The Painful Experience of Free Will

The Painful Experience of Free Will

After Stephen wrote his blog The birth of self, I felt compelled to add my 2 cents worth to the topic. It is quite a hard one to understand, yet very interesting and we have discussed it many times over the years.

Does Free Will really exist?

Philosophers have been debating the concept of free will for centuries.

The main question is, do we have free will? This may sound ridiculous, but let’s use the simple example of you deciding to drink a cup of coffee. Are you really making a choice here, or is it just your body needing a caffeine lift or perhaps your psyche needing some ‘time out’ from what you are doing. The fact that you have already ‘decided’ on an unconscious level, before you make the conscious decision, has been scientifically proven.

You can apply this to almost everything that you do. Your partner and you want to go out tonight and now you are discussion where to go. Movies? Dinner? Club? Artshow? Is this really a choice? You feel like it, you want to, you would like to ‘ are any of these really conscious choices, or are you just following a predetermined outcome welling up from your body or subconscious or such.

Free Will in action

But there are REAL choices that we face. BallyHoo brought out a song in the 70’s that captures this very well. Man on the moon, is the dilemma of a man who is in love with 2 women. He says that if he is with one, he thinks about the other. And this is an example of a real situation where free choice is required. Which one will he choose?

We all face these types of decisions at some point in our lives. The problem with these decisions is that the 2 options weigh the same. If you imagine a scale, with weights on it, the 2 choices are completely balanced. To you it may seem that one is better than the other, but yet you cannot make the decision. That is because unconscious weight is attached to it. There are unconscious issues that are weighing it down.

Of course what do you do? You are faced with this dilemma; you have no idea what to do. Most of us start hoping that the choice will be made for us. In Man on the moon, he is asking the man in the moon to tell him what to do. We start praying, hoping that God will send us a sign. Or we just hang in limbo until something happens which forces the choice. We discuss the dilemma with everyone we meet. Or we expect other parties who are involved in this dilemma to choose for us. That is what we do. Centuries of philosophising over the gift of conscious choice, but we don’t want to take it.

The burden of Free Will.

It may sound as if I am judging, but believe me I have ‘made’ many choices based on that approach. But really I think that it is an approach for cowards (again myself included here), because, if the choice is made for you, or God sends a sign that you must take that road, then you don’t have to carry the responsibility or repercussions of your choice! It is easier to hurt others or make a choice which you believe is supported by God/your family/your peers, etc. They (or God) must know better than you what is right for you, right? Yes, perhaps, but this does not take away the fact that you are able to and should make choices based on your free will. From a Christian perspective this is what God gave us after all, Free choice. So is it not your responsibility then to make choices when required? After all, they will be far and few between.

But what if you make that choice and choose A over B. Then forever onwards, you will carry the knowledge that you gave up on a choice B. And that choice might have been the correct one. And if the outcome of your choice turns out to be less than ideal, how will you cope with that. Are you ready to take on this burden?

Makes you wonder if Free Will is a gift after all. Perhaps we are not quite ready for this burden.

What does it mean?

But let’s look at what it means for us to be free and to be able to make conscious choice. Now we are entering deeply philosophical territory so bear with me.

Within all of us live an ‘I’. The one who we call me, myself and I. The ‘I’ is an observer. It observes everything that happens to us and that we experience. It is unfalteringly always the I. You are certainly not the same person now than you were when you were a child or a teenager or a young adult. So who is the ‘I’ that have been so constant and infallible all these years? The ‘I’ one can say is our spirit. And in a sense when you make a Free Choice, it is the ‘I’ that makes that choice. There was a philosopher called Kierkegaard who wrote volumes about this.

The point being, that we all go with the flow, so to speak for most of our lives, just like an animal. We live and breath and work and love. We are anguised and happy. But when do we truly become ‘human’. It is at this point, of making a conscious choice and committing to that choice, that you attain ‘selfhood’.

It is only by making a Free Choice, that the ‘I’ becomes manifest. Observation alone is not enough to attain selfhood. Only when the ‘I’ must make a choice and manifest its will, do you truly embrace your humanity. It is carrying the burden of doubt and standing for something.

I leave you with a quote from Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol) : “I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Until next time

Anja

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Comments (2)

  • Ruel F. Pepa Reply

    In my own opinion, despite all the theorizing done by Pavlovian-Skinnerian behaviorists, freedom is something pragmatically displayed in situations where there is an absence of coercion in one’s act of decision-making or in one’s performance of what s/he decides to do. It is likewise displayed in situations where one resists a hindrance that blocks her/his performance of an act s/he wants to do. A free act is not supposed to be tied up with one’s cultural programming or genetic rootage or social conditioning. I think this view of freedom in the field of Ethics is technically known as “compatibilism”.

    September 18, 2012 at 09:31
  • viec lam them can tho Reply

    Hi there, I read your blogs daily. Your story-telling style is awesome,
    keep doing what you’re doing!

    August 24, 2016 at 19:03

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