President's Message August 2019

Choices

We like to feel that we are in control of our lives, ourselves and our surroundings as much as possible.  We want to be free to choose outcomes and options for our future.

With the exchange of goods would have come the exchange of knowledge and more and more sophistication ways of living (and unfortunately warfare).  This has been going on for thousands of years.  The Phoenicians (from the Levant) traded with many nations through sea routes (Britain for tin) but also had extensive trade networks through Turkey, Persia and Mesopotamia.

There are arguments that we do not in fact have free will and the freedom to choose our future. These arguments fall mainly into three categories, theological, philosophical and biological. Each of these views presents conflicts of outcomes or and if accepted can affect our outlook on life and our sense of well-being.

The theological argument postulates an all-knowing supreme spiritual being aware of the future, who chooses or determines our path, consequently deciding whether we die in a catastrophe or if it the person next to us who dies. This argument can lead to the individual believing that they are the special chosen one. However, it can conflict with the idea that we can choose to please the Supreme Being by repenting sins and living the wholesome life it prefers. How can we have the choice to repent if the Supreme Being knows everything and has ordained the future. It is a paradox.

The philosophical argument states that as we interact with others we are affected by their actions and the environment about us. This determines our next actions and the range of possible outcomes. As this ripple effect spreads it is argued that our exercise of free will is entirely determined by past events and the actions of others before us.  Therefore, free will and our actual ability to choose is an illusion.

The biological argument states that we are controlled by our genes, how they have reacted with the environment and the chemical state of our bodies.  So we do not choose to drink we are driven to drink by our bodies need to for fluid.  Some studies indicate the brain exhibits mental signs of muscle activity indicating action before we are aware of choosing to act.  It follows that free will is an illusion of our mind but physically we have no choice.

Are we happy; is this a choice or a biological and chemical innate reaction?  Do we choose to be sad or pessimistic?  Is it our nature or our reaction to the world around us or a combination of the two beyond our control?

In the end my mind boggles. I prefer to think that I have the choice even when I understand the arguments against free will. This is why I will happily read our program for term 3 being quite sure that I am able to choose whatever course I prefer.

I hope you also enjoy choosing from our excellent program.

As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. 

.Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence