Ethics of Engineering the Illusion of Choice In life and In Applied Behavior Analysis
If this is true are we “hoist by our own petard”? Have we usurped humanity? Are we automatons by default? Is there reason to still exist? Are these just some silly questions that no one besides young college students ask? Is this just one of those “Yeah it is good to think about it, but you can’t take these things too seriously or you will end up huddled on a mountain in a small wooden shack frantically writing an obscure philosophy manifesto, or worse, become a University professor” type of thing?
So, who cares? Well, I care. I care because, these things affect in large or small way, real people. It is way beyond the scope of this University student to write about these things in depth, but I will talk about one instance where this applies and rather directly affects real people. In this post I will look at an issue from the perspective that free will does not exist.
Behavior analysts have found a strange effect where people will prefer to use slot machines that have buttons to stop the wheels. The wheels are moving way too fast for the people to have any chance of actually influencing where the wheels stop, their odds of winning are no better than chance. Folks seem to prefer this over the simple crank handle slot machines. I think I would too, to be honest. The research on this is still ongoing, so I am unable to provide a specific citation.
The implications for this are huge. Based on this, it seems people would prefer the image of control rather than the image of no control. Is this true in other parts of life? It matches with my experiences; I will leave the reader to assess whether this matches with their own.
Now here is the catch; if this is what people prefer and we are dealing with an disagreeable system, is the solution to engineer the environment so that the image of choice is present? I will argue in brief, that the answer is “no” and explain why.
The reason is that this is a form of dishonesty. In this case the dishonesty removes from the relevant person the opportunity to make a more informed selection, it nullifies consent. I argue that such a removal is unethical. I also, note that this does not imply choice is real, but it does imply that the way people experience things are important, and that these experiences are partially used to define ethics.
In present mental health, informed consent is required of caregivers of minors or of adults who are institutionalized. They have no consent to give in this case. The ethics of this merit their own discussion. In this case, they are relevant because, it makes these persons most vulnerable to abuse from this technique.