The question of free will has been present in my mind for quite some time now, and while I have touched on this concept briefly in the past, only now have I felt compelled to actually investigate this question with any real depth. Sam Harris has written a book about free will, and while I have not read the book, I have heard a few recorded lectures from Sam Harris who has some brilliant perspectives on this fascinating subject, which among other things have helped get my wheels turning on this engrossing topic of “free will.”
My questions on free will have been present in my mind to some extent or another ever since I realized some time ago the ego is ultimately an illusion. I reasoned the very notion of “free will” cannot truly be possible if the ego, the “self,” the “I” is an illusion to begin with. After all, if “I” do not truly exist, then logically speaking “I” cannot “choose” anything. This question of ego is absolutely crucial to our very understanding of ourselves, because virtually every facet of our lives, including our notions of “responsibility” and free will, revolve around the persistent yet illusory belief in the essential “self.” Seeing the self as an illusion therefore radically alters virtually every aspect of our lives we care about. Clearly this is no small issue. The ramifications are immense. It is the reason I spend so much time thinking about what the ego is, what makes me feel like “me,” and continually ask the question of just who is this “experiencer?” Is the ego a fact or an illusory construct of the mind? If the ego is simply the awareness of a form of energy and the limits of its form, and awareness of the limits of other forms as I have often defined it in the past, then it seems it is indeed a fact instead of only a construct of the mind. This definition makes the ego a “factual illusion” – factual because there are in a sense, real apparent boundaries and “limits” we perceive every day between entities, beings, etc. – and an illusion as well because no thing is permanent, essential, and unchanging, nor ultimately “separate” and “independent” of anything else since all is truly One.
I have been satisfied with this definition of ego in the past, but I now ask myself if tdhis is even the ego at all. Is the recognition of the limits of form by a self-conscious organism enough to constitute ego, or is the ego something else – something even more complex? If the ego is only the concept of “me,” of “self,” with all of its intricate beliefs, prejudices, influences, etc., than the next question we could ask is if there truly is a real and permanent “me” – an ego, or if there is only an organism that thoughts arising in the brain call “me” out of convenience so “I” can speak of things and relate to the world around “me.” Virtually all of us believe that “separateness” and “independence” are actual realities, not created by our minds, but the very notion of “separateness” itself is only possible with the notion of the “I,” the “self,” the ego, because the ego is the “measuring stick” against which all things are judged and deemed “separate.” That is why without the ego, all notions of separateness and independence do not exist. Of course, “different entities” and forces do exist, but the concept they are somehow ultimately “separate” from and “independent” of anyone or anything else is the illusion of ego, as we will soon explore further. So while the “self,” the ego is a necessary and inevitable construct to enable us to speak of things and relate to things, it is nevertheless an illusory construct since it is an ever-changing idea – not a permanent, “fixed” and essential reality as is commonly believed. We can see this fact very clearly in ourselves, especially when we think about who we “were” several years ago, and who are “are” today. We are not the “same” person this moment than we were several years ago or even yesterday. The inevitable and unavoidable acceptance of the ego, and the belief in the “me” out of convenience in order to be able to speak of and relate to things, give rise to the belief in agency – to the belief in the “ownership” of “our” actions, and with this the belief in “free will.” Since the self is a construct of past and ultimately unconscious influences beyond our control, we therefore cannot blame a serial killer for having the mind of a psychopath any more than we can take credit for having the mind of a generous, considerate, and loving person. Neither character types are choices, but rather inevitable manifestations of myriad causes such as genetics, brain structure, parenting, etc., as well as ultimately unknowable influences. That being the case, how then can we honestly take credit or blame for our minds and how we came to be as we are? The genuine realization of this can be incredibly humbling, and can help us to understand how in a very real sense, everything – including the choices we inevitably make or do not make, and the facts of our existence, all genuinely come down to luck or a lack thereof.
Scientific experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s, consistently revealed brain activity for a given decision was recorded hundreds of milliseconds before an individual was conscious of their decision. Moments of insight are detectable with an EEG up to eight seconds before a person is consciously aware of it, strongly suggesting conscious volition stands at the end of a process, but is not in and of itself facilitating a deep thought process. Neurologist Jonah Lehrer argues that even regarding moral decisions, the physical and automatic workings of the brain are already in motion long before we are consciously able to exert any free will on the subject, and that the main role of the conscious self is to explain our own judgments rather than form them. This would mean we can have no true “moral responsibility” since we cannot control, and therefore cannot “be responsible” for even our “moral decisions.” This would also mean our conscious selves are always in the dark about what we will think or feel at any given moment, and it is only after the fact when we attempt to rationalize what happened with “reasons” for “why” we behaved the way we did, when in truth, we never really know for sure the ultimate reasons we do anything. These insights suggest that what is actually happening when we “decide” on something or think about something, the brain “reports” on what is already happening – that our conscious selves are simply “witnesses” to the unfolding of the thoughts, choices, and events of our ever-mysterious lives, and are not the true authors of our thoughts, choices, and actions, but are instead authored by our involuntary, subconscious selves constructed from myriad and ultimately unknowable influences. This would mean the events in our lives are in reality no different than the events in a game we are watching – something we can truly only observe, have no control over, and have no awareness of what exactly will happen from one moment to the next, as well as its final outcome. We can truly only “watch” how our lives unfold before us through our organisms – including the “choices” we make, but there is ultimately never any conscious control over these “choices” we make and events in our lives whatsoever, regardless of how compelling it “feels” as if we are the conscious authors of our choices and actions.
Why does nothing “belong” to anyone – including our thoughts, actions, decisions, and choices? Because all things – including our thoughts, actions, decisions, and choices, are the result of causes before them which we cannot be conscious of, because all thoughts arise in our minds before we are consciously “aware” of them, as Benjamin Libet’s experiments, EEG tests, and the observations of neurologist Jonah Lehrer, among others have demonstrated. Some might say we are indeed moved by unconscious influences, but we can still “choose” what we do at any given moment, as some compatibilists claim. The problem is, the very acts of “choosing,” weighing options, analyzing, etc., are still underpinned by influences we are ultimately not conscious of. While the compatibilist position attempts to posit that free will is somehow compatible with hard determinism – meaning all things – including our “choices,” are determined by previous events and influences instead of our ego, it is a contradiction to posit such a claim. As Sam Harris so eloquently put it, we are free to do whatever we want, but what kind of “freedom” do we have when our wants themselves are caused by influences beyond our control? In other words, while we have desires, we ultimately have no control of what we desire, nor how we attempt to attain what we desire, since all of these desires and actions are the result of prior causes. Therefore to say we have “free will” within determinism is a contradiction. How can we be “free” when determinism reveals the fact all things are determined by prior causes? If determinism is true, then we can therefore never, at any point, be truly “free” to do anything. Sam Harris humorously uses the analogy for the position of the compatibilist as one who says, “a puppet is free as long as it loves its strings.” The illusion of self, of ego, allows us to believe we “own” these desires, choices, and actions. But since there is no “self” to begin with, there is no “me” to “do” or “own” anything. There are only thoughts and actions happening within this organism that thought calls “me” for convenience, which is why I believe “I own” the thoughts and actions happening through my organism. In other words, nothing is ever truly “owned” by anyone because everything we call “mine” are in truth only prior causes, and there is no “me” to “own” anything to begin with.
Some compatibilists such as Daniel Dennett, believe the key to understanding free will is to think about it in another way – to understand that even your “unconscious” influences are still “you,” and cannot be dismissed as not being “me.” In other words, from this perspective, everything that goes on inside your body is “you.” But this idea is not what we honestly and truly mean when we think of me, any more than we view a true afterlife as only the continuation of the existence of our physical atomic components after death instead of our “souls.” As stated previously, there is a difference between the organism, and the idea of “me” our brain creates through thought around the organism it occupies. As we will soon explore in more depth, we do not tend to identify our mechanical bodily functions like metabolism, or unconscious processes as being something “I” do. We think of these things as something our bodies do automatically. However, the fundamental problem with Dennett’s and all compatibilist positions, is they assume the ultimate reality of the “I,” the self, the ego. It is the very reason why they think there is even some “entity” to be “responsible” in the first place. But without this “entity,” this “self,” there is nothing to ever even be responsible to begin with – at any point. And that is ultimately the point the compatibilist misses – for it is the illusion of self which drives this entire illusion of “free will.” This also reveals the blatant contradiction of the Buddhist view of karma and rebirth. The very concept of karma, which depends on the notion of “personal accountability” that is carried into “next lives,” demands it belong to a “self” to have any coherence, yet Buddhist thought denies the existence of the self. The compatibilist perceives the dilemma of moral accountability without free will, and attempts to resolve the problem by in effect saying, “the buck stops here.” However, as Sam Harris has pointed out, the buck never stops. The reason the buck never stops is because the buck cannot ever stop, since there is nothing – no thing to ever pin any “responsibility” on at any point, since prior causes ultimately have no “owner,” since all causes come out of a wilderness of an infinite regress. That is why “you” also cannot be an owner because you are not and cannot be the “source” of what you are and what you do. The bottom line is, there is never any point at which we ever truly “become responsible,” since all actions are nothing more than egoless, impersonal, mechanical prior causes, regardless of how these things “feel” to us as intelligent beings with a sense of self and therefore “will.”
Ironically enough however, our very real and inevitable identification with our egos, and the practical demands of living as individual selves, egos, in our relative world, makes it imperative we act as if we are “responsible” for our actions and choices – that we give in to our intuitive sense of being “responsible,” even though we are ultimately not responsible, if we wish to spare ourselves from the negative consequences for not accepting responsibility. This point of view I call “pragmatism,” acknowledges the fact of determinism, while at the same time understands the practical reasons for why it is necessary we act as if we are responsible. A world in which we did not hold ourselves and others accountable would be a chaotic world in which to live. Accountability and boundaries are most necessary for us to live healthy lives as individual egos in our relative world. Therefore it is wise we accept the paradox of the need to hold ourselves and others accountable, given the conditions of our lives as individuals in our relative world, even while at the same time knowing we are ultimately not responsible. But this “pragmatic” point of view is not the same as compatibilism, which tries to hold the contradictory position that free will and determinism are both true. They cannot both be true since the truth of one contradicts the other. They are mutually exclusive. So in a sense, with this “pragmatic” position, we consciously accept the illusion of free will, living as if it were true, while at the same time intellectually knowing the fact free will is an illusion. Unlike the compatibilist position, we don’t lie to ourselves by saying we somehow still have “freedom of choice” within determinism, which is a contradiction. We simply acknowledge the fact of why it is best we largely act as if we do have “freedom of choice” in our everyday world, while at the same time knowing intellectually we are never truly “free” in our choices. Simply put, when it comes to this issue of “who or what is responsible” within our practical, everyday lives, once we are “in the game” if you will, we have to “play by the rules” of the game, or suffer the consequences for not “playing by the rules” – for not accepting responsibility. What this means is while we can be aware intellectually of the illusion of self and with it, the illusion of free will and responsibility “in our heads,” we can at the same time still feel as if this experience is “reality.” In other words, on a practical everyday level, whether or not free will actually exists does not ultimately change what it feels like to live as a “self” with apparent “free will” and a sense of “responsibility,” because even these feelings we experience are yet more aspects of determinism beyond our conscious control.
So while unconscious influences are in fact, “going on” inside our brains and bodies, that does not mean they are “me” in the sense as most everyone understands it to be as the experience of being the willful, conscious owner of our actions, since the body and the unconscious workings of the brain are not one and the same as the experiential phenomenon of self – of the belief that “I” am “responsible” for “my” actions. Again – the brain and the body are not the self. The self is thought itself arising in the brain, as we will soon explore in more depth. In other words, the “me” is nothing more than an idea built from thoughts of the brain of the organism. Therefore, there is no real “me” outside the brain and its thoughts, which is why there can be no ownership of anything – “conscious” or “unconscious.” Any attempts at finding “wiggle room” or “elbow room,” as Dan Dennett has entitled one of his books on free will, for there to somehow be true “ownership” of anything at all, reveals a failure on the part of the compatibilist in understanding the ultimate illusion of the self. The bottom line is, the compatibilist position is just a futile mental exercise, and a clever play-on-words/semantics game smart people play to try to convince themselves that “free will” is somehow compatible with determinism, in order to deal with the cognitive dissonance many feel between believing themselves to be the willful agents of their thoughts and actions, when the facts of determinism reveal they are not. Since this idea is so repugnant to many, then it is no surprise there would be a desire to find some measure of compatibility between free will and determinism – hence compatibilism. However, as stated previously, there is not, and cannot be any compatibility between the two, no matter how many intellectual and philosophical gymnastics we put ourselves through.
We have just explored the importance of how thoughts in particular relate to the ego, the self, and therefore our belief in “will.” Thoughts precede what we consider “voluntary” action, which gives rise to our feelings of “will.” Without thoughts there is no action. However, if we are not responsible for the thoughts behind our actions, how then can we also be responsible for our actions? We can’t be. As stated previously, we don’t identify our “body” and its involuntary functions like breathing and the manufacturing of red blood cells with our sense of “I” and “will.” That is why we don’t think “I” am making red blood cells, but rather “my body” is making red blood cells. However, we do think “I” thought of something – not “my brain” thought of something. The fact we feel this way clearly demonstrates the fact we see our body and mind as separate things – as if we have a body which runs on its own, independent of our conscious thought processes, and “houses” our separate minds with “free will” that tell our bodies “what to think” and “what to do.” Most people are therefore dualists at heart. This is what gives rise to the belief in the so-called “mind-body problem,” and with it, notions of the “immortal soul,” and is the basis for Rene Descartes’ mind-body dualism theory we will explore more in depth later on. If we did not see mind and body as separate things, then we would not see any distinction between the heart in our bodies beating involuntarily, and us voluntarily deciding to move our bodies to take a walk.
So it appears it is the thinker who is the “I,” or the “me.” Our feelings of “I,” which are always associated with our thoughts and actions, and not with involuntary impulses and processes that run our bodies, clearly illustrate this point. The reason the thinker is the “I,” is because the “I” is thought itself, as stated previously, since our very sense of “I” is created by thought. Without thought there is no “I.” The reason the “I,” the “thinker” is the “thought,” is because the thinker cannot exist without thought that creates the thinker, and thought cannot exist without the thinker that creates thought. They are one and the same, since one could not exist without the other. There can therefore be no separation between the “thinker” and the “thought.” All is One. It is not a question of which came first, the “thinker or the thought.” One can never come “before” or “after” the other, since one could never be without the other at any point, and must therefore always coexist together at all times as two sides of the same one coin. Without the brain, there is no thought to “create” the “I” in the first place. No brain, no thought. No thought, no self. While it feels as if our “minds” are “separate” from our bodies and not material, they are not separate, nor are they immaterial, since the “thinker” is nothing more than an idea created by thought arising in the brain, as stated previously and will soon be explored in even more depth. Rene Descartes is famous for the quote, “I think, therefore I am.” While it feels as if “I” think, the reality is, thoughts happen, which creates the ego, which in turn calls the thoughts “mine.” So the ego is deluded into believing itself to be the “source” of thought, when it is in fact nothing more than thought itself, or a “product” of thought if you will, for convenience of speaking. The truth is, “Think I, therefore I am not.” The “I,” the “me” is simply thought itself, and therefore cannot exist outside of thought. That is why the self is an illusion, since it is not an “objective reality” outside our brain and the thoughts which arise within it.
The ego is a kind of “thief” – taking credit for thoughts and actions it cannot be responsible for, but believes it is. The ego takes credit and assigns blame when neither is truly warranted. While it appears as if there is a separation between the “voluntary” and the “involuntary,” this is ultimately an illusion. Making decisions and choices – activity we typically consider “voluntary,” is at bottom, no different than what we consider “involuntary” thoughts spontaneously arising in the mind, because all mental activity – from so-called “random thoughts,” to “consciously thinking” about a problem and making choices, are underpinned by past and ultimately unconscious influences which drive these mental activities. That is why there is no true demarcation line between when something is “involuntary,” and when something becomes “voluntary;” when it “becomes ours,” or when we “become responsible.” Thoughts and actions never “become ours,” and we never truly “become responsible,” because as stated previously, while “we” claim “ownership” of “our” thoughts, choices, and actions, they do not arise from our conscious self – from “me” first, but from prior causes which arise in the subconscious when once translated into a conscious thought become a cognition of the idea that “I” thought of something, when in truth, “I” did not think of anything.
What is actually taking place during this phenomenon in a nutshell is simply our brain’s observation of the thoughts arising within it, and claiming ownership of these thoughts. The brain exists within an organism, and recognizes through thought which arises in the brain, the formal limits – the “body” of the organism it occupies. At the same time, the brain also recognizes through thought, the limits – the “bodies” or formal structures of other entities outside the formal limits of the organism it occupies. These recognitions arising from thought create a sense of “me,” or “I,” as separate and independent from “other.” While this results in a very “real” experience of being a “self,” a “me,” independent of “other,” this is an illusion because it is our brain, through the thoughts arising in it which create this sense of independence and ultimate separateness, which therefore cannot exist outside our brain. Because this ego, this “self,” this “me,” cannot exist outside of our brain and the thoughts arising in it, it is therefore nothing more than an idea, not an actual “reality” apart from thought. Again, without thought, the “self” cannot exist. It is again, the reason why the thinker is the thought – an insight Jiddu Krishnamurti spoke of. This is also a reason why the “immortal soul,” which is essentially a non-material, disembodied ego, or “me,” also cannot exist, since all that we call “me” and “self” have purely physiological origins in the brain within the organism it occupies – not a “non-material” spirit, soul, or any other “non-material” substance, which is a contradiction of terms anyways. The fact we can damage or remove certain parts of the brain, resulting in minor to major changes in personality further illustrates the physicality of our “selves” being nothing more than what the brain does. If our “selves,” or “souls” were not physical, as spiritualists and substance dualists claim, then drugs and alcohol would not be able to alter our personalities and abilities, even if temporarily, but we know as a matter of fact they can and do. At the same time, brain damage and other degenerative diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s would not be able to radically alter our “selves” or personalities if our “selves” or “souls” were “spiritual” and not physical, but we also know as a matter of fact they can and do.
As stated previously, while organisms and objects do of course exist outside of the limits of our organism, the idea of being ultimately independent and separate from “other” is the illusion of ego. That is why there is ultimately no “other,” there is only Oneness. “Self,” and “other” are illusions created by the brain. When thoughts arise in our brains, we naturally feel that “I” thought of something, because of our brain’s identification with thoughts and actions that happen within the organism it occupies. This identification creates the “I,” the “self,” the ego – our very real sense of being “me.” What really happens during this phenomenon is the brain simply observes or witnesses the thought that happens, but then takes ownership and calls it “mine” because of the brain’s identification with thoughts that arise in the brain of the organism it occupies. This ego identification is unavoidable. It is what the brain does. And it happens so quickly, we are not even aware its happening to the point we take life as a “self” for granted. It is why we buy in to the compelling illusion of the “immortal soul,” or “immortal self.” We simply cannot imagine existence without the “me,” since it is only through the subjective experience of self – the “experiencer,” that we can “experience” anything – a life, meaning… indeed, all of the things that matter to us. It is no wonder so many fear death and the termination of the self. This primal fear no doubt drives our afterlife theories and conceptions of the “soul.” In our everyday world and mode of living, we are only known by our egos, our names, our social security numbers – all of these constructs of thought we are attached to. We cannot avoid our persistent identification with our self-concept – our ego, during our everyday waking state, since the ego is nothing more than thought itself, as stated previously, and we cannot consistently live in the everyday world without thought. So living in the world which necessitates thought only forces and reinforces us in many ways to live as an ego – as a separate and independent “self” from “other.” Deep meditation can be one way to detach from this ultimately illusory identification with the ego temporarily, by allowing us to quiet the mind of thoughts so we can attain a state of awareness without thought. Awareness without thought is what some mystics call “Nirvana,” or “self-transcendence,” because awareness without thought necessarily does not involve the “I,” the ego, since again – the ego is thought itself. However, we would not necessarily always want to live without the self-concept, since without the ego, we would not know what it means to live as a unique individual, with all of the joys and sorrows it brings. At the same time, the serving of self alone without consideration for the whole, is one of the darker aspects of living as an ego that almost always causes us pain and sorrow.
It is interesting to note that even while dreaming, we often feel as if we are “in control” of what we are doing in our dreams, and that we are “freely thinking” our thoughts in our dreams, when we know as a matter of fact after awakening, we are not. This is yet one more strong piece of evidence for the illusions of “control” and “free will.” We have no control of our dreams, any more than we have control of our lives in the waking state, yet in the case of both states of awareness, we often feel as if we are “in control” of what we think, feel, and do, when we are not. Life is indeed, but a dream. That is not to say life is not “real.” Life is indeed “real” as a dream is real, but not reality, as a dream is not reality. Our illusory identification with self, is therefore responsible for our equally illusory sense of “will,” of “intention,” and of course, “free-will.” While there is a time lapse between the arising of brain activity and a conscious thought, this time lapse is essentially imperceptible to us, making it seem as if the conscious thought – the idea “I” thought of something and the brain activity itself are one and the same, when they are not. This imperceptible time lapse between brain activity and conscious thought, make it impossible for us to perceive the fact we are not the author of our thoughts, but are authored by our thoughts we therefore never consciously “choose.” As the famous composer Gustav Mahler once said, “One does not compose, but rather one is being composed.” It is like the illusion of motion pictures in which we perceive a continuous motion, when it is never a continuous motion we actually perceive, but rather a series of still, separate photographs which are shown to us at a rate of speed too fast for our brains to perceive as separate pictures – hence the illusion of “motion pictures.”
Unlike the ego, consciousness itself cannot be an illusion, because without consciousness there would be no awareness, and there obviously is awareness or we would not be able to know anything is happening. Our experience of living, which verifies things are happening, including my writing of this sentence and your reading it, prove the fact consciousness is not an illusion. Consciousness is. Indeed, as we have discovered before, consciousness is a fundamental principle of oneness along with change. As we also discovered before, if consciousness were not fundamental, then there would be no awareness. Consciousness is the same as stasis – a state of equilibrium and stability, because both stasis and consciousness do the exact same thing – they organize, which is manifested in structure, form, and order.
For purposes of convenience, when I use the words “stasis” and “consciousness” throughout this writing, I am using these terms interchangeably. The fundamental principles of stasis and change accounts for why forms can appear essentially “the same,” even while constantly changing at the same time. The principle of stasis is also responsible for the illusory yet persistent and overwhelming perception that the “me,” the “self,” the “I” is “unchanging” and “permanent,” when in fact it is not since like all other forms, it too is constantly changing, as we discovered before. Change is also fundamental, because without change, things would only remain static and fixed. There obviously is change or we would not perceive it in everything we observe. Change, like stasis, is the only other constant which depends on nothing else. Everything that is, that was, and that will be, ultimately comes down to the beginningless and endless interplay of these two fundamental principles of oneness. The reason consciousness is such a mystery to many scientists and great thinkers, is because many have failed to see it for what it is – a fundamental principle of oneness, and not the “product” of “something else” like the brain.
Virtually all scientists are materialists – believing everything comes down to a “material” explanation, including consciousness, which is the reason why scientists have often called consciousness a brain state or something related to the brain. As we have discovered before, consciousness is not the brain, but what is perceived by the brain, since the brain, being in some ways fixed, while constantly changing at the same time, is therefore itself subject to the principles of consciousness and change. This fact is true of all forms, no matter what we call them, which is why consciousness cannot be “material” if you will. The brain and all forms we can imagine are therefore not fundamental, and therefore cannot be the “source” of consciousness. This realization of consciousness being fundamental and not material, has led to some spiritualists’ claims for the dualistic notions of the “soul” and for the “cosmic” and “spiritual consciousness” of God. The problem with these concepts is they are still enslaved to the idea of consciousness “belonging” to some “thing” or entity, whether it is God, you, me, a “soul,” or anybody else. Consciousness, being the principle of stasis itself, is therefore universal, not individual. So neither the scientist nor the spiritualist is correct because both buy in to the illusion of “self,” of ego, which is the belief in the “individual” and “personal” ownership of consciousness – the illusory belief in the “ownership” of thoughts and actions which therefore give rise to the equally illusory belief in “free will.” It also gives rise to the belief that if we do not have “free will,” we are then nothing more than “puppets on a string” of a puppeteer. But even without free will we are never “puppets” of a puppeteer, but more like entities that obey the mechanical laws of physics, just the same as any other entity in the universe, because nobody is pulling the strings to begin with since consciousness, being universal, therefore belongs to nobody and no thing, as stated previously. Things simply are as they are as the natural result of action and consequence. All therefore simply always is without any knowable “purpose” or “meaning,” without beginning and without end.
The single tiny thread to which spiritualists grasp to validate their beliefs in God, the “soul,” and the “supernatural;” is the concept stated previously of mind-body dualism as championed by Rene Descartes in the 1600s. This is the foundation for the belief in the notion that reality is comprised of two “separate,” opposite and “independent” realities of the “spiritual” world, and the “material” world. Descartes’ reasoning is based on the premise that mind and matter are separate and independent realities, which would in theory, make it possible for the “mind” or “soul” to exist independently of the body before and after death. The problem is, Descartes’ mind-body dualism theory has no credible backing from the overwhelming current scientific evidence and understanding of mind and matter as being one and the same, as we learned previously how drugs and damage to the brain can affect individual character. That is why there is no such thing as the “mind-body problem” when it is understood that mind and body are One. Not only does the concept of mind-body dualism – the idea of a “ghost inside our heads” if you will, not have any backing scientifically, but it is also a self-contradictory concept which therefore does not hold up to sound reasoning, and must therefore be false. For if there were two opposite and independent “realities” of mind and body as substance dualists claim, then one “reality” would cancel out the other, and there would be only nothingness, which is obviously not true. Furthermore, the idea we have “immortal souls” which exist “outside” the realm of the natural, causal, material world, while at the same time manages as a “spiritual” and “non-material” substance or agent to somehow “act” on and “affect” the natural, causal, material world through our material bodies nevertheless, is a blatant contradiction and therefore falsehood. This is the source of the true “mind-body problem” – the problem of believing in self-contradictory and therefore false concepts. The bottom line is, neither science nor sound reasoning can back up Descartes’ mind-body dualism theory. That is why the expression “mind over matter” is false, as mind and matter are One. Again – this is not the same as consciousness as we discovered earlier, which is identical to the principle of stasis, which is not of “matter” since it is no “thing” nor “being,” but rather, like change – a fundamental principle of Oneness. For consciousness, stasis, is not the same as “mind” as we know it to be as our brain. The specific manifested forms of our brain are simply the “machines” if you will which perceive stasis, or consciousness, as we discovered earlier.
The fundamental principles of Oneness – stasis and change, unlike everything which is relative, cannot have a beginning or an end, because Oneness – All, and the two principles are not relative, and can therefore have no “cause.” As we have discovered before, this is not the same as the double-standard apologists use to describe God as the one being in the universe who is the “exception to the rule” – a being “without a cause” who is the “cause” of everything else and is “without beginning” and “without end;” because in the case of God we are talking about a personal being – an ego – not impersonal principles. For a being to be a “being,” an ego – even if we call it “God,” it must have attributes which distinguish it from other “beings,” which therefore makes it relative. To be relative is to have limits – to possess characteristics like “beginnings” and “endings,” and limits of form to define it as distinct and separate from other things – in other words – to be of time and space. The problem is, time and space are both illusions, because the very perception of “permanent” form (space) is itself an illusion since all forms are constantly changing and transforming into “something else.” The measurement of this change and transformation of forms is what we call time, which therefore makes time also an illusion. Time and space are inseparable, because you cannot have one without the other since time is nothing more than the measurement of form’s change. Without form and change, there can be no observation of change, and therefore no measurement of change, which is time. That is why time and space are the same illusion, and not separate illusions. Therefore to possess limits of form – limits of space, is to possess limits of time as well. To be relative – to be a being at all, is to therefore be of time and space. God is defined as being supposedly “before time” or “not of time,” which therefore makes God not relative, and therefore not a being who exists. We cannot have it both ways – to say God is both “outside of time,” and a being who exists at the same time. To be a being of any kind – whether it is a human being or a so-called “spiritual being” is to be of time and space – period. To say there is a separate and therefore relative being no matter what we call it which is not of time and space – that has no beginning and no end, as God is traditionally defined, is a contradiction of terms and is therefore impossible. Oneness… All, and the two fundamental principles of stasis and change is not a “being” or an ego, and is therefore not relative, which is why with Oneness, with All, there is no beginning and there is no end… for with Oneness, there is no time.
The essential premise to the idea of “free will,” is the belief that under the same or similar circumstances we could have chosen or done something other than what we actually did, and are therefore “responsible” for “our” choices. When thought through rationally and critically however, this is just a head game we play with ourselves based on the false and illusory assumption we have “freedom of choice” within any given set of circumstances. While it certainly feels as if we have “freedom of choice,” due to our experience of life as a self, as an ego, in which choices and actions feel as if they “belong” to us, since they happen through an organism our brain identifies with, and therefore feel as if they are the product of our personal “will;” this is an illusion and cannot be true, because since mind and matter are one, then hard determinism must be true. That is why given these facts, free will cannot exist, because the precise conditions which lead to a particular choice being “made,” could not lead to any different “decision” that actually is made. In other words, all things – including our choices, are precisely as they must be given the precise circumstances, personalities, and myriad influences upon all forces and beings involved. If even one tiny aspect of those conditions were to change, the “choices” and precise course of events would also change. That is why we cannot throw or hit a baseball, hit a golf ball, or throw a bowling ball in precisely the same way for the exact same results each and every time we do these things – because the precise circumstances – how we feel physically, the ever-changing environmental conditions around us, our ever-changing mental state, and numerous other unknown influences, all combine to make each precise moment completely new and different from the next. This is the essence of what makes sports so exciting and intriguing. The inherent mysteriousness of life is the result of our inability to see and therefore control all of the precise and myriad influences involved in a given situation, which is why life is in so many ways truly unpredictable and mysterious. It is why nobody can truly know the winning Lottery numbers, or whether or not 13 black will come up next on the Roulette wheel, and why if one happens to be correct, it is always the result of an extremely improbable lucky guess. That is why casinos have their opulent decor and continue expanding their gaming rooms – because they are the ones who almost always win and therefore have the money, not those who patronize them. The mystery of how things will ultimately unfold is what gives life and the microcosm of sports and gambling their ever-intriguing fascination. If we could see all of the myriad influences of a given circumstance leading to an outcome, nothing would perplex us, and we would be able to perfectly predict everything that happens. Casinos would be out of business, and nobody would be working for a living if everyone could choose the winning Lottery numbers. The fact none of this happens proves the fact we cannot perfectly predict what will actually happen, since the variables of life are far too numerous and complex to enable us to perceive, and therefore control the exact outcome of any given event, from the roll of the dice to what will happen to us tomorrow.
One of the other reasons we believe we have “free will” in the first place, in addition to our identification as a self, an ego, is due to our ability as rational and intelligent creatures to perceive options – or different possible paths we could potentially take when a given decision has to be made. That is essentially the reason why we believe we have “freedom of choice” in what we do. We mistake the perception of possible “options” as having “freedom of choice,” but they are not one and the same thing. The reality is while our minds perceive we have options, we never really have “freedom” in what we actually choose, because again – the precise conditions which lead to a particular choice being “made,” could not lead to any different “decision” that actually is made; because “your decisions” and “choices,” are in reality just another inevitable action in an infinite chain of mechanical causality, not authored by a “personal” conscious “will,” but by impersonal prior causes, many of which are unknowable. So the whole argument of, “If I had to do it over again” is meaningless because “you” did exactly the only thing you could have done under the precise myriad circumstances of the event you are contemplating. Only if conditions were different, could anything – including your choices – have been different, but since the conditions were not different, then nothing – including your choices, could have been any other way than it was. That is why things can sometimes feel “inevitable” to us, as if there is no other way things could be. What we are perceiving is the truth, because things in fact couldn’t be any other way then the way they are. However, while we often tend to think of this phenomena in terms of “God” or some other “supernatural” or “paranormal” forces at work in orchestrating the events of our lives, what we are actually experiencing is the realization of the inevitability of events in our lives due to determinism – not some “supernatural forces,” whether benevolent or malevolent at work in our lives, as we will soon explore in more depth. The whole argument of, “if only I were them” is as equally meaningless as the “if I had to do it over again” argument, because if you were them, atom for atom, then you would obviously be them, and would therefore have their mind and circumstances instead of yours, and would therefore make the exact same choices and decisions they made, and for the exact same reasons. That is why self-righteousness is delusional. We cannot take credit in believing we would have made “better” choices than someone else if we were in their shoes, because the fact of the matter is, if we were them, given their exact circumstances, then we could not have made any different choices than they made.
By believing in “free will” – believing our conscious selves “choose” what we choose, what we are really saying is that our thought processes, including “our” choices, are the “source” of this activity, and not simply the result of previous and ultimately unknowable subconscious influences. It is to believe our conscious selves and “their” thoughts and choices are somehow “exempt” from or “beyond” the stream of cause and effect, that they are somehow “exempt” from and “beyond” the laws of physics. Not only is such an assumption arrogant, with no basis in scientific fact, but it also brings up a point I have made several times before – the problem with the use of double-standards and dualistic beliefs to justify a position. While these are clever tools many theologians and apologists use to try to work around the logical problems of their beliefs, the use of contradictions, double-standards, and the belief in dualism solves nothing, because contradictions and double-standards are always false, as we have discovered before. Regardless of what we think or what we believe, that fact is, we cannot ever know for sure what we will actually do, say, think, or choose from one moment to the next. Because of this fact, how then can we honestly say we are the “author” of our own thoughts? If we truly were the author of our own thoughts, then our next thought would not be such a mystery to us. While it is commonly understood and most of us will agree on the fact all actions are preceded by thoughts, what is not always understood is the fact that thoughts themselves can also only be preceded by something before them – by past and ultimately unconscious influences. Therefore, we cannot be the true author of “our” thoughts and actions, and are therefore not “responsible” for anything because there exists no permanent “thing” – no “self” to be “responsible” for anything. There is ultimately no knowable “purpose” or “reason” for why certain things in particular choicelessly and inevitably arise in our awareness as opposed to something else at a given particular time. The fact we cannot account for this further demonstrates our lack of true ownership of our thoughts. We are all inevitable products of our past – our genetics, our biology, and myriad influences we have no awareness of, yet as we learned previously, our conscious selves – our egos, attempt to take “credit” and assign “blame” for these very things it cannot know are producing its illusory construction as well as the actions, choices, and products we attribute to the ego.
The bottom line is our choices and thoughts are not free. They cannot be free since they always originate from prior causes we cannot be fully conscious of and therefore have no control over. On one level, this realization can be extremely liberating to understand that emotions like regret and shame are irrational and unnecessary, even if they are understandable from our limited ego-only based perspective of reality. At the same time, this realization can also be extremely disturbing to us because we believe our egos can change the course of events by “our” actions. Our actions certainly do have an effect on the world without a doubt, and we can learn from past experiences as we see time and again throughout our lives, but those actions and choices are ultimately the inevitable results of myriad influences and causes, most of which we are unaware of, and are therefore not ultimately authored by “us” – by our conscious selves. The real issue is not whether or not actions and choices affect outcomes. They obviously do. Our actions and choices do matter. The issue is one of ownership – of believing “we”- our conscious selves are the “author” of “our” choices and actions, when they are not. These facts make a mockery of the fall of humanity story in the Biblical book of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden by God, and humanity is made to suffer because they “chose” to “disobey” God of their own “free will.” The fact of determinism means that if they did disobey God, and God was the sole creator of all things, as Christian theology claims – including Adam and Eve’s mind and circumstances, then it was God who was ultimately responsible for their choices and actions – not Adam and Eve. This would therefore make God’s punishment of Adam and Eve, along with the rest of humanity for doing what he created them to do in the first place, totally unjust, absurd and ridiculous. Indeed, the illusion of “free will,” and the truth of determinism takes the entire fall of humanity story, the notion of “moral responsibility,” and the blame game of Adam and Eve off the table.
One could say things are not determined, which apparently opens the door to the possibility of “free will,” but that cannot be true given the fact we know from sound reasoning as well as the laws of physics, that everything within our perception of relativity has a cause or must have a cause, whether we are ultimately aware of the precise “cause” or not. Even theologians agree on this, with the caveat that God “does not” have a cause – a contradiction and therefore falsehood I have examined in the past, and have already addressed previously in this writing. One could say that “quantum uncertainty” and “chaos theory,” along with “quantum fluctuations” and other random phenomena, are examples of things not being entirely “determined” within the laws of physics, but even if “quantum fluctuations” at the level of the brain were proven to happen, or any other “random” event, this would not result in truly “free will” as it is commonly defined. If anything this randomness would only reveal yet more elements of determinism – that “quantum fluctuations” at the level of the brain, along with other “random” events “caused” our choices and actions instead of our conscious selves. For if our thoughts truly were “random,” then they would not be “our’s” to begin with since true “randomness” is by nature, never a choice. “Random” thoughts would also be incoherent, since the very process of coherent thought requires context – that it exist within a logical sequence of cause and effect to be understood. Randomness involves things being outside of any apparent context or “cause,” and disconnected from any apparent logical relationship, yet coherent thought requires thoughts exist within an intelligible pattern and logical sequence of cause and effect, which by definition cannot be random.
There are those who try to find additional apparent “loopholes” around the fact of determinism by positing such things like the idea we have “immortal souls” which exist “outside” the realm of the natural, causal, material world, which allow us some supernatural “freedom of choice,” while at the same time manages as a “spiritual” and “non-material” substance or agent to somehow “act” on and “affect” the natural, causal, material world through our material bodies nevertheless – a contradiction and therefore falsehood in itself as we discovered previously. For if “the spiritual” is not of the causal, material world, then it can necessarily have no effect on the causal, material world either – a major problem for all dualists and spiritualists who posit the contradictory belief in the supernatural “power of God” and our non-material, spiritual “souls” at work in our physical world. As just stated previously, for thoughts to not be random and therefore meaningless, they must therefore follow an intelligible pattern and logical sequence. If thoughts do fall within an intelligible pattern and logical sequence, they therefore can only exist within the realm of the material world of cause and effect, because intelligible patterns depend on a logical sequence of cause and effect to even be intelligible in the first place. Our mind and their thoughts therefore cannot exist within the “non-material” and “spiritual world” not subject to the phenomenon of cause and effect. The spiritualist cannot have it both ways. Either our thoughts exist outside the material world of cause-and-effect, and are therefore meaningless, or they exist within the material world of cause-and-effect, and are therefore not spiritual. This is yet one more reason why our minds and their thoughts must be material, and not “spiritual.” Since our thoughts must be of the natural, causal, material world, they therefore cannot be free, since they must therefore be the result of prior causes. Even if we ignore all of these problems and still posit we have non-material, immortal souls, which can somehow, someway interact with the material world, this would still not resolve the problem of determinism, because then our soul, for which we have no control of its makeup, instead of our brain, for which we also have no control of its makeup, would therefore be “responsible” for our actions and choices instead of our conscious selves. Whether we are talking about our brains or our “souls,” the bottom line is, “quantum uncertainty” and any other “uncertain” and “random” theories and postulations for the soul only hurt the case for free will – they do not help it because no matter what the “cause,” in the final analysis, it is never our conscious selves, our egos which author our thoughts, choices, and actions in the first place, but rather causes before them we therefore cannot be conscious of, and therefore have no control over. The ultimate point to be understood is the fact there is simply no escape from the fact of determinism within relativity, no matter how cleverly we try to work around it to satisfy our emotional preferences of what we want reality to be. “Spiritual realms,” “randomness,” and all other imaginary constructions of any kind does nothing whatsoever to “solve” the “problem” of determinism. The bottom line is, if thoughts are not caused, then they are random and therefore meaningless, and there is no free will; if thoughts are caused then again there is no free will. It’s really as simple as that.
The words fatalism and determinism are often used interchangeably, but they are not one and the same thing. Fatalism is the belief some supernatural agencies like God, gods, or benevolent and malevolent “forces” or “beings” – egos, are ultimately “responsible” for what happens in our lives, as stated previously. Fatalism is the idea all things are “predestined” or “preordained” by God, and that our “choices” therefore ultimately do not matter since everything is already predestined. Calvinism is essentially fatalism, although apologists for Calvinism tend to deny this in an attempt to make their position more palatable by saying we still somehow have “freedom of choice” that “matters,” while saying at the same time that God in his omniscience “knows” what choices we will make of our own “free will.” The reason for this belief is to put the onus on us for where we will ultimately “end up,” and to somehow exonerate God from being a cruel sadist for predestining some people to Hell. It places all of the blame and responsibility on us and none on God, and appears to be a convenient “solution” to maintaining God’s “perfect” and “sinless” status. However, the problem with this position is it is contradictory, and must therefore be false, because since Calvinistic theology, as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, proclaims that God “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” then God must also be the author of even evil things, as well as our choices, thereby negating the idea God is “without sin,” and that we have “free will” to not sin. There cannot be an “exception to the rule” – a convenient double-standard that God ordains “whatsoever comes to pass” except for that which is evil and “our choices,” because that which is evil and “our choices” are simply another part of whatsoever comes to pass. Double-standards cannot change the definition of “whatsoever comes to pass.” Either God is responsible for whatsoever comes to pass, as Calvinistic theology claims, or God is not responsible for whatsoever comes to pass, but we cannot have it both ways. If God truly does “freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” then it is he who is by definition responsible for whatsoever comes to pass – including all evil, sin, and our choices. Even scripture itself incredibly supports this view, as found in Isaiah 45:7.
“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I the LORD, do all these things.”
The problem is, under this belief, nobody “deserves” Heaven or Hell because it is God who is ultimately responsible for whatsoever comes to pass – not us. That is why under Calvinistic theology, Heaven and Hell make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Yet even within non-Calvinistic, Protestant and Catholic Christian theology in general, it is believed we still have “freedom of choice,” but God in his omniscience still “knows” what we will choose anyways – including that which will ultimately send us to Hell. That would therefore make God a cruel sadist for creating people whom he knows will be condemned to Hell. Either way, whether the concepts of predestination and omniscience are both true, or only one of these concepts are true, this does nothing to put God in a favorable light, no matter how hard we try in vain to smooth over and rationalize an omniscient God’s cruel and sadistic actions.
With determinism on the other hand, our choices do matter, even though “our choices” are ultimately not authored by our conscious selves, our egos. Determinism does not require the belief in any “supernatural beings” or “forces,” but simply states that all things of the natural, causal universe obey natural laws; and everything which happens within this system – including our very sense of “self” – our egos, along with all of our thoughts, actions, decisions, and “choices,” occur as the result of an intricate chain of cause and effect, because nothing can ever escape or step “outside” or “beyond” the stream of cause and effect. This is yet one more reason why our sense of “self,” or having an “immortal soul” must be false, since even these conceptions and beliefs can only exist within the stream and context of relativity – of cause and effect, to have any meaning. That is because meaning itself is the context of cause and effect, since “uncaused” or “random” causes can by definition, have no meaning as stated previously. There is no “extra” part of us – no “free will force” that is “beyond” the stream of cause and effect and the laws of physics, which is yet another reason why “free will” is an illusion. Again – double standards are always false like “round squares,” and can therefore never make our desired views of reality to be true. That is why positing some “extra” part of us – some “free will force,” “spiritual realms,” or the “soul” for which different standards apply – that which is somehow “beyond” the laws of physics is false.
Determinism simply states that each action brings its inevitable consequence, and nothing – including our choices, as well as our sense of “morality” and “values,” along with our feelings and actions, fall “outside” of this closed deterministic system. That is why even our “choices,” actions, and values are not “freely chosen” by our conscious selves, but are instead the inevitable product of influences we are ultimately not conscious of. From a deterministic point of view, we are never “victims,” nor truly “blessed” per say, because we are not being “blessed” nor “victimized” by any “being” or some “supernatural intelligent force” working for or against us. Since there are no “supernatural beings and forces,” then we cannot be a victim, nor a “specially blessed” person, because there is no “will,” no “plan” as such, from a “being” or “entity” that is “responsible” for the “fortunes” or “misfortunes” which befall us. In a deterministic world, nothing has inherent value, since the concept of value itself depends on sentient, intelligent creatures that are able to make value judgments of their experience. In the deterministic world of cause and effect, things fall to the ground from the pull of gravity. The fact things fall is not “good” or “bad,” and neither “happy” nor “sad,” but simply the result of gravitational pull. When things “good” or “bad” happen in our lives, it is simply the result of causality. How we judge the “pleasure” or “pain” such events bring to our egos is where we create our value judgments of these things – our very judgments of that which we call “good” and “bad,” relative to our subjective experience. With determinism, things happen as the natural result of action and consequence, and is not anyone’s fault, credit, blame, or praise, since all which happens – including our choices, and even our feelings about them, are the inevitable result of the egoless and therefore impersonal, mechanical laws of physics – the causality of action and consequence, cause and effect. The bottom line is, fatalism is egotism, while determinism is egoless, since no “beings,” no “egos,” are ultimately and truly “responsible” for anything.
The truth of determinism deals a devastating blow to our pride, our egos, and with this, the notion of a “personal God” or “supernatural forces” that care about our place in the universe; because determinism exposes our egos, our sense of “pride,” our sense of “shame,” and the notion of a “personal God” for the illusions they are. Perhaps these are the primary reasons we are so reluctant to let go of the concept of “free will.” We are not willing to give up the concept of self, and to admit the fact our “selves” – our egos, and all of the fictions we construct as a result of them, including our gods and all notions of “the supernatural,” are all ultimately illusions. While our experience of “self” is real, it is still an illusion nevertheless, just the same as a dream is “real,” yet still not reality, as we discovered before. Our inability or unwillingness to accept this fact is the root of our entire struggle with the concept of “free will.”
The notion of “responsibility,” and the “choice” to “own” “our” actions is a manifestation of our identification with “self.” Because we identify with the concept of self, we therefore identify with the concept of “responsibility.” Once we identify with the self – the ego; our sense of responsibility, accountability, and ownership naturally follow suit, as they are one and the same. The bottom line is, once we identify with the illusory ego, which is inevitable, we cannot escape the also illusory notions of responsibility, accountability, and ownership. They are inevitable products of our identification with self, with ego. To identify with ego, and not accept the consequences of our ego identification at the same time – our sense of “responsibility,” is to be essentially narcissistic and delusional, and sometimes psychotic. It is to believe our egos are the “center of the universe,” and “exempt” from the laws of physics when they never are. The belief others will simply justify and rationalize their behavior, even very hurtful behavior, is perhaps the biggest reason why many fear what would happen if the scientific community came out and said we do not have free will. I have no doubt there would be some who might attempt to exonerate themselves and use the illusion of free will as yet another excuse to justify their behavior, just as we can use anything else to justify our behavior. But again, this attempt at implementing double-standards and dualistic concepts to justify our position, and to rationalize that which we find convenient for us personally, whether it is for our egos or our religious beliefs, can never be true, because contradictions and double-standards are always false. That is the reason why having knowledge of the illusion of “free will,” does not excuse us from our very real albeit illusory sense of “responsibility,” since our sense of “responsibility” comes part and parcel with our inevitable identification with our also very real albeit illusory self-concept, our ego, as stated previously. We cannot accept the “good” aspects of being a self, without also accepting the “bad” aspects of being a self at the same time; because within the “game” if you will of ego identification – otherwise known as our everyday, relative lives; unless we are psychotic, narcissistic, or mentally ill, we cannot escape our real sense of accountability and responsibility, even though these concepts are ultimately illusions since the ego itself is an illusion. As stated previously, once we are “in the game” if you will of ego identification, we have to “play by the rules” of the game, or suffer the consequences for not “playing by the rules.”
So what does author our thoughts and actions if not us – our conscious selves, our egos? It is the interplay of consciousness and change themselves – the fundamental principles we discovered earlier which makes all thoughts, actions, and awareness possible. Past influences – most of which we cannot be conscious of, shape our subconscious self and therefore our thoughts, actions, and choices, but this is not the same as saying, “the voice of God made me do it,” or “the voice of Satan made me do it,” because it is not an ego which is “responsible” because there is no ownership since no ego – no “body” truly exists as an unchanging entity or form to be “responsible” for thoughts to begin with. Consciousness and change are egoless since they are not a “being,” or a “me” as we discovered before, but are rather fundamental principles which never begin and never end. It is this beginningless and endless interplay which gives rise to thoughts and then actions within organisms, but there is ultimately never a knowable “why” as to what one thinks, feels, or chooses at any given time, nor is there any ownership because there exists no “me” to “own” anything. Organisms and egos are not one and the same. There is the organism I call “myself,” and then there is the concept of me – the ego, thoughts arising within the brain builds around this organism thought calls “me,” as we discovered before.
The implications of all of these realizations bring with them profound consequences. One could argue that since we are ultimately not “responsible” for our actions since we do not author them, we are therefore justified in anything we say, do, think, or choose, no matter what it may be, as stated previously. But regardless of whether our conscious selves manufacture our thoughts and produce our actions, or if unknowable influences do, there will still always be consequences for our actions – including the consequence of not accepting responsibility, as also stated previously. One of the objections often made about admitting the fact we do not have free will, is the fear that without “free will,” our entire justice system would be rendered absurd and invalid. However, our ideas of “justice” would not necessarily change entirely without belief in free will. While it may not be our fault to have inherited the mind of a psychopath, if we go on a shooting spree as a result of our psychopathic mind, others will most definitely try to stop us, put us in jail, or have us killed. This is how we learn and grow – by acting in the world as a result of decision-making arising from influences we are ultimately not conscious of, gaining feedback and experience from these choices, and then making other choices which implement this newly learned information, again combined with ultimately unconscious influences in response to new challenges and stimuli. Even without belief in free will, we would still lock people away in prison who cannot be reasoned with and are a danger to themselves and to others, if only to ensure our own safety; but what we could let go of without belief in free will is our hatred and blame of others, our desire for retribution and vengeance, and the use of torture. Such things make no sense when one is truly aware that nobody’s conscious self authors their thoughts, choices, and actions in the first place. This realization reveals the fact how genuinely unlucky people are who perpetrate even the most horrendous crimes, and can more readily increase compassion and empathy instead of judgment.
While choices are made because they have to be made since we can never step outside the stream of action and consequence, there is no “self” who authors these choices and actions, but always an infinite stream of unconscious influences. We may believe there are only some conscious “reasons” for “our” decisions and actions, but what we fail to see is the fact these apparently “conscious reasons” are only a tiny portion of an infinite stream of unconscious influences which lead to the precise decision and action taken at any given moment. We do not “choose” what we choose because at any given time, our choices are always ultimately authored by unknowable influences and are therefore always mysterious. However, the illusory ego experiences the ultimate consequences of these choices, which does not seem fair. In our practical every-day reality, the buck stops with us even though it never “began” with “us.” Perhaps that is the biggest reason of all why the illusion of free will is so repugnant to so many of us. It is simply not fair to our minds we would reap the consequences of choices we have no conscious control over making – whether we deem these consequences “good” or “bad.” But that is the price we pay for our inevitable identification with the self-concept – the ego. As long as we identify with our egos – and this is again, something we cannot stop doing on a practical everyday level, we will then have to deal with the “good” and “bad” consequences of this ego identification, as we discovered before. Life is not fair when perceiving only the part – the forms, the ego. It cannot be fair since when looking at the illusion of free will by seeing only the part – the ego; we do not sow, and only reap, which makes the illusion of free will very uncomfortable for so many of us. But when seeing the whole – being conscious of the effects of the underlying principles of Oneness – stasis and change, and not just the part – all is in perfect balance. Each action brings its natural and inevitable consequence. That is why true peace can only be found when seeing the whole, and why there is no true peace when seeing only the part. When the ego is aware only of the part, it is constantly frustrated in its useless games of praise and blame, along with its futile attempts to be the center of the universe when it never is. Another reason the illusion of free will is so repugnant to so many of us is because we do not want to admit the fact we have no conscious “control” of our lives as we like to believe we do within our ego-only based notions of reality.
While this realization can make us very uncomfortable, and some may claim our lack of free will “dehumanizes” people, it can actually be an opportunity to have the exact opposite affect – to increase our compassion and understanding of one another in the realization of our common humanity, as well as our common bond with all living beings and other entities and forces in the universe. By realizing we are not better, and neither more nor less “important” than anyone or anything else, we can let go of our grandiose overvaluation of our egotistical selves, and gain a sobering humility in the realization that we, like everything else in the universe, are simply nothing more nor less than a part of a larger whole. While it is true that in a deterministic universe, all within it, including ourselves, does operate as a kind of “machine” if you will that obey the impersonal, mechanical, natural laws of cause and effect, which does not resonate with our subjective experience of feeling like something “more” than that; it is not necessarily “dehumanizing” or “demoralizing” to realize that even our most “human” experiences of emotion, artistic expression, and other such “higher” pursuits, are no more nor less the product of prior causes than anything else. There is a poetic irony to the fact that such “personal” experiences in our lives are the result of “impersonal” prior causes. Nevertheless, such a realization of the deterministic nature of all things does nothing to remove the profound mystery of life, the fact we cannot know exactly what the future will hold, and the enchanting effect of our loftiest and most beautiful achievements since we can never fully understand why things affect us as they do, moment to moment, and more fundamentally, we can never know the why of existence in the first place. In other words, our intellectual knowledge of the illusion of free will does not necessarily have to negatively alter the things in life we most cherish and care about. In fact, the exact opposite can be true. The realization of the illusion of free will can also help us let go of our attachment to our desire to “control,” and decrease our judgment of ourselves as well as others. Ironically, the concept of “free will” does not promote freedom, but rather enslavement to the games of blame and praise, defense, and rescue. If we truly understood that nobody is ultimately ”responsible” for their actions, but are honestly doing the only thing they can do within the myriad circumstances and influences acting upon and within them, perhaps then we would not be so quick to judge ourselves and others and be so lacking in compassion. Perhaps we would not so easily play the blame game. Indeed, it is only when we finally get off the merry-go-round of pride and shame when the blame game can finally come to an end, because then there is no longer anything to justify once it is understood the “me,” the ego, and with it, “free will,” are all illusions to begin with.
While we often understand we do not choose many of our life circumstances, such as when and where we were born, why do we think our thoughts and choices are somehow “different” from any other choiceless circumstance in our lives? It is because we believe we are “in control” of our thoughts and choices when we are not. We do not “choose” our choices. We do not “think” our thoughts. And while our overwhelming subjective experience of living tells us our conscious selves do author our choices and thoughts, the truth is, we are no more in control of our thoughts, choices, and actions than we are in control of who are parents are. The false double-standard of believing “our” decisions and actions are somehow “different” than natural action and consequence – that they are somehow not subject to the laws of physics – is key to understanding the illusion of free will. Perhaps most of us need to believe in free will just the same as we need to believe in the self and of a loving God who made us in order to give “meaning” and “purpose” to our lives. However, the nice part about realizing we are not the author of our lives, but rather witnesses to what happens through us, is the obstacles of pride and shame, blame and regret completely disappear. There is no one to blame, and no one to thank or give “credit” to, because nobody – not God, you, me, or anyone else, is ultimately and truly responsible for anything.
This obviously has enormous implications for our notions of “justice,” fairness, and our religious beliefs. For if we are truly not “responsible” for “our” actions, then nobody really deserves “Heaven” or “Hell.” Nobody deserves anything, because nobody chooses anything – including the choice of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. How can we be “rewarded” or “punished” when we do not author our choices and actions to begin with? That is why free will is absolutely essential to Christian theology. If there is no free will, then there is no “moral responsibility,” no blame and no praise – no basis for damnation or salvation. Obviously once the inseparable concepts of ego and free will are exposed for the illusions they are, the foundation of Christian and all ego-based theologies – the concepts of the “soul” and a “personal God,” which are synonymous with the concept of ego, is therefore destroyed. The illusion of free will also has enormous implications with regards to how we treat criminals. It can help us reconsider retribution, torture, and other hate-induced behaviors, which are blatantly exposed as delusional-based, unhelpful actions when it is understood we cannot “blame” anyone for anything. It can also help us reconsider the ways we can most productively ensure a safe society and lifestyle for ourselves and others by rehabilitating and/or containing people who repeatedly perform harmful actions, rather than exacting revenge upon them, or killing them. One more profound and disturbing implication of the illusion of free will, is in realizing there is in essence no difference between a hurricane killing millions of people, and the Nazis murdering millions in concentration camps. The reason there is no fundamental difference is because both weather patterns and human behavior are at bottom the result of prior causes of an infinite regress, in which there can therefore be no ultimate responsibility – at any point, as stated previously. While this is certainly not the way we think about human behavior, and is something I personally find extremely uncomfortable and repugnant, the objective reality of determinism reveals the cold hard fact that even human behavior – “good” as well as “bad,” is just as equally predetermined and inevitable as weather patterns.
All of that being said, contrary to the many common fears of what it would mean to learn that free will is an illusion, such as the idea of “dehumanizing” us, truly understanding the illusion of free will can actually make us more compassionate, empathetic, and understanding, as stated previously. It can help us realize we have no legitimate basis for our judgments of ourselves and others as labeled “good” and “bad” – judgments based on the false assumption that people could be something other than what they are, or do something other than what they do. On a purely “human” level, this can be extraordinarily difficult for us to accept, but on a purely scientific level, the evidence all points to the fact our conscious selves are not the true “author” of our thoughts, choices, decisions, and actions. Since nobody chooses nor authors their mind and their character, with their corresponding thoughts, actions, decisions, and choices in the first place, then any and all value judgments we make on people’s character, based on the false assumption they are responsible for that character, are delusional and cannot truthfully be made, since nobody is truly responsible for who they are and what they do – “good” or “bad.” This is not the same as discernment of that which is helpful or not helpful for the well-being of ourselves and others. Some may call this “judgment,” and in a sense it is an evaluation of the facts, but that is not at all the same thing as labeling a person “good” or “bad” because we believe they are in a position to make decisions other than the ones they make, or have a character other than the one they have, which is simply not true. In the final analysis, nobody has a choice or is responsible for any of our life’s circumstances, from who we are to what we “choose.” We truly do the only thing we can do in any given situation and set of myriad circumstances, regardless of what we believe.
The bottom line is, whether or not free will actually exists is ultimately not even the point because by believing free will exists, we can all too easily enslave ourselves to egotism, blame, defense, and rescue – all of which comprise nothing more than a game. Nevertheless, it is still necessary we hold ourselves and others accountable and maintain healthy boundaries given the circumstances of our lives as individuals in our relative world, as stated previously. This does not mean we let go of our intellectual understanding and our heart of compassion we can have in the awareness of the illusion of free will, even while paradoxically holding ourselves and others accountable. Despite the benefits of understanding the illusion of free will, most people still do not and will not ever accept this, and will continue to believe in free will despite the strong evidence and sound logic which contradicts this belief. We identify with this illusion and hold on to it tenaciously out of fear of realizing our egos and with them, free will – are both ultimately illusions. The principle of stasis manifests itself in our survival instinct to preserve our forms as well as our self-concepts – our egos, which makes detaching from our ego-only awareness an extremely disturbing prospect. That is why we must see not only the part – ego, but also the whole – to witness as the Observer – to see both ego and the effects of the two principles of Oneness – stasis and change, in order to see the ego and “free will” for the illusions they are.