Return to Free will:
At first things were so intense, light sound and every sense mixed in disorder.  It did not seem confusing because you had never known order.  Then came the need, the need to breath and to eat, the need absolute, unqualified and filling all awareness, calling forth a scream of primal urgency, perfectly pitched like the voice of a great opera singer to convey total anguish with all available power.  This was the first lesson.  More needs were to come.  Then SHE came.  Round, female, offering touch, voice, comfort and nourishment.  She was not always a blur.  When she fell into focus she was more distinct, of more vibrant and saturated hue, that you would ever see again.  The eyes bright, skin soft, all in more detail than a dissecting microscope can offer.  And she was of a different order of reality.  The need came from inside, and she from the outside, but there was as yet no such distinction.  Eventually you would buy into the concept that you had an inside and an outside so utterly that the fact that things moved in and out of you would seem more remarkable than the fact that most things don’t.  The senses would be come distinguishable experiences.  That was not yet.  Now there was only SHE and the need she made go away, and that was the second lesson.  And among the shifting senses there were other things.  You were drawn to light and movement.  You were drawn to the movement of your own hands, the palms like the palms of all babies bright but not light – white.  And there was something strange, because their movement was tied to something that came from the realm of need and not of comfort.  When that thing happened, eftsoons the hands moved.  And you learned you had free will. 

When you grew up you would find people would question the fact. 

There continues to be an interest in early examples representations of the female form.  (A Female Figurine from the Basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in Southwestern Germany.  Nicholas J. Conrad.  NATURE volume 459 issue no. 7244 May 14, 2009.  page 248.)  Reactions vary from simply that they are remarkable (Origins of the Female Image.  Paul Mellars.  NATURE volume 459 issue no. 7244 May 14, 2009), to considering them to be pornography to considering them to be fertility symbols (my own belief) to, let us just imagine for a moment, considering them to be a reflection of mother remembered from infancy.  Frequently such figures seem obese, but in this day and age of obese people that seems less remarkable.  Maybe the gene mixing that produces infertility also produces obesity, and these people were obese as well as infertile and made images of what they knew.  But maybe the images were infantile distortions.  The fact that they never seem to sho eyes puzzles me.  At all events they seem to have had a strong grasp on people.  The one from Hohle Fels is 35,000 years old. 

Among the needs we gather from youth is the need to go on, to last or to accomplish something that will last.  We try to stay alive.  We create things of interest and value.  We become part of other peoples’ lives and hope they need us.  Old age informs us just how transient things are.  But if we can procreate, then perhaps something will outlast the swing we put up in the back yard.  And among other things, procreation requires female anatomy, which brings us back to the figurines. 

Voluntary, spontaneous action continues to be an appealing puzzle for researchers.  (The Sources of Human Volition.  Patrick Haggard.  SCIENCE volume 324 number 5928 May 8, 2009 page 731)  On the one hand there are those who point out that one can tell when the brain has made a decision by examining a scan of the brain, and this can happen up to seven seconds before the person wearing the brain is aware of it; the propose that this indicates free will is an illusion.  I am delighted to report that the repost is that just because a decision is not conscious does not mean it is not free. (Is Free Will and Illusion?  Martin Heisnberg.  NATURE  volume 459 number 7244 May 14, 2009 page 164)  One could go farther and say that conscious thought may have set up the decision making process.

There are two ways in which the issue of free will impinges on our fundamental topic of infertility caused by excessive gene pool size.

The first is that lowered fecundity is usually attributed to reproductive choice.  There are a number of lines of evidence that contradict this.  For one, frequently a couple consisting of a perfectly normal man and a perfectly normal woman attempts and fails to have children.  Just how frequent that is can be seen by looking at the UN statistics on birth rates by region that I presented before.  The first Danish study specifically found that once genetic factors, such as town size and distance between birthplaces of parents, were excluded, there was no further effect of income or education on the number of children in a family.  Free will may not be a delusion, but in the case of procreation, the best goal of the primal drive to persist, reproductive choice appears to be a delusion once the marriage partner has been chosen.

The second point is somewhat more subtle.  For years now I have had what was substantial proof, always getting better but already persuasive eight or ten years ago, and tried to bring it to peoples’ attention.  I have not been successful, even though I have been in contact with a great number of authorities who should be expected to seize the issue and make it a priority. 

There is no flaw in my evidence.  There may be a flaw in my presentation, but that ultimately should not matter.  I have the truth, and to a fair and honest mind the truth should speak for itself once the question has raised, however unskillfully. 

But I have been here before.  Many years ago on Veterans’ Day I was looking at the front page of the St. Petersburg Times.  I was very unhappy in those days, for unrelated reasons, and had developed the habit of doing arithmetic in my head just to keep my mind busy.  On the front page of the paper was a graphic that showed silhouettes of soldiers from each war the US had fought in the 20th century through Viet Nam.  Below each figure were the dates of the war, the number who had fought in each war, the number who had died in each war and the number of living veterans of that war.  Mulishly I started doing arithmetic.

What I discovered was that of those who had returned from each war, there was a very large number who were no longer alive, and it was a far larger number than one would have expected from the usual natural actuarial decline.  They were dying of the war after returning from the war.  The evidence was undeniable.  I had read a book The Chicken Hawk about a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam conflict, and in the end he pointed out that veterans were not doing well in returning to civilian life.  So I was prepared for the fact, but I had no conception that the problem was so great nor that it was so lethal. 

These were my friends and contemporaries.  But for a very unusual circumstance, it would have been I.  Trying to help seemed like at least as good a thing as mooning around the house moping about my personal issues, so I got on the phone and checked around to see what kind of volunteer work I could do to help.  There was no volunteer work to be done.  There was no group addressing the problem.  In fact, the further I looked the more obvious it became that nobody believed there was a problem at all. 

So I began to take the matter to authorities.  I got two kinds of response.  I would get utter indifference or I would get initial interest followed by abrupt loss on interest without explanation.

I began to get a trifle paranoid.  Here I was declaring something that might prove inconvenient to the military and to anybody who might want to employ the military.  In my heart I was only trying to help, but if you looked at it one way, my potential enemies list included the most powerful and carnage tolerant powers of earth.  Maybe they didn’t like me.

Then I got a phone call from the mother of a friend, a veteran, telling me he had just died.  There had been an autopsy.  The mother had the report, but she said she could not understand it and would I be willing to explain it to her.  A few days later we were sitting down in her living room going over about a page of the pathologist’s findings.  I told her what it meant.  But to me, there was an enormous problem.  There was no cause of death for the otherwise robust 35 year old man.  There was a long list of diagnoses, but I knew the clinical history and none of them had been clinically evident, nothing had been life threatening or detectable. 

I thought to myself, “So they got him.  They killed my buddy.  And with this report he will vanish into the computer system as a number with nothing remarkable about it, one of many men with similar diagnoses and similar injuries all quite expected in a veteran.  So they have got away clean.  They have covered their tracks.  I guess I can live with that.  Only one thing.  No more mister nice guy.”

I was unwilling to break the law.  I had adequate resources to do something so long as I continued to work.  Absent my work, I would be helpless.  I had to do something without calling attention to myself and I had to risk offending powers with unlimited resources. 

I created a little anonymous newsletter, Wild Surmise, which I sent to everyone I thought might be sympathetic and have the ability to do something, such as political leaders, editors, congressmen, anybody who had a career that involved keeping the public interest at heart.  To keep the newsletter readable I would include articles on ideas I had that were unrelated.  I reckoned my only relative strength was I could always come up with new ideas, more so than anyone I have even known.  So that would be my weapon.  Intelligent people like new ideas.  Right?  We know that.  Right? 

If I could win intelligent people I could win a hearing.

I published monthly, maybe 2,000 copies per issue, for two years.  At the end of that time I was out of ideas.  I had nothing else to offer.  I had no one else who I thought conceivably might help.  I could not afford to make a bigger splash, to appeal to a larger audience. 

Then I thought.  “But the plan was ‘No more mister nice guy.’  Right?   Maybe I can get nasty.”  I reached into my files and pulled out my letters from the Veterans Administration, which of course I had written a number of times, and which had answered.  Mostly I had received no answer at all.  But here were letters signed by real people.  They were, how would you say, not very helpful.  So I started publishing them without comment.

Within two weeks after I published the last VA letter in Wild Surmise my phone rang at work and the receptionist asked in a somewhat puzzled tone, “I have somebody from the NIH on the phone for you.  Will you take it?”  I did. 

The man introduced himself and asked, “Are you Dr. Linton Herbert?”  Yes.  “Do you publish in an anonymous newsletter under the name Booty?”  So much for secrecy.  There seemed no point in denying it.  Somebody had done his homework.  The next question was asked in a tone that betrayed a degree of exasperation.  “What do you want?”

Of course what I wanted done was a study that would prove whether or not, as I had evidence, Vietnam Veterans were dying faster than their age mates who had never served.  He said that such a study would be done, indeed was being done, and agreed to send me a copy of the finished report in a few months.  My position was vindicated, although I believed and still suspect that the effect has been underestimated.  Since then there has been more support for combat veterans.  Yellow ribbons fly from trees and flash from bumpers.  Men in uniform are applauded as they appear at airports.  It worked.  It only took two years.

Nobody ever came close to threatening me or even cautioning me.  No young man in a trench coat followed me around.  I was never embarrassed at work.  There was no conspiracy of silence.  They just didn’t know.  They didn’t care.  They could not wrap their mind around the problem.

I have now been on this project for about ten years.  People still cannot wrap their minds around it.  If they could, it would become a priority.

I suspect part of the difficulty is free will.  It is not that people are not smart enough, although some days one must wonder.  It is that they are not free.

The flip side of the coin, “Am I free to act?” is obviously “Am I free to understand?”  The answer to both is, “Within limits.”

There is substantial debate on the question of freedom to act.  The favorite act seems to be the raising of the hands.  It is a brachiating reflex we share with infants, apes and soldiers being blown up by shells.  The hands go up as a way of proving that we are free.  It seems a bit ironic. 

There is substantial debate on short term memory, which is considered to be purely good.  If you can not remember something, that is bad.  I am not so sure it is a one way street.  As one becomes older and sedentary one’s relative value to the tribe is more likely to be something from deep memory than something one just ran into while trotting about earlier that day.  I do not know whether there is a tradeoff between long term memory and short term.

But I do not mean memory.  I mean understanding.  Freedom to act is without value … one is not free … unless one understands the implications of the actions.  Free will cannot exist without free understanding.

And yet the ability to understand seems little valued in our society.  More to the point, as far as my own experience goes, it is very rare indeed.

The point is not simply one of abstraction.  Just as the question of the freedom of voluntary action can be studied with studies of the brain so can the function of the brain.  If incoming information is contrary to expectation, the sensory data itself can be alerted by the brain.  (Decision-related Activity in Sensory Neurons Reflects More Than a Neuron’s Causal Effect.  Hendrikje Nienborg and Bruce G. Cumming.  NATURE volume 459 number 7243 May 7. 2009 page 89)  In the experiment, monkeys were set to making decisions from visual clues and by looking at the function of individual neurons it was found that the brain seemed to be altering the incoming data.  This idea is not actually new.  For decades the anatomists have told us that there are as many nerves running from the brain along the optic nerve to the retina as there are nerves running from the retina to the brain. 

Well if it can happen in a monkey doing a simple task, it can happen to a human doing an abstract one.  Not only is it difficult to do the work of understanding a new idea.  It may not be possible even to receive the incoming sensory data honestly.

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