a posteriori (afterthoughts)

by pasdelabas

In a long discussion with who I cannot remember, but in a sad frame of mind at the time, I started to think about cause and effect. Perhaps it was with Melissa that I talked and I think I probably spoke to myself a fair amount at the time as well.

Dear Mr Zizek had pointed out in one of the audio or video recordings of his lectures that there was a suggestion that electronic activity which could be measured to demonstrate mental engagement took place infinitesimally after an action itself. The suggestion being made was that our thoughts about things, our decision-making capacities, were a posteriori, made after the event rather than being something that took place before.

The thought that we have of ourselves as having the potential to make decisions rather than being creatures just acting without the particular engagement of decision-making thought is uncomfortable. It is also not true and certainly would not have been a point that Zizek was making. So it is not to say that we have no impact or that culture and (in a Zizek’s terms) ideology plays no role in action but rather that there is also something else. There is also no decision. Our mental states are the measuring out of an increasingly complex web of connections.

This seems in some ways an absurd statement. When I sit down to turn on the kettle and a whole host of material events of really quite extraordinary complexity take place to produce hot water, in what way it makes any sense to suggest that humans have not made decisions which results in this trail of discoveries is not clear. Of course we observe very intricate mechanisms every moment of our lives and do not assume them to have a decision at their origin. Indeed for the atheists the absurdity of deism is well explored through the notion of God as the originator, the decision maker. The world as a well regulated clock mechanism and God as the watchmaker. Yet when it comes to the human, what we appear to observe as decisions, do not appear absurd.

The scientific method, perhaps the location one might think of the most observable of decisions, is at the same time the place where the least decision takes place. Is not the ideal scientific method one which does not know the answer? Where a decision is not made? Something is set in train and is observed and then copied more or less successfully?

We have some sort of ordering mechanism which is what we are. We are both a division, a permanently dividing being and we are an ordering being permanently ordering. What we understand as free will is equally explicable as our accounting for something. The Zen Buddhist, the person who acts without intermediary, the Samuri swordsman, these too acknowledge that decision has no real place. But neither of course does ethical purity. The vindictive murderer who also slices off somebody’s head has no separate ethical stance to the noble swordsman. There may be some sort of ideological construct with which we are explaining to ourselves what we have already done, in such micro microseconds that we cannot even be aware of it.

If I start thinking like this then it is quite enjoyable, rather like actively imagining the world revolving on its own axis while it’s revolves around the sun which still appears to our eyes to revolve around us. Such major material differences that continue to evade our senses.

And then we die!