There is no free will.
But we live under the illusion
that we have free will.
However, there is a possibility of exercising free will. Many readers will balk at these pronouncements because they have never questioned the assumptions that proclaim that will is free.
The purpose of this article is three-fold:
- How is it that there is no free will?
- How do we come to believe that we have free will?
- A possible way out of entrapped will.
The Current Understanding of Free Will
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines free will:
: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention
The definition above seems true and it leaves out basic and invisible assumptions we all make about ourselves. These assumptions mask universal truths about human nature and create illusions that we are acting from a place of free will. Once we begin to understand that free will is bound by illusions we can work to move beyond these fantasies to a place where acts of free will can be created. It’s not easy to embark on a path to create an act of will, free of the past.
The Blocks that Prevent the Exercise of Free Will
There are two invisible illusions that are pernicious examples that block the exercise of free will, one is historical and the second is habitual. These responses stem from non-original thought for the most part.
I rebelled against their belief
Our familial heritage in which beliefs are formed over generations is a major block to free will. Belief belongs to a set of assumptions based on mental representations where likelihoods are perceived to be true. Our parents teach us their beliefs. They teach in conscious and unconscious ways. Embedded within parental or familial beliefs are behaviors of a parent in arrays of pre-determined thought and action. Even when we notice a rebellious behavior father against his father’s belief – that rebelliousness is a kind of slavery. Taking up an opposite belief (as a rebellion) is a reaction to a belief and is not free. Our for-bearers learned beliefs and behaviors under the wing of their parents and their grandparents to the beginnings of civilization.
Habits of mind are only one kind of habit.
There are other kinds of beliefs that may blend with mentally formed beliefs. It may be that all beliefs are imbued with emotion fixing each belief. In-turn mental-emotional beliefs are held in our bodies or brains and as such become part of the physical of somatic systems of our being. It is this complex configuration of belief that is transmitted generationally.
Other adopted beliefs may come from peers who in-turn have learned conscious and unconscious beliefs from their parents and so on…
Even more insidious than the heritage of belief are habits. A habit – Merriam-Webster dictionary defines – “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary”. Habits become increasing useful as a shorthand to operating in complex modern, social and technological environments. It could be quite easily argued that the learned habit of driving a car with a manual transmission (gearbox) would be cumbersome and unsafe if we had to think of each step to execute the behaviors. A habit of blurting-out an opinion besides being impulsive could be evidence of falling victim to a kind of slavery thus eradicating free will. Habits of mind are only one kind of habit. Somatic memory where all habits are recorded at least partially whether they are deemed good or bad is a repository for habits created in the mind, by emotions and/or in bodily actions.
Beliefs are both consciousness and unconscious.
The phrase “being on automatic” relates to following a particular habit automatically. Simple examples of this is missing an exit on the freeway due to distracted thinking and/or spacing out (mild dissociative thinking).
When beliefs and habits interact then a few processes may be occurring simultaneously. Responding by rote may be occurring or in the modern vernacular – reacting from a place of “sleep”. When rote or “sleep” responses occur, there is rarely any reflection on our behaviors. We may become locked into a personal dogma or orthodoxy that is specific to our habitual response derived from belief.
Beliefs are both consciousness and unconscious. Unconscious beliefs may run through a variety of filters that may include and are not necessarily limited to: bias, prejudice, bigotry, racism, sexism; and while not a complete list, these may also be unconscious. When conscious and unconscious beliefs meet habitual responses especially if little or no reflection or contemplation is involved then free choice gets buried under more prior causes.
In our current stage of evolution there is no original thought
Prior causes of beliefs and habits learned and adopted make it easier to dismiss them while focusing on smaller contexts of our lives. We don’t see the prior causes of beliefs and habits because we choose to believe we have free choice and free will without any self-examination.
Patterns of Thought
All human thought is associative in its pattern. A thought is associated with another in a string of binary thoughts. The more complex ordering of thought such as deductive and inductive logic arise from binary associative thought. Binary associative thinking can be parsed into many subsets of complex patterned thought. Thought like written language is also linear following a logic of beginning, middle and end.
it’s very easy get distracted by the flow of tangential and or distracting thoughts
In our current stage of evolution there is no original thought for the most part. This is not to say that the recycled patterns of thought are not creative. They are creative but within the constrictive patterns of non-original thought in an associative binary stream in a linear space-time reality. According to the ancient Bhagavad Gita 200 BCE in the cyclical history of epochs or Yugas current human thought is mostly recycled thinking.
Ideas such as Jung’s Collective Unconscious as well as an electromagnetic depository of all recycled thinking (Collective Consciousness) is often easily accessible by artists, writers and the like. Binary associative thought within the collective consciousness of non-original thought is always available to us from our stream of consciousness. In the stream of consciousness thought may be verbal, pictorial or emotional with combinations thereof. We tap into our own stream which may be running continuously. However, when we tap into the stream it’s very easy get distracted by the flow of tangential and or distracting thoughts. Many people get caught in their stream of consciousness when we close our eyes at night and our attention may be diverted into the stream and this may keep us awake.
At the very core of our existence, inside each of us is what Buddhist philosophy and other spiritual traditions describe as the true self or essence.
Within our essence is our true self, happiness and enlightenment. Quieting the mind and working on detaching from the constant stream of consciousness produced by a fragmented ego allows original thought to emerge. Quieting the mind also allows us to detach from both our own stream and the collective stream of consciousness.
Modern peoples have forgotten or ignored the inner world of happiness in favor of the pull of the external world. Ego, society and the tech of language paints the illusory world of linear time of past present and future and the erroneous belief that happiness is out there.
Living under the Illusion of Free Will
This simple answer to the question of why we believe we have free will – because we have been told. We have been schooled that free will exists. The cultural meta-rules continually imply that we have free will and that it is a right. Free Will is therefore an assumption that is rarely questioned and so it stands.
Could be argued that if free will does not exist then “is everything pre-determined?” I don’t ascribe to an either /or oppositional philosophy of will or choice. The lack of free will does not necessarily mean a pervasive predetermination exists. There are other possibilities. Language and thought loves to project meaning onto everything – a desire for order and safety? perhaps. There are other possibilities about the nature of the world without the existence of free will.
It’s much more likely that human culture bumbles along in a mechanistic manner in a world of hazard and accident. As frightening as this might be the illusion that we have free will protects us from this possibility.
Individuals that have attained a modicum of Mastery could access free will for a creative act based on nothing (no previous influences). Masters or realized elders may have prevented human civilization from destroying itself. This can be supposed and requires a leap beyond current recycled thought in modern science.
A way out or Moving towards Mastery and Free Will
The path towards creating an act of will free from all past influences is impossible for most everyone due to fragmented egos. Everyone has a fragmented ego in part having to do with contradictory actions and beliefs that we hide from ourselves. Ego is a manager of daily events and yet assumes control over everything – this is illusion. Moving out of the illusions of ego (without destroying ego) towards Mastery is a challenging aim. This is an extremely difficult path which requires constant work. Ninety-nine percent of the human population are incapable of this kind of rigorous work despite a temporary desire to pursue such work.
The traditional path of this work is seeking a teacher. In the 20th century seeking a teacher may have faded from favor and have been replaced by schools or “mystery schools” that may have a cultish quality. Some now have mistakenly perceived that “a book spoke to me” and believe is enough to begin the work towards mastery (this is the hanky-panky of ego at play).
In the Bhagavad Gita the Yugas are explored. While there is some disagreement about the mathematical calculations of the length of each Yuga it’s clear that humans at this stage of evolutionary development are not on a path of mastery.
The largest body of “evidence” is both the lack of original thought and humans’ irresponsible actions regarding thought itself.
First, thought and emotion cannot be separated. Most human thought is recycled from a collective consciousness that is streamed collectively and individually. When a human in a higher vibrational environment (such as a less violent nation) recycles a negative thought where fear / anger and acting out ideas associated with these negative thoughts – that are not acted upon – these thoughts go to a chaotic environment where they are acted upon.
For example: a man driving in traffic is thoughtlessly cut off by another man in traffic. A fearful / angry response – reaction occurs. Swearing may ensue. Then the emotion / desire for revenge / justice fades. Under the rubric of collective consciousness that thought is recycled somewhere in the world where a chaotic lower vibrational realm flourishes – such as a “war zone”. A person in is lower vibrational world acts out this recycled thought.
Since humans in the particular Yuga we find ourselves in are not even aware that they are participating in collective recycled thinking. In effect we as humans are not-responsible for something in which we are unaware. In short, we are not evolved enough to realize that we participate in recycled thinking. This is part of the illusion of free will.
The proliferation of internet platforms such as social media have accelerated the effects of recycled thought to action. Fear of change has become exacerbated world-wide by the Internet’s viral messages and videos spreading through panic, terrors and rage. Hate is spread and is fomented into violence as in the recent murders / terrorism in New Zealand (March 2019).
By practicing care in our thought-patterns we can begin to rise out of recycled though towards a path of free will. One way of practicing care in our though patterns is noticing our angry / rage as it arises in us. We can then tell ourselves that we are angry because we have been afraid. We can soothe the fear / anger in ourselves perhaps changing the loose-end of thought – thus preventing it and our accompanying emotion from manifesting in a lower vibration environment such as a war zone.