Monday, July 29, 2013

...and mate.


I no longer own a television, and I don't have any current-gen consoles. (Until maybe four months ago I was still calling the PS3 "next-gen.") My phone isn't smart enough to be considered any kind of software platform; my laptop is only good for emulation up to the PlayStation and the smaller and sparser modern games (which I really inexplicably have little interest in playing).

What I miss most are fighting games. If King of Fighters XIII had halfway decent netcode I might have changed my mind about not investing in a PS3, but I'm tired of crying about it.

Meanwhile, my Magic: the Gathering binge has hit a wall. I have nobody but myself to blame; I convinced my friend (and most regular opponent) Jason to build that horrible monoblue Jin-Gitaxis EDH deck that my Sheoldred deck is incapable of countering. I mean, I could modify my deck to stand more of a chance if I were willing, but the price tag would easily approach the triple digits. The only sensible choice is to let it go.

So I've been playing a lot of chess lately. I want to get good at it. Of any competitive game out there, chess seems to make the most sense to me, in light of the fact that twenty-nine out of every thirty people I meet have no interest playing Street Fighter III: Third Strike with me. Chess doesn't require any hardware, software, or booster packs. There are no balance patches or tier lists. There will never be a shortage of players and netcode will never be an issue, and I can find people to play with in almost any crowd, no matter where I go.

I'm reminded of how I felt when I started mucking around with BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger when it first came out in North America. It's the same shiver of excitement and trepidation at recognizing the complexity of the game and how difficult it will be to get good at it -- and the same self-consciousness that made me refuse to humiliate myself playing against human opponents before I could put up a decent fight against the AI.

I've only played a couple of more experienced colleagues at chess, and I performed so poorly that my referring to them as "colleagues" seems somehow audacious. So I've been playing Chess Titans until my game improves. It's not looking good -- the AI pretty consistently kicks my ass. No matter what I do, it transforms the board into a machine designed to destroy all of my pieces, and it does so without me even noticing until there's no way to stop it.

I suck at chess. But I also think I love it.

Does anyone else who sucks at chess want to play chess with me?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turning the n_v_l into a novel: how?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Taking a sick day.

So -- here's the question on my mind. What next? What do I do with this manuscript now?

I see two alternatives.

ONE: The Classic Method.

Draft a pitch. Write three different plot summaries (short version, longer version, long and detailed version). Send it out to literary agents. Sit back and wait for cascade of rejection slips.

I don't necessarily see this as a self-defeating expectation -- I see it as a realistic one. The publishing industry is in a panic. They're losing money. Novels? People hardly read those anymore. (Which raises the question: why am I writing novels if there's no audience for them?) Publishers probably aren't looking to take any chances on a realist novel by an obscure author, which means that the literary agents (the gatekeepers) have no interest looking at a manuscript for a realist novel by an obscure author.

I think this one might have more commercial appeal than The Zeroes -- but then again, I actually thought The Zeroes might have commercial appeal. (Actually, I STILL DO.) So it's a crapshoot.

Think of it as sending out résumés and cover letters. A hundred of them, at least. Each needs to be written to suit the recipient and tweaked to adhere to his or her solicitation guidelines. The process of writing sending them all out takes weeks, and waiting for answers takes months. The last time I tried it two years ago, I didn't get one -- not even one -- agent who was interested in even reading the damn thing.

I wonder why this manuscript will be any different. And so, there's the second option:

TWO: Self-Publish. Again.

I still don't wholly like the idea -- but having already done it once and coming out with my sense of self-worth (more or less) intact, it's starting to look like the lesser of two evils. It would probably be more expedient, anyway: why wait to enact the fallback option if your first approach has a 99% likelihood of failure?

Even though there's only a slim (and that's putting it generously) chance at getting this thing published via the conventional avenue, getting an actual publisher would mean that more people would actually read this thing. There would be press releases, book reviews, the book would end up in stores' inventories, etc. If I self-publish again, maybe a few dozen people will read the thing. (We have already discussed how poor I am at the kind of tireless, shameless self-promotion required to get a self-published project noticed.)

I've already accepted that I'll never get rich off my work. At this point I'd be perfectly happy knowing that people were actually reading it.

And more people would read it if were to be published under an imprint, which might make ultimately make the attempt worthwhile.

Well, that settles that.

God fucking damn it.

After I wrap up the revisions, you know what I want to do? I want to stop writing for a bit. I want to draw more comics. Actually, that first batch of Sisyphus comics directly followed my unsuccessful attempt at getting representation for The Zeroes. Perhaps another round with the literary agents will inspire more.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The novelist talks about his n_v_l

Perhaps you've heard this before? In an essay called "Why I Write," George Orwell claims:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.

There are no style guides that would advise treating a one-sentence excerpt as a block quote, but we're doing it anyway because it must stand emphasized. Orwell is absolutely right and it is absolutely true.

I am working on what will hopefully (I'm not religious, but I might start praying anyway) be the final draft of a new n_v_l. (It does not get to be called a "novel" until it it is a printed book or etext in somebody else's possession. Until then it is either a "n_v_l" or a "manuscript.") I am about 60% of the way through and let me tell you I am running on fumes at this point.


1.) Monomania = Productivity

I'm finding that in order to write a longer piece, it is necessary to maintain some degree of (perhaps) unhealthy obsession. The times a project gains serious traction are when it's what I'm thinking about what I wake up, what I work on all day, what I think about as I'm falling asleep, and the first thing I think about when I wake up the next morning. Naturally, things like my personal hygiene, circadian rhythm, social life, and job performance take a hit. But if I look at a piece and don't see a whale, and if I examine myself and don't see Ahab, then the project can only be puttering along.

2.) The first draft is a piece of shit that nobody should read.

Self-explanatory. I feel bad for my friends whom I've cajoled into reading my rough drafts and am thankful they still talk to me afterwards. Now more than ever before I believe that where the writing is concerned, the inspiration and initial phase of composition constitute only the visible chunk of the iceberg that is The Process. A novel is made by way of revision.

3.) The quality of an editor is directly proportionate to the consternation inspired by her suggestions.

To the same friends who have offered their suggestions and insights I am profusely grateful. However, there comes a point where you're not looking for somebody who will offer nitpicks and general praise. You need someone who will turn the fucking thing inside-out and make you look hard at the stuff that just doesn't work and point out the necessity of making painful, onerous changes. A colleague of mine (incidentally the same one mentioned in that earlier post about transhumanism) was gracious enough to read the whole thing over (all 55,000 words of it) and fill the margins with suggestions and criticisms. On more than one occasion I responded to her feedback by scribbling GOD DAMN YOU GOD DAMN YOU under her notes. But having reworked the piece according to her feedback (taking and leaving it as necessary), I look at it now and see something that comes very, very close to adequate. Less deficient, at any rate.

4.) Even when you expect the project to take longer than you expect, it takes even longer than that.

I started writing this thing in 2011. ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO. It obviously wasn't the only thing I've been working on since then, but if I had expected it to take this long I might have thought twice before casting off. Sheesh.

5.) Shorter Book ≠ Easier

The Zeroes (my first novel) was 111,000 words. This one is half that long. It was also a lot harder to finish, for many reasons. Note that I said harder to finish, not harder to write. The shorter the piece, the greater the weight that every scene, line of dialogue, and word choice brings to bear upon the ultimate scheme of the thing. I had more freedom to meander with The Zeroes; it grew how it needed to grow, and I guided and pruned it as necessary. Working on this project, it was more often necessary to stop and deliberately hammer parts of it into shape.

6.) Writing beyond what you know:

The Zeroes wasn't easy, but it didn't exactly require a lot of research on my part. I'd worked enough retail jobs, had enough friends in punk bands, and lived in Jersey long enough that I could just scrape my own brain pan for the necessary information. This project required me to plant myself on the shoulders of two people whose lives and perspectives differ tremendously from my own. For instance: the main character for the first half is a woman. I've never great at writing female characters, so this was a challenge for me. I had to ask for a lot of help -- thrusting the manuscript into the hands of female friends and asking them to let me know what I was getting wrong. (The number of shoes in a closet was something I botched. I have since been informed that women own many, many more pairs than I imagined.)

Part of my research led me to get acquainted with the ideas of B.F. Skinner. I went in with the intention of getting a sense for a certain kind of perspective of human beings and how they act; I never expected to become a veritable convert to the radical behaviorist perspective.

Anyway. If what you can write most capably is that which you know, the cause of the aspiring writer might be best served by knowing everything.


7.) There is no such thing as finished.

Eventually you arrive at a point where you look at the piece and are aware of its shortcomings, but no longer have the will or the wherewithal to do much else with it. I hope it's different for other writers, but that's how it is for me.

The closest I get to "yes, finally, it is complete!" is "well, it's not gonna get any better than this." A piece is only finished until you open up the Word document and start adding/removing commas and switching words around, or until you guess it might actually look better if you knocked half of it over and rewrote it according to an idea you just had in the last week. The pursuit of perfection can be counterproductive to the pursuit of a finished project. (Ahab never actually slays the whale, after all.)

There was more. We'll get to it later.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Confucius Say

Chen Ping, Confucius, Music (2009)

From the introduction of Lin Yutang's The Wisdom of Confucius (1938):

The chapter "On the Conduct of the Confucianists" in Liki (Juhsing, Ch. XLI) distinguishes this school of scholars from the rest. The term Ju (Confucianism is known in China as "the religion of the Ju" since Confucius' time, and the scholars styled as Ju were probably a special set of people, conservative in point of view, backed by historical scholarship, and wearing a special Ju cap and Ju gown as symbols of their belief in the past. The following are a few extracts showing the high moral idealism of this group of followers of Confucius:

The Duke Ai of Lu asked Confucius, "Is the Master's dress that of the Ju?" Confucius replied, "I grew up in Lu and wore a gown with broad sleeves, and stayed later in Sung and therefore wore a cap of black cloth. I have heard it said that a gentleman is broad in his scholarship, but wears the gown of his own country. I do not know if this gown that I wear may be called a Ju gown." "What about the conduct of the Ju?" asked the Duke, and Confucius replied, "I shall not be able to finish it if I were to describe all the details, and if I did, I would have to stop over here and yet not be able to cover it all, even after you have changed the attendants several times." The Duke then asked Confucius to sit down on the mat, and Confucius sat in his company and said,

"A Ju is like one who has jewels in his keeping waiting for sale; he cultivates his knowledge morning and night to prepare himself for requests for advice; he cherishes integrity and honesty of character against the time when he is appointed; he endeavors to order his personal conduct against the time when he shall be in office. Such is his independence!

"A Ju is orderly in his dress and careful in his actions; his great refusals seem like lack of respect and his little refusals seem like false manners; when he appears on public occasions, he looks awe-inspiring, and on small occasions he seems self-retiring; his services are difficult to get and difficult to keep while he appears gentle and weak. Such is his appearance!

"A Ju may be approached by gentle manners but may not be cowed by force; he is affable but cannot be made to do what he doesn't want; and he may be killed, but may not be humiliated. He is simple and frugal in his living, and his faults or mistakes may be gently explained but not abruptly pointed out to his face. Such is his strength of character!

"A Ju lives with the moderns but studies the ancients. What he does today will be an example for those in the generations to follow. When he lives in times of political chaos, he neither courts favor from those in authority, nor is boosted by those below. And when the petty politicians join hands to defame or injure him, his life may be threatened, but the course of his conduct may not be changed. Although he lives in danger, his soul remains his own, and even then he does not forget the sufferings of the people. Such is his sense of responsibility!

"A Ju is broad in his knowledge and not narrow-minded; he cultivates his conduct without cease; and in his private life he does not abandon himself. When he is successful, he does not depart from the truth. In his personal manners he values living in peace and harmony with others. He maintains the beauty of his inner character and is leisurely in his ways. He admires those cleverer than himself and is generous toward the masses, and is flexible in principle. Such is his ease of mind and generosity of character!"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Some More Words About Free Will

Matthew Bailey, A Portrait of Determinism

About a month ago I posted some silly questions about the idea of free will. I really meant to follow it up sooner, and it's not entirely for laziness that it's taken me this long to do so. We'll get to that in a second.

If you suspected a tone of an affectation in "Some Stupid Questions About Free Will," you were right. My mind is already made up about free will: it doesn't exist.

This isn't a popular position, and it's gotten me in more than a few heated arguments with friends. I've noticed two recurrences in these discussions: I can never seem to articulate my thoughts effectively, and I often get the impression that I and my friend are hotly disagreeing about a concept that means something totally different to each of us. I usually walk away regretting that I hadn't phrased something more clearly, or that we didn't forestall all further debate until we came to an agreement on what we talk about about when we talk about free will. Such was precisely the case when my friend Yen and I stayed up bickering until 2:00 AM one night in early June, bickering and talking over each other until we finally just agreed to walk away in a mutual huff. After that I decided it might be best to sit down and arrange my thoughts in writing so I'd be better prepared the next time somebody says "bullshit" the next time I express disbelief in free will.

Before we go any further, one cause for my delay in elaborating on the original post was that Jon B.'s comments took the wind right out of my sails. Reading them over, I was impressed (and a little envious) at how well he managed to extemporaneously sum up the ideas I've so often struggled to articulate myself:

Can I propose this? Instead of arguing definitions, let the usage of 'Free Will', 'Choice', 'Action', 'Think', and any of their synonyms be banned. This allows a more precise argument to be constructed. If reasoning doesn't work, it's flaws will be more apparent, since it can't hide behind vague wording, and if an argument does work it's more likely to be agreed upon.

Everything that is has come about by a previous thing. A thing doesn't become what it is by its own power, but by the power of whatever came before it. If you look at a mathematical function, the result is dependent upon whatever value is entered in the function as well as the rule of the function. The physical world is no different (for the most part). The laws of physics always work the same way, and (besides levels of uncertainty at a subatomic level,) there is no variation.

The human brain is just another physical object, and everything it does is dependent upon what has come before it. If put in the exact same situation with the exact same circumstances it will do the exact same thing. Though each person is developed differently because different actions are experienced by him or her, and therefore will act differently, the way one is shaped is completely out of one's control. The processes which shaped this person were out of the processes' control, and those processes had no control over how they were shaped, and so on all the way back to the beginning of time.

Now compare this with your concept of 'Free Will'. If they don't match up, and if this reasoning is valid, from a completely clinical and objective perspective, free will does not exist.

Now practically, this isn't the necessarily case. There are still 'decisions', points where there are multiple hypothetical outcomes, and when I 'choose', that is, make one of these outcomes reality, I actually am choosing. However, with the same starting condition the same outcome will always turn out.

Though this isn't immediately useful to everyday life, it is still important to realize all of this, since many of the principles described above apply to everyday life in a less exact form. People with similar upbringings will often act similar. People in the same situations will often do similar things. If they don't, it's usually because an outside force affected them, contaminating the experiment, so to speak.

(When I put it in such terms, I feel like this is really obvious. But this took me years to realize, and no one else has mentioned such things yet.)

. . . . . . .

The problem with discussing these sorts of things is that there are two realities that we must deal with. To provide an example, it's similar to using a computer. All a computer can do manipulate memory. Every program is a series of instructions (which are memory themselves) that when executed modify, move, and erase memory in a specific way. When you just look at the machine code every program seems to be very linear and it's difficult to see what all of these commands are doing.

On the other hand, look at any program you use on a regular basis. It does not appear to be a whole load of machine code. There is text, color, pictures, tool bars, etc. There might be a complex user interface with many different options, or you may be playing a game like Skyrim where you can do almost anything.

Now which interpretation is real? Which one is the correct view of a computer program? Both! There's nothing about the machine code that makes it less real than the program that is seen, and vice versa. In fact, for either to be, the other must exist.

The Universe is a collection of laws that affect various 'things'. The relationship between these laws and that which they affect is what ultimately gives us the reality that you and I interpret. The Standard Model of Physics, which doesn't seem to allow multiple diverging paths (unless you want to get into string theory and the multiverse, which is an idea still in its infancy, and it's hard to say whether or not it may be valid), is no less real than the reality you and I perceive, which does seem to allow different outcomes to arise depending which path an entity takes. In fact, they both are dependent upon the other.

So when there are multiple ways a situation may unfold, and the situation occurs a specific way as a result of my involvement in it, when from my perspective it could unfold a completely different way, there was a choice on my part. I had free will. However, when you look at the individual fermions and which compose me and everything else, there appears to be no choice at all.

A problem occurs when one takes these two realities in at the same time. Do they seem a bit contradictory? Don't worry, Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Relativity don't work together either. They have specific domains which they apply to, but they shouldn't be used outside of that. This is the exact same situation. Knowing that the Universe is rather deterministic (Not really, since elementary particles are somewhat unpredictable, but that doesn't change the argument), changes nothing about how one should view life. However, it's still useful to understand this other reality (if it can be understood), since the reality we are most familiar with often takes a similar form. (Not always.)

(Note: I am no Physicist, nor a Philosopher. I do have quite a bit of experience with the whole being human thing, but who doesn't? There probably are some inaccuracies with what I said, feel free to correct me on any of that. I do believe that when you look at anything at as simple a level as possible, the truth (or something similar to it) will inevitably be found. Problems arise when one either can't reach the simplest level, or has broken things down to a simpler, but still complex level, then proceeds to label it as the simplest level. I don't believe what we know is the simplest level of things, but I do believe that it is simple enough that valid conclusions can be made. Correct me if I'm wrong.)

And there you have it!

Nevertheless, I'm still compelled to type up some of the various notes I'd jotted down in preparation for the intended follow-up post where I'd say everything that Jon ended up saying in the comments section. Looking at them now, the following spiel is much less succinct than John's and potentially a little muddle-headed in its reasoning and in need of refining, but it was still worth a shot (even if the ideas are hardly original).  Besides, THIS IS MY BLOG AND I GET TO HAVE THE LAST WORD. DAMMIT.

So: what do we mean when we talk about free will?

What I mean when I talk about "free will" is the idea that the individual human being operates, in some transcendent manner, as a totally independent and autonomous agent within the physical world. But this is opaque jargon.

Maybe a better way of putting it would be to call it the belief that some immaterial, intrinsic "essence," whether we call it the "mind," the "soul," the "spirit," or whatever else, is the original source of human behavior, acting as an ethereal "pilot" within the organic body. This controlling essence is not subject to the rigid physical laws of action/reaction and cause/effect that govern every other particle in the universe. (The very, very small things in the universe operate under stranger and more inscrutable rule set than these, but for the time being we will leave them alone.)

I don't accept this, and this is a decisive juncture in the the discussion. From here it can turn towards an unresolvable argument about the existence of the soul. We can only go forward if we agree that there is no supernatural, metaphysical basis for human behavior or experience. Otherwise we can only agree to disagree and are better off changing the subject.

Provided we agree on this point:

"Mind" is not a physical existence; it is a subjective experience that has a physiological basis. Biochemistry is only differentiated from inorganic chemistry in terms of its particular setting. All of the conductive bodily meat that makes us do things like "perceive" and "think" must function along the same lines the ordered (but not necessarily predictable or even observable) exchange of forces from which all physical phenomena effloresce.

But "mind" is a thing generally believed in and taken quite seriously. This might be important, inasmuch as most arguments about "free will" assume the primacy of "mind" in determining an individual's actions.

I am not saying that "thinking" is not real. Of course it is. Thinking is (covert) behavior; it is something we do, just like seeing or moving or breathing. There is something ineffable about it; but there is something ineffable in all subjective experience.

I am not prepared to argue about the physical provenance of the experience of "mind" or "consciousness," but I don't think it is necessary. It might suffice to say that the powers of the human brain speak for themselves: we are a species superlatively capable of acquiring new sorts of behavior, outstanding problem solvers, excellent at retaining information (a phrase B.F. Skinner would dislike, but I'm not enough a biologist or behaviorist to produce the appropriate jargon), and, perhaps above all, we are extremely perceptive. We talk about "sentience" as a kind of awareness, superior to that of any other organism with which we are familiar.

The line of reasoning might run like this:

I am an intelligent, sentient creature. What this means is that I am uniquely capable of a kind of acute self-observation. (Certainly most animals observe themselves. They'd have a hard time doing anything if the stimuli produced by their own bodies didn't factor into their behavior.) So: I perceive myself in perpetual action from one moment to the next; I have the faculties to observe and consider my actions at present, to speculate on the advantages and disadvantages of actions I may take in the future, and to also observe my own observations and considerations. I observe junctures at which exclusive choices of action must be selected; I am capable of considering these alternatives and judging which are best; I frequently observe a coincidence between my perceived preference and the action I observe myself proceeding to execute.

From this coincidence I might conclude that the source of my actions is the same faculty through which I observe my actions.

I hope it is not too much a leap of logic to claim that observation and conception are of the same provenance. The organ is the brain and nervous system; these days we usually use words like "mind," "psyche," or "consciousness" to describe the subjective experience. "I" (whatever "I" am) am ultimately in control over this thing or essence; or otherwise, this thing or essence is actually what "I" am.

I am also aware of a sense of "freedom." I recognize the future as uncertain and unformed, a space in which my actions have not yet occurred. Between the present instant and the future, it is unknown what action I might take; therefore my potential actions are conceivably illimitable. If they are conceivably illimitable, they must be illimitable. Anything I might conceivably do in any future moment is something I might actually do at some future moment. At every next instant (or any future moment or span in time) there is an illimitable number of things I conceive I might do, and so my faculty of conception has executive choice in what I choose to do, and my faculty of conception is either what "I" identify as, or something over which my core essence has control.

At a given moment, any given moment, I (whatever "I" am) the primum mobile of my own behavior. My actions are absolutely volitional; the only mitigating vectors can be the external physical circumstances of a given instant.

The first error, I think, is that in a given instant, the ineffable subjective experience called consciousness through which we experience reality bears no obvious markings of any occasion prior to the immediate present. Our perceptions are restricted to the present.

We are shaped by perpetual cascades of circumstance of which we can only recall infinitesimal fractions. Even at the moment of occurrence, we cannot consciously perceive the whole of it. The greater part of our lives escapes our notice. So to say we observe and can recall every muscle twitch, stray thought, quickening heartbeat, etc. is obviously false. We are incapable of accurately conceiving our personal continuity in its entirety.

There can be no "free will" if we are constrained by circumstances at every instant; circumstances that are the immediate consequence of an incomprehensibly abstruse chain of causality within an ordered (yet unfathomably complex) physical universe.

The person I am at any given moment exists in the latest instant of an unbroken continuity. "Mind" is a moot point as long as we agree that its existence and character are dependent on structures and processes within the body. (If it weren't, the pharmaceutical industry wouldn't have much of a selling point for their products, and narcotics would enjoy far less popularity.) There is not a single moment when the essential "I" (my core personal essence, my mind, my psyche, my soul) can put on the brakes and redirect my behavior in such a way that is no way the next logical step in the contiguous history of the organism that I am.

I can only do what I do. What I do during a given instant is the only thing I can do at that instant. Any appearance of spontaneity or randomness should be attributed to the limitations of our perception and understanding of human physiology.

The validity of the concept of "free will" (as we attempted to define it above) is inversely proportionate to the validity of physical determinism, and we have very good reason to believe that our world is for the very most part nonrandom -- that all (or extremely close to all) observable events logically proceed from prior events.

(Note: I don't think that determinism necessarily equates to predestination. The latter implies the existence of an original, intelligent (as can be understood anthropically) architect of each and every last smallest physical quantity's movement across and throughout a span of what we can effectively call Eternity; in other words, that a deliberate plan is being followed. The former does not.)

But yeah. There's that thing about quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle.

On the quantum scale (wherein the basic yardstick for physical dimensions is 1/1,000,000,000 of a meter) the particles of the flashes in our electric brains behave in ways that we cannot predict, and are evidently random. This apparent lapse in determinism is sometimes cited as grounds to affirm the truth of our experience of free will.


1.) If you don't have an advanced degree, you shouldn't make any statements about quantum physics or its implications because you do not know what you are talking about. I do not have an advanced degree. I really don't know what I am talking about and would appreciate any appropriate corrections where my thoughts might be mistaken (at least about physics, I mean).

2.) That said, I question the degree to which quantum events "scale" up to the world of our own experience. My understanding of it is more or less that the evident randomness of quantum-scale events very rarely have an appreciable effect in the realm of our experience. After all, if "macroscopic" events were subject to quantum indeterminacy at every turn, this whole argument would be moot. The physical world would be too inconsistent to allow for advanced organic life, let alone a human civilization with a sophisticated communications network. I wouldn't be typing this, you wouldn't be reading it.

3.) Say that quantum uncertainty does influence our behavior in a significant way (and who is to say it does not?): on what grounds can we claim that quantum events are caused by us (or our minds), and not the reverse? Saying that I (the essential "I") regulate the quantum activity within my body by a transcendent effort of will rather seems a case of confusing cause with effect.

It is more likely that "we" (all of the essential "I"s, our sentient cores) contribute to our own behavior largely as oberservers of ourselves; not movers.

This is not to say that perception has no bearing on behavior. Our perceptions are the pathways through which our environment asserts its control over us. We are constantly changed by our experiences. This is evident in what we observe in our thoughts and our beliefs.

I believe what I believe as the result of my environment. If I believed something different, I would behave much differently. (Or: if I behaved much differently, I would believe something different?) If we have two copies of the very same human being from the very exact same moment and time, identical except for a small difference in moods, the copies would not be identical. Their physiology is different -- very small and subtly different, but of enough behavioral significance to change the way they might respond to their environment at a given moment.

For instance: a person who believes that his choices are important and his actions do matter (but we never said they did not) might be more capable of effective behavior than a person whose shiftlessness is marked by an expressed belief that nothing he does makes a difference.

(Again: does the difference in attitude cause the subtle difference in physiology, or vice versa? This is not a question I can address.)

In this world, knowing what we do, and being what we are, it might be useful to overlook the paradox and simultaneously believe both "I am free to act in the world and responsible for my actions" and "I am purely a haphazard product of my genes and environment."

We cannot currently afford to accept only one at the expense of the other.

NEXT:  Implications.*

(Whenever I perform these exercises in amateur sophistry, comments and criticisms are duly appreciated. I'd rather be corrected than mistaken.)

* read: "next or soon or later."