Tonight my Wednesday night group kicked around the old concepts of free will but with the added twist of whether our actions were predetermined. We quickly got over the basic issues of genes, the culture we were born into, our summation of learned personal experiences and the unique situation. All of these affect the way we approach a problem and influence our analysis of it but we generally agreed that none of those things fixed us to any predetermined action. We as individual conscious beings feel we have a choice in our behavior, but it has been shown with brain scans that we actually make up our minds before we realize we have done so. I have called this my Zombie self and can easily observe it in action, because for almost every action I can observe my body starting to do some particular thing before I decide to do it. My conscious self is generally about a second behind my Zombie self.
My Zombie self might also be called my habitual self and it reacts automatically with learned responses which it has learned fit particular situations. Because it feels like our thoughts and actions are coming from within our selves, we believe our conscious self is in control. With years of personal observation in my past, thanks to George Gurdjieff for getting me started on that exercise, it is easy to switch my conscious mode to looking at my manifest behavior. Anyone can do it in an instant, but they usually forget to remember themselves, and instead of observing their actions tend to wallow in personal problems. Wallowing in one’s problems isn’t observing one self, but watching one’s self wallowing in problems is, and watching one’s fingers type out words before the idea has formed is also a form of self observation. We do have the ability to lay out alternate plans for our future behavior and when we have several clear choices it does become possible to have a conscious input into the decision. When we just react because it seems like the right thing to do, it isn’t our conscious self acting but our habitual zombie self.
But is any of this free will? It seems that at the root, we live in a world of pure anarchy, but it is a world where it is to each individual’s best interest to behave with courtesy and kindness to their fellow inhabitant of this Earth. We have a natural genetic inclination to learn to treat each other with respect, like we have the natural ability to learn a spoken language. Humans grow up within a culture that cultivates treating others well because when they don’t treat others well they are themselves shunned and can not form deeper and more pleasurable relationships. We come to every new situation and every new person with this accumulation of learned habits and it serves us well, but a question arises as to what degree is our free will limited by all of this historical baggage? Or is it just the opposite; this baggage serves us well in getting through our lives in what we hope is a very pleasant way. From that perspective we don’t want free will because when we manifest unpredictable behaviors people don’t trust us, then they shun us and thus we modify our behavior to avoid free-will-like actions. It is a human need to cultivate friends, but to demonstrate free will often will alienate people and therefore people learn to avoid it like the plague – which it is.
It is human to avoid pain and free will is a source of pain.