Free will and self improvement
P-zombies, or philosophical zombies, are indistinguishable from normal people but lack conscious experience. (See Wikipedia.) I know I am conscious, so I know I am not a p-zombie. But I don't know about you, whoever you are. Not just because I may not know you. It's definitional. P-zombies are indistinguishable.
In computer gaming some characters are controlled by real people and some are run by the game's software. They're Non-Player Characters, or NPCs. NPCs are not p-zombies because they are distinguishable from human beings. Not easily distinguishable, if programmed well, but still distinguishable.
When I was in my teens and twenties I developed a theory: that were two kinds of people, real ones and not real ones. I was a real person, of course. Not real people seemed just like real people, but they were different. They did not have feelings the way that I did. They were not conscious the way that I was. I would not have considered them p-zombies, had I known the term, because I could distinguish them. I might, had I known the term, called them NPCs.
So I will now. In this game of life there are players and there are NPCs.
I could only tell the difference between an NPC and a real person face to face, when our eyes met. I felt a sense of connection with a real person. "I know you" might be the feeling reduced to words. With NPCs no connection. Nothing. How could there be a connection. They weren't real people.
The only distinguishing characteristic was my sense of connection. Some NPCs were smarter, wittier than more interesting than some real people. The only difference was my perception: they were not real.
Yesterday MikeSim 73.0 and maybe I wrote a post speculating whether free will existed or not. Today, back to free will and its implications
P-zombies and NPCs do not have consciousness, so they can't have free will.
That leaves the rest of us.
Consciousness is necessary for having free will. Having free will is necessary for exercising it. But having it does not mean you exercise it. I think that I might have free will. I know that most of the time I don't exercise it.
To make the distinctions clearer, let's consider the following set of mental states, as I perceive them. Maybe yours are the same. Maybe different.
In the default state I do not "stop to think" or "pause and reflect." I perceive and I acts without even being aware that I am perceiving and acting. This is my "non-awake" state. Most of this post is written in that state. Either I (by free will) or my conditioning has started me writing. And then the words appear. From time to time I wake up and watch them appear. And from time to time either I, or my conditioning, decides to change something. Eventually it gets completed.
In the default state I believe behavior is entirely conditioned. Programmed. Certainly that's true for kids. The conditioning is mostly done by Mom, Dad, evolution, and the environment.
My "awake" state is when I realize that I've been in the default, non-awake state and I realize that I'm not in that state at that moment. At the point of transition, the moment of waking up, I become an active observer. I may not be making decisions yet. I'm simply observing what my programming is doing and deciding to do.
Once awake, I think free will is possible. But to exercise it I think it's necessary to do something beyond simply observing what one's machinery does. I think I do exercise free will from time to time but it's rare. All action is conditioned, and so are most decisions. Even when I am awake.
So what can I decide, if I can decide?
I believe that given two conditioned courses of behavior that I can flip the bit that causes me to follow one course rather than the other. By default that bit will be flipped by some higher-level conditioning, but I believe that I can intervene. But only if I am awake. And only if I try. Which is rare.
I believe that I can't outright change my programming just by deciding to change it. But I can make decisions that result in such a change. I can decide what I'd like the end result of change in conditioning to be. I can put myself in a environment that will produce that change in conditioning. And I can help that environment change my conditioning by waking up as often and as long as possible, because I believe that helps the conditioning along.
To change conditioning takes practice. It happens faster if one does deliberately practice. So it might make sense for me to decide to deliberately practice. But that doesn't work. I've tried it, and I know why it fails.
Making such a decision is ineffective because it requires that I be awake for more time than I can stay awake. I might decide to start practice but I can't decide to keep going. It doesn't work for me.
Instead I have to decide to put myself into a good practice environment. That's an environment where momentum is on the side of continuing rather than stopping, and where there are lots of opportunities to wake up and focus and exercise whatever free will I have.
Right now I'm using Yousician to practice guitar and keyboards. I'm doing it for several reasons.
First, because I like music and I'd like to get better at it.
Two, because it forces me to wake up more and get better at that.
Three, because of my last responsibility in this life.
And what is that? It deserves a post of its own, but here's the TL;DR version.
I want people (especially my kids, all 6 of them) to say: "When I get to his age, that's the way I want to be. Only better."
It's my job to be a model, and set standards. I hope that other people will see what can be done work to do even better. In many cases my kids have blown the standards to bits, they've so far exceeded them.
Of course it's entirely possible that some of them are NPC characters, just following their conditioning. But I think they are all real.
They just need to find a way to exercise their own free will (if they have it) and practice, practice, practice.