I like to portray myself as a wholly rational kind of person, one who takes in all the available evidence before making a conclusion. It’s actually rather inhibiting when I’m writing something as there are a lot of times when I have an opinion on something (and feel it would make a good post) but the amount of research required to either confirm or deny my point of view is prohibitive. Despite this though I’m still riddled with many internal biases towards certain subjects and no matter how good the evidence is on one side I’ll still get some horrible cognitive dissonance when I think about them.
The best example I can think of was my previous (mostly unknown and unspoken) stance on global warming. Up until around 2 years ago I had this deep rooted feeling that whilst climate change was happening the notion that we had anything to do with it, or even that it was that big of a threat to us, was just some form of hyperbole from the environmentalists. This wasn’t helped by my favourite pair of magicians, Penn and Teller, running with the idea that man-made global warming was bullshit on their show. Indeed even up until a year ago whilst my conscious self would take the evidence based approach I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I was wrong on some level.
One notion I’m still wrestling with is the idea of free will in a deterministic universe. I took the idea of free will as a given and much of society is based around the idea that we’re directly responsible for the actions we undertake. On the other side of the coin however we have a universe which, as far as we can tell, is almost wholly deterministic. This means that everything, from the motion of the stars to my motivation for writing this very blog post, arise from a strict set of rules that don’t change. The notion of the universe being deterministic then is devastating to the idea of free will, unless you rationalize it out in some way.
For now that’s the part I’m still struggling with, figuring out whether I rationalize it away or if I take the hard determinism route and just straight up say free will doesn’t exist. Eventually I’ll find something that convinces me or some key argument will wear away at me until I come to a conclusion. Strangely though it probably won’t be a conscious “yes this is my opinion now” moments, more one day I’ll no longer feel the cognitive dissonance that I usually feel when the subject comes up and then I’ll know that I’ve changed one of my subconscious beliefs. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon though as I’ve been wrestling with this idea for the better part of a year now.
I find this interesting as even though I try my darnedest to be a fully rational actor I still can’t escape the rule of beliefs that I hold for no reason in particular. The key then is understanding when you have a belief like that and then working to either fully accept it (if you agree with it that is) or working to convince yourself otherwise. For me the effort of maintaining the right belief consciously eventually won out but it’s definitely one of the more mentally exhausting processes I’ve undertaken. Once I was aware of this process though it became a lot easier, well at least for all the smaller issues anyway…