Free Will

The Path

LEASBURG DAM SP, NM—Reader Lee sent the following email concerning free will:

For some time now (aprox 2 years) I’ve been grappling with the idea of free will. I can’t seem to arrive at a conclusion. The advaita point of view seems to hold that there is no such thing ~ and then just places emphasis on Consciousness. I can’t poke a hole through their logic (eg., Ramesh Balsekar). On the other hand, when ‘I’ arrive at a fork in the road, I can listen to my inner Self (using my spiritual equipment – my sense of truth, what I care about, my intuition) and make the choice to follow through or not. Or, I can make no effort to plumb the depths, the within, at all. If I choose to be or do something, it doesn’t feel mechanical. (Of course, if I’m experiencing a reactionary state it always feels mechanical.) Moreover, most spiritual masters that I’m aware of posit that there is a free will.

I seem to be able to accommodate both sides of the argument ~ even though they seem mutually exclusive. That is I find both credible.

Could you shed some light on this question. It would be greatly appreciated.

Years ago, I used to have a roommate, Greg Timmerman. Timmerman—much like myself at the time—was a very rational, thought-centric person and yet we had two very different methods for filling the ice cube trays.

I would fill them the conventional way, by running the water and moving the tray back and forth under the stream. Timmerman though, would hold the tray at an angle and allow the water to fill the upper slots and cascade down to fill the lower slots. His method was more rational and more efficient because it wasted no water or physical effort.

While he was watching me fill a tray one day, he said, “You know, Wirs, my way is faster.”

To which I replied, “Yes, Timmerman, but my way feels faster.”

What does this have to do with free will? Perception has value. Indeed, no matter what the mind says, perception almost always outweighs rationality.

Another simple example: Practically all theoretical nondualists will tell you that the world is an illusion. That the separation that we see and feel is simply a mental game, that Emptiness is the true Reality and all else is fiction.

Now imagine taking a hammer and slamming it down on one of these guys’ fingers. In their theoretical world, the pain they feel is also just an illusion and thus there would be no reason to react to it.

Will that actually happen though? Will they stand there with a blissful smile and say in a benevolent tone, “The pain I’m experiencing is just an illusion.”

Hmm, I seriously doubt it. Their perception will outweigh their thoughts and theories and—irregardless of what their mind says—they will scream and cry like a little girl, just like you or I would. Why? Because thoughts and theories and philosophies are not Reality. Perception is.

Perception has value. Perception is Reality.

To answer your question Lee: It doesn’t matter what your mind has to say about free will (nor mine, nor anyone else’s). If you perceive free will, then you have free will.

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8 thoughts on “Free Will

  1. Free will may well be an illusion created by an infinite fracturing of reality, once for each time a new decision point is encountered. We may have no choice because all choices always are realized in one reality or another.

    Of course, because we have no knowledge of the other realities, the choice we make — the reality we happen to experience — seems like our own.

    What is reality if not an illusion, a trick? How else could it possibly be done?

  2. From a purely logical point of view, once you view the universe as “one big thing”, either as a system of infinite relationships or as a singular hologram of consciousness, free will is moot. In the words of psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin, the father of the focusing, says, everything effects everything. Consciousness does not imply free will, specially since we know that neural reactivity is always a few milliseconds behind reality. Schopenhauer said that even though we have the apparent freedom to do what we want, we do not have the freedom to control what we want, in other words, we do not control our antecedent internal state.

  3. Thanks guys for your commentary. I’m still assimilating ~ so still a bit jumbled. If the luster of a perception is what makes something ‘real’ then is the earth really flat? Is the decision-making process that I experience – perceive – going on within me real ~ even though science has proven that a choice has been arrived at previous to its emergence into surface consciousness. And if this is so, don’t I need to align with this ‘truth’ and won’t that change how I see (perceive) things? I mean, don’t beliefs color one’s perceptions?

    It seems like my only ‘real’ choice is to muddle along and seek that level where this question is moot.

  4. You can choose what you want to eat but you cannot choose having to eat unless you wish your body to die. I think the survival thing gives us no choice at all. We want to survive so we have to do the things that let us survive. The problems lie in the overdoing of survival. I mean how many billions does one need in a bank? Or why hunt for food when there are plenty of restaurants? There is no need for predation in any form but it is still done in huge ways. As Louie CK says, Just how much do we have to dominate all species on Earth?

  5. I think that if the physical/human/Earth life is evolutionary, then free will must exist, or else there would be no point to the evolutionary process, or to residing in an evolutionary domain. In other words, if it wasn’t for free will, you would be in some other realm where you’re “done” already. If there was no ‘person’ with the potential to evolve, there would be no choices to make.

    At the same time, free will is likely limited to a range of choices set by one’s level of consciousness. Within that range, we have the basic choice of resistance (contracting the range) or acceptance (expanding the range). The will is free because we also have the potential, though improbable, choice of letting go of the entire ego (as we know it) at once.

    (Sometimes, my feed reader seems to randomly bring me back to articles I’ve read already, hence the delayed response.)

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