Monday, January 03, 2011

The experience of whiteness

Recently we had very much snow in the Netherlands, which does not happen often. Years can pass by with hardly any snow at all. But now it had fallen in big quantities. Moreover, also a bit unusual, a few days later it was still there on the roads and the trees as if it had just snowed.
One thing I like to do then is making an endurance run in the wood behind my house. There is hardly anything that I like to do more, but in most winters I can do it only once or twice. So I took my running shoes, put on my jogging suit and closed the door. Two minutes later I was in the wood. I was overwhelmed: So much whiteness around me, so much beauty. I was like wrapped in a white blanket. It was more beautiful than in any winter before.
When talking about the free will, we always think of things we can do. Swaab, Mele and others who discuss the problem see the essence of free will in the possibility to decide or choose related to action: whether we can act freely or not. For instance, the debate about the experiment by Libet that showed that an action precedes our conscious decision to perform it with a fraction of a second is about that: about our freedom to act; about whether we take the factual decision or whether our zombie does.
Although I do not want to deny that acting is fundamental for us, isn’t there more that makes up our freedom (or its absence)? For example, how about our experiences? Experiences are given to us. Our senses are selective, indeed, and they, too, influence what we see, feel, and so on. Nevertheless, we cannot help that the world is around us and that we have to experience it. But what determines how these experiences are for us? To a certain extent we can be trained to perceive better and to perceive more details and even what we consider beautiful. We can learn to enjoy symphonic music or opera, for instance. On the other hand, training can also make us lose the feeling for integral beauty, as I once heard about professional musicians. However, everybody enjoys music in some way. So, here, too, the question may apply: Are we free to enjoy the beautifulness of music? Are we free to enjoy beautifulness as such? Does the problem of freedom of decision apply also to how something is like for us, to what we like and in what way we like? Was the overwhelming beauty of the snow covered wood something I had freely decided to enjoy or was it something that just happened to me (“decided” not in the sense that I freely went to the wood but that I freely experienced its beauty)?
Maybe I would rather skip these words and simply write “Wow!”


Simon said...

I suppose I would put it down to how your particular weightings in your network system react to those inputs.

Some neural nets will have weightings that allow itself to be retrained while others won't reach the thresholds necessary to 'appreciate' certain inputs. Ok some inputs like the Golden Mean seem to go across cultures but with some other things it is up to the individuality of that persons neural circumstances.

HbdW said...

Simon, thank you for your reaction. Actually I think that it is as it often happens: it is something in the middle, as is also substantiated by your post. Say, I do not like operas and I regret it. So I want to learn to like opera music. I read about it, go to an opera course, visit performances. In the end I understand a lot about operas and I love the music, at least of certain operas. Here it is a matter of the free will. But maybe it makes that I do not like some other kinds of music any longer, say rock and roll, because it is so different. I cannot help it. So, I am not free to like both kinds of music. And as you say, some preferences go across cultures and some dislikes, too.