Free (enough) Will (was: Dragaera and Shakespeare)

Thu Feb 20 16:13:23 PST 2003

>I don't see the distinction, frankly.  You act because you were programmed 
>that way by your genes, your environment, or some complex interaction 
>between them.  The degree to which genes, environment, or their interaction 
>prevails affects social planning but without free will we're robots and 
>there are bad robots (Grr! Arggh!) but not criticizable ones.

I think that we're talking past one another, a bit.  When I suggested that 
scandal couldn't exist if all Dragaeran characteristics were inborn, I meant 
that the very concept of law and social censur would have no function 
because Dragaerans, quite literally, couldn't act in any way but the way 
that they do, no matter what their environment.

Laws and social customs work precisely because they act as environmental 
factors used to modify behaviors.  In this case, the distinction between 
nurture and nature is cogent and important, whether or not one wants to 
consider us robots. [1]

To use Dennett's terminology: are Dragaerans sphexish?  If a given Dragaeran 
encounters a given circumstance, will that given Dragaerans behavior always 
be a given result, regardless of its experiences, or will it be able to act 
in a way that could not be predicted simply knowing its nature?  Clearly 
Dragaerans aren't utterly sphexish, but are they more sphexish than humans?  
I think that they are a *bit* more... enough that you actually can 
justifiably apply broad stereotypes to them that aren't simply the results 
of racist bigotry, but not *much* more so.  I think that environment is 
sufficiently influential and unpredictable that the members of a given House 
will display a wide range of characteristics that can't be easily explained 
as simply being manifestations of their House Nature.  Nor, to return to the 
original point, safely derive an aspect of a House's nature by observing the 
behavior of a single member of the house.  Hence, I don't think that the 
fact that Khaavren became melancholy can be used as a good basis to presume 
that Tiassa are, thus, prone to melancholy.

>These are all good points in my view -

Why, thank you!

>what I was getting at was that the
>House character can combine polarities - so there's the nurturing dragon 
>mother along with the fierce one, as _PG_ and several (I believe) Vlad 
>novels put it.  I can see Tiassas being known for >both cat-like curiosity 
>and for cat-like withdrawal.

I think that one can certainly make that speculation, but, again, I don't 
think that one can do so on the *basis* of one character's withdrawal.

I would also note that not all cats (think tigers) are known for displaying 
withdrawal.  Since Tiassa are described as being like panthers with batlike 
(!) wings, I hesitate to suppose that they're much like house cats.

This isn't, of course, to say that you're wrong.  For all I know, maybe this 
really is a general trait of the Tiassa.  I just don't think that we have 
nearly enough evidence to suggest that it is.

Well... I've certainly used up a lot of words, today. :)

-- Andrew Lias

[1] On the topic of robots: if one wants to suppose that a lack of free will 
makes us robots, I would suggest that this doesn't diminish us but, rather, 
vastly enhances the concept of a robot since the concept must now include 
beings of immense subtlety and intelligence, much in the same way that 
noting that life is a chemical process says something wonderful about 
chemistry rather than something denigrating about life.

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