Thursday, January 08, 2015

Self-Control & Freedom

RMS prayer circle
The fruit of the Spirit is... self-control...
- Galatians 5:22-23

While working out on the elliptical machine yesterday I listened to the Philosophy Bites interview with neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland on self-control. 

Churchland says that a good working definition of "self-control" has four things in mind:
  1. 1.       Ability to defer self-gratification. That is, deferring a smaller value now for something greater later.
  2. 2.       Ability to maintain a goal despite distraction.
  3. 3.       Ability to suppress impulses that are inappropriate.
  4. 4.       Ability to cancel an action once started when you see that following through with an action would be a disaster.
The opposite of self-control would be things like impulsivity or addiction. The impulsive person and the addict are, in their impulsivity and addiction, neurally enslaved.

“Addiction is where there are structural changes to the reinforcement learning system which actually change the behavior with respect to the drug in question.” But notice that even drug addicts can be careful and organized when it comes to exercising self-control that is needed to obtain more drugs. 

If we can’t control ourselves, if we lack the four abilities given above, then in what sense are we free?

The answer to gaining self-control is this:

  • As I connect, like a branch connects to the tree, I receive the resources of the tree. They get into me.
  • My life will then "bear much fruit" (Jesus, in John 15:5, 8).
  • The fruit of the Spirit-abiding life includes self-control.
(Note: Churchland is an eliminative materialist, which I am not. "Eliminative materialism" is the idea that all mental states are states of the physical brain.)