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What is called thinking?

| Monday, February 1, 2016

“What is called thinking?”

Most of my classmates from Philosophical Inquiry last semester would laugh when posed with this question. Asking it became a running joke that stemmed from the title of a series of lectures by Martin Heidegger that we read, as it became a symbol our experience as a group in this particular program of liberal studies (PLS) tutorial.

However, after a recent discussion with my roommate on the subject of free will and determinism, I was brought back to this question. Yes, my roommate and I are the kind of people who often have dialogues on a multitude of issues, and oftentimes we are diametrically opposed in our views. And don’t worry, we still get along quite well.

My roommate took the side of determinism. It wasn’t that he preferred to think of the world in this way, but rather that he couldn’t understand it to be any other way. With all that we know about the brain and its synapses, he stated that we can’t actually have choice because this would require stopping chemical processes that simply can’t be stopped. We continue to make strides in our understanding of the brain, and we could very well come to predict decisions before they are made should we come to fully understand it, he said.

While I know very little when it comes to the science of the brain, I still have the belief that humans have free will. This causal chain my roommate believes in begins with a “first mover,” but this suggests there is something that exists outside of the chain. If that’s the way we both understand the system of our universe, then I believe it is certainly reasonable to understand our brain in this way as well. While we have not proven the existence of a soul through science to this point, that doesn’t mean it can’t exist.

After going back and forth with my roommate on this question, I ended the discussion feeling much less confident in the way I understand the world. I felt as though I had taken for granted some of life’s most important questions. All of a sudden, the question “What is called thinking?” took on a new meaning for me. I wasn’t experiencing the existential crisis that prompted our discussion as my roommate was, but I started to wonder if I should have been.

Every day, I get the opportunity to ask myself these questions with all the great books I read as part of the PLS. And yes, that was a shameless plug for PLS — deal with it. But perhaps I haven’t truly taken advantage of that opportunity and thought about what I truly believe.

I think this is true of a lot more people than just myself. The idea that we might not have free will is frightening, even disturbing. But is that an excuse not to ask ourselves these kinds of questions? I believe in God, but I often struggle with how to deal with the problem of evil in the world. The implications of these questions are significant, too significant to ignore. They shape the way we view the world, thus affecting the way we live while we are on it.

Maybe we can’t answer these questions, but shouldn’t we at least think about them? Maybe it all starts with asking ourselves, “what is called thinking?”

Contact Benjamin Padanilam at bpadanil@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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