What you believe

If you like abstract thought, take a dip into this: 120 intellectuals were asked ‘What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it’?’  The results are here at The Edge.org , and there’s a more accessible synopsis of some of them at Jay Cross’s site .

First gig of the year coming up tonight, at the Full Moon Club at Bannermans (8pm). This will feature the Decibelles on some songs, as well as Lynsey and Nelson and Fritz, but Mary won’t be there – she’s still on holiday.

I’m also playing on Sunday evening at the Listening Room in the Blue Blazer as part of theG.co.uk.

Coming back to the ‘believe’ question, I’m struck by psychologist Susan Blackmore’s answer. I’ve heard her espouse something like this before and it seems to strike a chord, although I can’t say I match her experience:

It  is possible to live happily and morally without believing
in free will. As Samuel Johnson said “All theory
is against the freedom of the will; all experience
is for it.” With recent developments in neuroscienceand theories of consciousness, theory is even more  against it than it was in his time, more than 200   years ago. So I long ago set about systematically
changing the experience. I now have no feeling of
acting with free will, although the feeling took  many years to ebb away.

But
what happens? People say I’m lying! They say it’s   impossible and so I must be deluding myself to
preserve my theory. And what can I do or say to
challenge them? I have no idea—other than
to suggest that other people try the exercise,
demanding as it is.

When the feeling is gone, decisions just happen with no sense of anyone
making them, but then a new question arises—will the decisions
be morally acceptable? Here I have made a great leap of faith (or the
memes and genes and world have done so). It seems that when people throw
out the illusion of an inner self who acts, as many mystics and Buddhist
practitioners have done, they generally do behave in ways that we think
of as moral or good. So perhaps giving up free will is not as dangerous
as it sounds—but this too I cannot prove.

As for giving up the sense of an inner conscious self altogether—this
is very much harder. I just keep on seeming to exist. But though I cannot
prove it—I think it is true that I don’t.

Susan Blackmore’s site  has more like this.

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Free to download - Stories My Killer Told Me: Five surreal story-songs from my Edinburgh Fringe show.



  • I Am Not The One For You
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  • New Eyes
  • A Forest Trail in Autumn
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1 thought on “What you believe

  1. But are you not making a ‘free will’ decision to give up free will or ‘conduct’ your life without it or allow your life to conduct itself? Is ‘allow’ the wrong word? Or am I not understanding the piece? I’m finding it difficult to grasp. Perhaps we need a new vocabulary for these discussions.

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