Consciousness and how it got to be that way

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Free Will and Chocolate

Kant talked about heteronomy, the condition of an individual's being at least partly under the control of influences other than his or her own reason, and therefore not truly exercising free will. Of course this early Enlightenment ideal strikes us as a bit naive today, and obviously we recognize that we are animals with a physical form.

But there's no need to put such extreme, stark requirements on free will for its exercise to be unclear. A perfect example is my own appetite for chocolate. At the moment, I have avoided all forms of chocolate for 16 days. As far as I can remember in my life, this is a record. In the past when I wasn't so lucky I would declare "no chocolate for one month", and then three days later at 7-11 I would break down and get a Hershey bar.

Now, clearly in those 3-day cases I was unable to follow my prior edict, but at that moment, chocolate is what I wanted. And I acted on the urge. How is this not free will? Because the urge came from a pre-conscious animal drive for sugar and fat, and/or conditioning from previous purchases at that same 7-11? If ultimately what we call reason, and our entire executive center, is a slave of the passions as Hume suggested and as seems to be the case, how could it matter whether I was acting directly on an animal urge or on some long-term plan that was dictated by animal urges?


  1. A Hershey Bar?

    If you're going to break your little rule about chocolate, at least break it with good chocolate.

    Milk chocolate is for babies.

  2. Let's do two things: 1) Acknowledge that Hershey is the best, and 2) translate the your subtextual signal here. The same signal is given with more subtlety by others trying to make the same claim about their tastes without stating it explicitly and therefore opening it to questioning. It goes like this: "Food with simple, obvious tastes - especially sweetness - shows lack of sophistication and maturity. Truly advanced people like foods with a bitter component that takes some getting used to, because acquired (more 'adult') tastes are the superior one."

    Unfortunately, the primitive joy I feel on eating a Hershey bar is greater than that experienced by any culinary sophist who has trained him or herself to tolerate non-milk chocolate. So go have your bitter chocolate if it makes you feel proud. Put some ammonia in it in case you get worried it's still too sweet.

    Did I mention the joy I felt when Scharffenberger was bought by Hershey and thus "tainted" for all the bitter-chocolate-pretenders out there?

    Granted, the perception of acting on superior tastes may contain a pleasure component in itself, but once you recognize the effect explicitly, it's harder to take seriously.
    Hence why I also never pay more than $12 for a bottle of wine:

  3. Clearly we've reached an impasse which can only be surmounted by either understanding or violence.

    I am currently constructing an assault rifle which will fire Wilbur Buds and features an under-barrel grenade launcher which launches baker's chocolate molded into the form of a baby.