D: Doxastic Voluntarism (and Dicking Around with Philosophy)

Getting this out of the way: anyone who believes they can willfully choose their own beliefs is a sad ego in a dam of denial.

(Do I get points for alliteration? How about punniness?)

Anyone with a sense of curiosity and the ability to wax imaginative logic can be a philosopher. Children are some of the best philosophers. (Just the other day, my 6 year old sister asked me if dairy cows had white on them because they’re full of milk. How had this not occurred to me before?) The professional field of philosophy is fraught with such excessively useless ideas that make me wonder how the hell that crazy part of our minds made it this far in evolution. And thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster I am not alone. Also don’t worry, I’ll return to the introductory statement in a moment.

Doxastic Voluntarism Rational Wiki | The Big Blog of All the Shit I Know

As part of a class on science and pseudoscience, the prof brought up the term “doxastic voluntarism,” an idea very central to his class. In researching it, I came across the RationalWiki article on the topic, shown above.

Read it. You don’t have to read far. Just read it. When you’ve smiled, please come back here.

Anyone familiar with the breadth Wikipedia and Wikipedia-based communities won’t find RationalWiki to be anything special. I for one enjoy Conservapedia and Metapedia on days I’m feeling particularly depressed. Never fails to make me smile (before making me want to cry again). Even the US federal intelligence community has their own wiki, Intellipedia. There is a joke to be written somewhere in that previous sentence.

Not as strictly regulated as the main Wikipedia site, these offshoot communities are free to actually have a bit of personality in their articles. Case in point, if you didn’t already see it, reread the last sentence of the “Doxastic voluntarism” intro paragraph.

As terrible as the Internet is, you’ll never be wanting for levity on serious topics. Philosophy is the ultimate light serious topic. And now that you’re well-versed in the philosophical doctrine of doxastic voluntarism, let’s return to the beginning of this post, shall we?

My thoughts on the idea of choice boils down to this series of thoughts, Logic 101 style:

  • Everything is a system
  • We are part of everything
  • Therefore, we are part of a system

A system, in my definition here, is a collection of interconnected processes. Nothing functions without being stimulated by something else or without stimulating something else as well. If this is so, we cannot be said to have choice anymore than a marble experiences choice in a Rube Goldberg machine. We do not – cannot – choose our beliefs. We simply live in and through a culture of beliefs. And one aspect in our current culture of beliefs – inhabited by most of modern civilization – is the belief that ego is king (or queen, royal ze, or whatever you identify with). It is hard for us to acknowledge, much less grasp, that the parts of ourselves that we think of as “ourselves” is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest, as far as neuroscientists and the like have made out, is our subconscious. It has been found with the use of MRIs that our subconscious make decisions at least several seconds before we think we made the decision “ourselves.”

Now does this conclusively point to free will as illusory? As much as I irrationally would like it to for the sake of my argument, no, it does not. And to be transparent, I’m still working on my theory. Chaos theory comes into it, but I’ll get into that part of it some other time. Until then, we’ll keep splashing around in our curiosity and imaginative logic. So for now…

…what do you think? (Or at least, what do you think you think?)

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3 thoughts on “D: Doxastic Voluntarism (and Dicking Around with Philosophy)

  1. I really like your article & am interested to read more as you write on this topic.
    When you begin to see how deeply the subconscious mind is affected by things that are in place and beyond our control since long before we were ever born, the concept of freewill means less and less. There are many things that often aren’t considered when determining weather freewill exists. Trauma has an impact on the mind, for example, affecting the hippocampus and the cortisol, which affects the transfer of short term memory into long term memory. If you have a defective memory, is your freewill impeded compared to a person who has a fully functional one?
    How about the person who is subjected to the flicker-rate trance of television, and its hypnotic and post-hypnotic programming from birth throughout childhood? Their subconscious mind has been affected in ways that a person who was not exposed to TV for hours each day from birth. There’s a reason they call it “television programming”. It programs the mind with social structure, roles, how to think about these roles, how to hate getting older, how to view your parents as less than intelligent, how to be a helpless princess victim in need of a handsome prince to rescue them, or how to be a hero, sacrificing for the greater collective.
    What if you grow up being exposed to daily negative feedback from your parents… telling you that you stupid & will never amount to anything? Would that have an effect on your subconscious mind, causing you behavior to bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy?
    It is said that a child’s mind is like a sponge. In western culture, newborn babies are exposed, almost exclusively, to pink or blue depending on their gender, until ??? Pink is a lighter shade of red. Red has been shown in studies to have an adverse affect on test scores when viewed immediately prior to the test. This seems to me to be a subconscious effect. Would there be long term effects on the mind, after years & years of being exposed to one color predominantly?
    In western culture, there is also this black & white thing going on where white is positive, good (white magic), presence of all color; whereas black is negative, evil (black magic), absence of all color. There is a whole race of people called “black” even though they are actually varying shades of brown. Does this affect the subconscious mind of the beholder? In the US, there are more so-called “black” people in jail than so-called “white” people; & there are more so-called “white” people in the bureaucracy that makes & enforces laws.
    It seems to me that we are living in a construct, shaping our beliefs and opinions from birth, without our knowledge. When my parents were young, it was exciting to have a television in the house, but now that I have a child, almost every kid her age has a cell phone, & if you don’t want to have a cell phone, you are close to being outcasted by your own peers.
    If you don’t want to celebrate a pagan holiday such as Easter because you question it’s meaning & purpose, you might get labeled as mentally ill by your family. If you don’t want to lie about Santa Clause to you children, you might get called a cook, or worse, a Grinch or a scrooge. This is societal pressure at its best, which really does affect behavior (since the thoughtful parent not wanting to lie to their child would also not want other parents to avoid playdates, etc.).
    The mind is literally programmed in so many ways from birth (parenting, religion, education, television, music, movies, etc.), which directly affects the way we think & behave as we grow up. As we go to school, we are taught to think a certain way, and as they change the stuff that gets taught, society changes.
    All these variables I have mentioned, and many more, give me reason to seriously doubt if freewill exists in the way people usually think of it. I should say that freewill, if it exists at all, is extremely limited.

    • Love the comment and agree with the general idea. A vastly vast amount of variables affect how we behave. Free will is just one hell of an illusion.

      And the “quantum woo” was a particular favorite of mine.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

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