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Independent Thought: Earning Your Free Will

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On July 26, 2013 @ 7:30 am In Philosophy,Psychology,Travel | Comments Disabled

Ahhh, sleeping in my own bed — such a delight.

After a trip to Denver for an FA Mag conference and then onto to Vancouver for the Agora event, I am back home again. It is just for a week, and then I head off to my annual Maine fishing event.

Travel is good for the soul. It gives you different perspectives, fresh ideas. As much as we like to believe we are independent, that our thoughts are our own, we invariably are influenced dramatically by our environment, culture and society far more than we may realize.

Getting out from your usual comfort zone has all sorts of surprising benefits. Let’s explore this concept a just bit more for our Friday philosophizing.

B. F. Skinner famously said “Free Will Is an Illusion.”

Skinner is for the most part, correct, and our concept of free will is a cognitive illusion. However, I want to add a corollary to his observation, noting that we can move a little closer to Free Will by understanding our own minds. It is not impossible to develop an awareness of our own inherent illusory tendencies, via knowledge of how our wetware influences our thoughts and behaviors. With knowledge, self-awareness, context, and understanding, we can in some small way, partially overcome that illusion.

In other words, you are not born with Free Will, it is something you must earn. Call it self-enlightenment through study and thought.

Its called “Independent Thought” for a reason. I assure you this will not be the path most people take. The vast majority of television watching, corn syrup¬†anesthetized, self-medicated, endlessly entertained masses only confirm Skinner’s claim. They are spoon fed empty headed nonsense, even saying “thank you” for it. Most are poorly educated, taught to rote memorize instead of being taught to think critically.

While I am thrilled not to be a practicing attorney, I have great respect (and gratitude) for what I learned in law school. The Critical Thinking, Research and Analytical Skills that was taught stands in stark contrast to much (not all) of my prior education. I suspect there is about a year’s worth of critical thinking lessons that could be pulled out of the three years of legal course work, and made useful for high school and college students. Society would be much better off for it. No, we do not need more lawyers, but we do need more people who can think rationally, critically and have analytical skills.

I am not holding my breath waiting for this to occur . . .

~~~

Back shortly . . .


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