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Free Will

I've found some of the recent questions and discussions on this site regarding compassion, choice and free will interesting.

I find the deterministic idea that we don't have any free will at all quite depressing. A recurring theme I've read on this site, which I tend to agree with, is that no one chooses their personality or life situation, as it's formed by factors beyond their control - genes, environment, etc. And the idea of 'choice' in general is an illusion.

But can someone not choose to take steps to alter their personality (as it is now) in some situations?

I have a problem with social anxiety, which I understand has arisen as a result of factors beyond my control, but if I "choose" to develop a plan to work on new behaviors and focus on reducing self-consciousness each day, then find after 3 months that my personality is somewhat different - have I not exercised some level of free will in this change? I understand that my decision to develop the plan may be influenced by preceding factors beyond my control, but when looking back over the hypothetical 3 months of work I had done to change myself the idea that the choice was an illusion is difficult to comprehend - does some element of personal choice not enter the equation?

Re: Free Will

OK. This is an old and complex
philosophical question which cannot be settled in a few paragraphs or
even hundreds of them. If I have not chosen my body or any of its
characteristics, and I do not get to choose my country of birth, time
of birth, family situation, etc., then what exactly do I, or
can I, choose?

You write about "choosing" a
plan to change behavior, and say that if you chose such a plan, and
were able to work at it, and that if, after some time passed, your
behavior indeed were different, wouldn't that somehow demonstrate
that the notion of free-will is more than just an illusion.

First of all, how did it happen that
you found yourself working on developing the plan? Did you choose
that? When? The brain-scan data to which I referred seem to indicate
that desires arise before we ever become aware that we have
them. In other words, decisions happen before one feels oneself
"deciding," so a "decision" is more properly just
a story I tell myself to justify whatever is my present course of
behavior. If my behavior changes, I then tell myself a story about a
new "decision." This kind of story is told, and told again
repeatedly in order to maintain another illusion: the separate ego.

Perhaps you could argue that ones
influences may to some extent be chosen (for example,
you buy the books of an author whom you think might help you to live
better), but I would then be asking you why choosing influences
might not be seen as just another automatic process such as
"choosing" what to like and dislike). And, even if there is
such a power as opening oneself to influences, that certainly is a much lesser
power than most people imagine they exercise on a minute-to-minute
basis, and which they call "deciding" or "choosing."

I understand your discomfort at having
to wonder if human behaviors are simply mechanical responses lacking
any real dimension of volition, but the comfort level of an idea is
no indication of its validity.

Be well.


Re: Free Will

Dr Robert, thanks for the reply.

I agree that absolute choice is probably an illusion, as you say there are so many (unchosen) preceding factors and variables that make up a given situation in which a person finds themself in - I suppose the 'choice' one makes is so dependant on the preceding unchosen factors it can't be an absolute choice.

I was thinking more of 'choosing', in a given situation you find yourself in, a different course of behavior than you are inclined to act, i.e. if someone was mindful enough to become objectively aware of their thoughts/inclinations and not get swept away by them but instead choose another course of behavior, then maybe this was exercising some degree of choice, but again, as you mention, this probably isn't a 'choice' due to there being so many preceding unchosen factors influencing the 'decision'.

Re: Free Will

I think that the anxiety experienced at the thought of determinism is due to binary polarisation and is also a fallacy. The binary polarisation is as follows -

1. We are fully autonomous creatures. We would therefore be seperate from the universe. This is of course impossible, we did not create ourselves and our choices are limited by our bodies and envoronment which we did not create. The environment ultimately is the universe.

2. We are robots with no control. Created by something other than us with no connection to us.

My view is a more pantheistic one, you might say. First of, I do not follow any religion or beleive in any of the popular 'God's' / Creator theories etc.

I look at it like this -

The universe perhaps came from the big bang, which itself probably was a budding off from some other force / state. Anyway, the universe does seem to exist, yes?

Everything in the universe is connected (scientists have observed that even the smallest particles from an atom, seprated no matter how far, still have an impact on each other over any time or distance.) I could not exist with out oxygen or food that grows on earth, life on earth would die without the sun etc, objects orbit round ones with greater mass etc... My very body is made up of most of the elements that exist in the universe. The environment has an impact upon me. I can also alter and impact change on the environemnt, even people around me. We and everything are connected and influenced mutually. I hit you, you feel angry or hurt etc. So number 1 is incorrect, we are part of the universe as a whole, like it or not and thus WE AS INDIVIDUALS do not have ultimate control.

But this means that number 2 is also false! As we are part of the universe and not seperate from it we experience it and are much a valid aspect of it as a rock, a gas, a cow, a can of baked beans, just in different form and vibrating on different pitch and endowed with consciousness.

So we neither as individuals CONTROL ourselves as we would have to be apart from the universe nor are FULLY CONTROLLED by it as that would mean it was something not us, not integrated with us. Which of course feelign detached and not part of the universe and a valid part, leads to feeligns of anxiety and alienation.

This I believe is a falacy in western philosophical thinking the either / or view of things, the binary opposition of mutallly exclusive opposites.

So, no we don;t have have ultimate God-like control. For this to happen we would have to be all that existed and there woould have ot be nothing else for uus to have an object-subject relation towards. And on the otherhand, there is no no ultimate control over us either. There is being and sharing in experiencing being 'a part' of the universe. Not 'apart' from the universe (pun intended.)

So the whole determinism thing is moot.

Of course I do not mean determinism as would be used in court (was the murderer predetermine to commit the crime, thus we have to let him go?) as I believe we can and do make choices (yay!) and although they are limeted by the environment, that isn't such a bad thing! Without no environment, nouniverse etc, we would have nothig to define us, so how could we even exist!

This stance on the whole debate took me years to get to...


Re: Free Will

You seem to have set up a false dichotomy here. Dr. Robert never said that this issue turned on an either/or between "I control everything," or "I am controlled by everything." His point was simply that most human beings imagine much more free will than we really have since our personalities which do the imagined "choosing" are formed not by choice but by accident of birth, cultural surround, etc. In other words, my likes and dislikes were never chosen by me, and so when I "choose" something I like or reject something I dislike, I have not chosen at all, but simply reacted according to pre-existing tendencies which came to me as if fated. The doctor's point really has nothing to do with the logical argument you have set up, and so your logic, while it might be interesting to you, really does not speak to the matter as he stated it.

Re: Free Will


So my subconcious is deciding my life? Perhaps that is why I am able to resolve difficult problems after sleeping. I will have a complex issue I am thinking about but wont be exactly sure how to approach the problem. So I'll sleep on it and either during a dream or when I wake up.. I'll just know how to approach the problem and resolve it.

So the subconcious mind is the core of a person? I know the subconcious has a much greater capacity than the concious mind but I did not know it was the source of.. you.

All of this, on my end, is an assumption, ofcourse. I assume the subconcious must be providing the information to your concious mind.

It's interesting. Many times I have sat in the bathroom, as a child, just staring at myself asking the question "why am I doing.. what I am doing. What controls me. What made me do that." For hours I would do that. Try to mentally find the source of.. myself.

I don't understand why it concerns people so much that their concious mind is not the source of their.. self. I believe it is best that we do not control our own breathing or other bodily functions. So it makes sense, logically, that the concious mind would be a completely seperate partition from the concious brain. That they coexist under the authority of the subconcious.

I have a question, Dr. Robert. Does this mean that the subconcious mind is responsible for emotion as well or is emotion part of the concious minds reaction to the subconcious minds suggestion?