amo ergo sum.

  2. Just imagine if you actually had children! Amo ergo sum more than the ‘sum’ of my biological parts?

  3. I imagine it must be even harder to think about it clearly.

  4. I like this. It reminds me of that scene early on in Dune where Paul is tested: an evaluator demands that he place his hand in a box that stimulates all its pain senses. If he removes his hand from the box, he will be jabbed with a poisonous needle that kills only animals.

    “Are you suggesting I’m an animal?”

    “I’m suggesting,” says his evaluator, “that you may be human.”

    So your distinction is echoed by at least one writer. And limejelly was gracious in responding affirmatively.

    I do think others might poke holes. Will is dependent on consciousness, is it not? So it can be degraded at least in all of the biological means you mentioned above, which might cause some to argue, like the evaluator in Dune, that some humans beings might be different from animals, and others not. Also, while you’re skeptical that natural selection alone could yield self-sacrificing altruism in human beings, some animals also act altruistically, such a dog defending its master from a bear.

    Still, like limejelly, I appreciate this post — particularly your failures of will to moral absolutes — and personally agree with it.

  5. I think the dog defending its master, although it may be altruistic, is not will, but instinct. The dog my be conscious (i.e. of the presence of a bear and his master), but does the dog make a conscious decision to stand up to it? Have you ever seen a dog not act protective? That’s what dogs do — that’s why they were domesticated for guard duty.

    Or I suppose there’s the possibility that dogs have unfallen wills (which would explain why they all go to heaven…)

  6. Also, I’m not sure that will is dependent on consciousness; maybe consciousness is the interface through which the will directs the GEBOM. So if consciousness is out of commission, then GEBOM is unable to perceive the will of the Will.

  7. I think the dog defending its master, although it may be altruistic, is not will, but instinct. The dog my be conscious (i.e. of the presence of a bear and his master), but does the dog make a conscious decision to stand up to it? Have you ever seen a dog not act protective? That’s what dogs do — that’s why they were domesticated for guard duty.

    So this, then, is a case in which decidedly selfless behavior may have arisen purely from natural selection?

    I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between ascribing a dog’s selflessness to instinct, and a human’s to instinct. We might feel as though we’re making conscious choices, acts of the will — but perhaps instead we’re obeying our instincts.

    Again, I’m just poking holes because I like your argument and want to explore it, anticipating materialist objections.

    Also, I’m not sure that will is dependent on consciousness; maybe consciousness is the interface through which the will directs the GEBOM. So if consciousness is out of commission, then GEBOM is unable to perceive the will of the Will.

    Whoa — and I thought I was being mystical. Here you’ve got a will so separate from the GEBOM (“gently electrified bag of meat,” for newcomers to this blog) that it’s unable to direct it.

    How could will exist separate from consciousness? Is it not a self-determination? And if so, how self-determination exist if it’s not self-conscious, self-aware?

  8. We might feel as though we’re making conscious choices, acts of the will — but perhaps instead we’re obeying our instincts.

    If we were merely following instincts, would we be able to disobey them?

    How could will exist separate from consciousness?

    That’s a good question, and I’ll turn it back to you, since you seem to have an answer (or should). How can a self remain in the absence of a body? This is why I am liking more and more the concept that, in death, our souls will indeed experience(?) oblivion (which is all a soul can experience without a body to sense for it); no passage of time will be observed before the 2nd coming, when our souls rejoin our resurrected bodies.

  9. I don’t see a big difference between your concept of oblivion and mine of self without body. If I am without body, or resurrected into a body, either way my consciousness does not cease; it is fluid and continuous. And while this may not be true from an outsider’s perspective, it is true for me — which is all that really matters, after all, from the solipsistic perspective.

    If we were merely following instincts, would we be able to disobey them?

    This is where I see the largest problem in your lynchpin: an oversimplified view of instinct. Dogs seemingly disobey the instinct to eat when they are trained by a master not to steal food from the dinner table. “But no!” you would object. “They’re simply obeying a different instinct — self-preservation by avoiding punishment, and pack mentality by obeying an alpha male’s training.” And there’s the rub: instincts can conflict with one another.

    Any time a human appears to disobey an instinct, we can probably find different instincts opposing one another. For example, in your original post you asked:

    Why do people exercise despite the fact that it hurts? Why are people vegan even though the food brings no pleasure? How can you explain chastity? What’s up with Lent?

    In each case, people may be obeying a psychological instinct to maintain social position by adhering to socially sanctioned standards or morality — even if sanctioned only by a minority. They exercise to look good to please the pack; they eat vegan and remain chaste and give up things for Lent because (a subset of) the pack would disapprove of their doing otherwise.

    You continued:

    But then why do people give in to their tempations? Fitness club memberships go unused by the millions. I’m sure that there are plenty of vegans hiding in closets, snacking on bacon. And is the world not full of sexual addicts who hate themselves for repeatedly falling into self-destructive sex?

    Competing instincts. In one person, the instinct to conserve energy wins; in another, the instinct to look good to please the pack wins. We’re complex creatures, and depending on the individual, the circumstances, past experiences, social position and prospects, different instincts may win over others at different times, resulting in greatly differing behaviors.

    Of course in all of this I am poking and prodding at your original post, not arguing from my beliefs. In general I like what you wrote, I just wish it were a little more water-tight. Limejelly agreed with the jist of your ideas, but I suspect he was in a gracious mood at the time. I’d expect most diehard materialists to argue much as I just did — that competing instincts can easily account for what we might otherwise mistake for humans’ apparent capacity for non-instinctive behaviors.

    This brings me back to my earlier post Human Definitions Fail. Human beings are different from any other animal, but I strongly doubt we’ll ever going to determine a categorical difference between us and all other animals that resists all empirical line-blurring whatsoever. Human beings share the image of God, after all — not the substance of God.

    So in a way it’s appropriate that every single attempt to scientifically and/or philosophically differentiate human being from all other animals would fail, as this impresses upon us a need for humility and firmly marks us as among the created, rather than in some middle category approaching the rank of Creator. Though we share the image of God, the lie is that we can be fundamentally like Him. Better that the final conclusion suggest that we can’t — that we are created.

  10. I strongly doubt we’ll ever going to determine a categorical difference between us and all other animals that resists all empirical line-blurring whatsoever.

    Well, Humans have an immortal component. Contrary to Hollywood assertion, no dogs go to heaven. Only man is capable of doing wrong, and of being held responsible for the wrong they do. This is directly related to man’s monopoly on morality. But I guess none of these is empirical, so I’ll have to cede you that point.

    firmly marks us as among the created, rather than in some middle category approaching the rank of Creator.

    Oh, but I think that such a middle category is exactly what we are. Apparently we are to judge angels, and they are jealous of our relationship with God. And we were given dominion over the rest of creation. The key however (to this and so many other things) is to not use this fact to puff ourselves up, but to properly hold others in higher esteem, as C.S. Lewis put it, to recognize the eternal in everyone. (None of which means that we can be fundamentally like God, or that we weren’t created, of course)

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