From the time we’ve been born, maybe even before that as some transpersonal psychologist would say, we are receiving inputs from the environment. The environment isn’t only the external one, as in outside of our bodies, but internal one as well. It’s because of nature of human beings. We do get the inputs first, but then a lot of things happen. A lot of things CAN happen, that’s what we are going to call indetermination. It’s the spectrum of possible reactions to a situation. In other words, more possible reactions on the given input or inputs, the more indetermined you are.
This indetermination, term coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson, for him coincides with level of consciousness. Let’s imagine a 1 cell organism, its reaction to an input or stimuli is fairly limited and we can predict it very easily, the level of consciousness is therefore very low. We can further and further through organism until we reach us – humans. In every case, we can see that consciousness really coincides with indetermination to us. Now why do we have this high level of indetermination? At least compared to other species and seen in our biased way of looking at the world?
Anything we’ve experienced externally or internally, again the external and internal inputs, is saved and can be used in the future. It doesn’t mean that the exact same memory from the time you’ve just left your mom’s vagina is going to be there, no, instead there’s going to be a pattern. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s look at the basics of our lives. Matter, how do you know what matter is and what air which you can go through is? How can you tell that the wall is a wall and that you are not supposed to walk into it?
You’ve just been born, receiving an insane amount of inputs about the world around you, painting the first picture of it. It’s a process and you, right now are part of that process. The first moments of your life and the whole life after that up until this moment, means that you interpret this reality as you do. Because of those moments when we were young, we know what matter is and that we shouldn’t walk into walls. This is what I meant by that everything is saved and can be used in the future.
As I stated a few times already, I have distinguished between the external and the internal inputs. That’s where the things get really interesting. Not only that everything that came to you externally was shaping you, but also it sparked something inside each and every one of you. What do I mean? Well, there’ve been some processes in your brain/mind or whatever you wanna call it (we can try to distinguish between the two some other time). I am going to be painting the picture of the situation where we are so far, so it’s easier to make sense of what I mean.
There’s an input, let’s say someone says something. The sound waves hit your ear, from your ear it travels to your brain and there, stuff happens. It’s most likely going to get to your consciousness if you are paying attention, but the possible reactions to it are pretty wide! Yes, indetermination, here we go again. You or your brain can do a lot with the information it just received. Actually, there’s a lot happening with it and mostly in your uncounscious mind. You see, we ourselves cannot understand what’s happening in our brain, we just get this output of it which we are aware of and call it consciousness, but that’s just a small fraction of it.
Whatever our brain came up with and presented it to you in your conscious mind (could be unconscious as well) was an internal input. Being complex beings as we are, this internal input doesn’t necessarily mean some executive function, but it could bounce back to our brain, acting same as the external input which caused the internal input in the first place. This just shows you how incredibly complex the whole thing is! There are inputs from the present moment, all the time, mixed with the inputs from the past, patterns from the time you have been born. Everything is affecting your brain deciding how you are going to act or think, further changing your brain at the same time. Everything happening mostly in your unconsciousness. There are real physical changes in your brain caused by whatever you are thinking about right now. Actually, there are physical changes in your brain all the time.
All this might have some interesting implications which I am going to write about later in this text, but now let’s revise it and paint the picture differently, so we can understand or imagine it better.
Imagine that you are reading a book, there are inputs coming to you. As you read, you are consciously aware of the things in the book, but you are reading further. The things which you have been aware of are disappearing into the background, into unconscious. Now, there’s the action. You have this book, let’s say it’s a difficult one and you can’t quite grasp it. Well don’t worry because be sure that if you payed attention, your unconscious mind is working hard on it. I think that everyone has experienced this thing when the thoughts suddenly come together, and you get the thing. Out of nowhere! Einstein and many others have had the same experiences and for him it went as far as being afraid of shaving, because the thoughts would come to him out of nowhere and he would often cut himself.
To make sense of it and make it easier, I came up with this metaphor which I really like and use a lot. Imagine that any inputs (Again both internal and external) are ingredients and your unconscious mind or brain is a cooking pot. You get the ingredients and start making a soup. How long does it going to take? Well that depends what kind of soup you are making, what kind and how many ingredients you have and what temperature you are cooking at. What happens when it’s ready? It’s gonna present to you in your consciousness.
Trust me, you are making an insane amount of soups right now, some of them are cooking for years! Well actually, as we have been talking about the inputs from the time you have been born up until now, your consciousness might be this big never-ending soup which you are constantly sipping on. That might be this basic background soup which is enriched by these other soups around it.
Our consciousness in this picture is therefore this constant flow of awareness of the things which our unconscious mind let us see. Inputs and patterns are stacking onto each other, affecting each other in ways we hardly can imagine, having 100 billion neurons and 1000 trillion synapses. Fun.
All of this is grounded on materialism, meaning consciousness is somehow caused by our physical brain and for our purpose, doesn’t matter how. We can get into rather deep and hard philosophical questions about consciousness, but I think we can at times (to stay sane, if that’s possible) grab the most probable option available and that I think is this materialistic one. Now we can get into free will, one of my favourite topics in all of this.
So, where does free will stand in this picture we’ve painted so far? Well, nowhere. You might ask: “Wait, how is this possible?! We have been talking about wide spectrum of reactions and indetermination.”. Yes, that is certainly true, but free will simply don’t have anywhere to come into place (at least in this materialistic point of view).
We can start simply by asking ourselves, where does my thoughts come from? What’s going to be my next thought? The answer might be shocking - you don’t know. You simply don’t have the capacity of knowing this, me and many others have tried many times. You might be like: “My next thought is going to be this! Ha gotcha!”. Not quite, because I’ll then ask you “Where did the thought of having your next thought came from?”. And we are back, you see the thought “My next thought is going to be this”, does contain the next “wanna be thought” in itself. We find ourselves in this peculiar situation, where we simply wait for the thoughts to come and it’s getting weirder and weirder when we are thinking about our thoughts coming.
Anything you do or think simply came from the situation before it. Situation before it being your whole life and this moment right now with all these inputs and soups in the making. Therefore, no free will. You see, every state of your brain came from the state before, that's what I meant by situation and in this way, you can go as far into the past as you want, ther's nowhere to put free will in. Though where does our strong sense of free will come from? I’d argue that it’s because of the immense complexity which our conscious mind isn’t able to grasp and, randomness. You see, having no free will doesn’t mean that everything is determined with randomness being here, many people get confused between the two.
By the way, the feeling of free will is important as well and I think could have played role evolutionary. It’s an additional input which is going to change how you think or what you do, without it, you wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be you. It makes you motivated and gives you a sense of responsibility.
With this in mind, I think that realisation, that we don’t have a free will is even more important. Oh, and just by the way, this is what I think in this materialistic point of view, sort of sciency and sceptical, which also means I am sceptical about my own thinking and this thesis - you can read more about that here. For me there’s nothing 100%, we could take on this from many different directions but that perhaps some other time, the important thing is: these are thoughts, nothing is absolute, and this is just how I see it with the information I was given through my life.
Back to why I think the realisation of no free will is important. What do we have, if not free will? There is still indetermination with randomness playing its role. There’s this spectrum of possibilities on which you are balancing. Now it’s all about interpretation, because how you are going to interpret it, that’s how it’s going to be. That is how your brain is going to react to it. Why shouldn’t we interpret it, in the most beneficial way? You see, I can imagine this spectrum of my possible actions and I know that my brain is going to react somehow. I believe that my brain is going to react in beneficial way with the inputs I‘ve been given through my life and this information itself.
You might say: “You are in an illusion”. I would say “Indeed I am, we all are”. Why should I be this confident in my brain? Just believing it? It’s because I have this information now. The information itself, this text you’ve just read, is going to interact with other things and make your brain think and act in a certain way. I believe that this information can make our possible reactions even wider and push us to the more beneficial reactions of our brain!
I know this all might be a bit too confusing, I am gonna clear it up as much as I am able to. Being the subject that it is, we are getting into this super weird space. But I would say that this information is immensely beneficial for me, because I “know” that I am going to react to it in a certain way. I am reacting to it in a certain way given the background (my life). I know that this information does something good and pushing me to the better side of things. This thought might stir things up and at the end of the day, it’s again about how you interpret it.
The interpretation is an internal input, which is no different to an external one, therefore making it as important and real. Now my brain knows about itself, about not having free will. Why the hell would I in this situation, why the hell would my brain react in not a beneficial way? That is why I am confident, that is why I can believe and it’s precisely because I have this information. Logically I am (my brain) going to interpret it in the most beneficial way!
There’s another example you might look at it, hopefully simpler being the subject that it is and often words are not enough or hard to find.
Imagine there are 2 people, man and women. They are both looking for love not knowing they love each other. Suddenly they both realise it. Why the hell they wouldn’t be together?!
End of the story is
I am coming come to this text after a week or so, some of the soups finished up inside my brain and I would like to add a little bit more of it.
You might think that without this free will, you lose your responsibility for your life. That’s where you are wrong. There’s no one else than you to do things. You are still you, and the notion of not having a free will is simply you. It’s your life and the immense responsibility is still there. No one is going to do things for you, you and your brain have to do things to do things, there’s no other way around it.
There is an infinity of excuses our brains make up not to do something, I fight and struggle with these every day! I believe that many of us do. I wouldn’t have to fight them if I was okay being where I am, but I want to be somewhere else. No one has to do anything if they want to be where they are and that’s awesome, but when there’s a motivation and an incentive from within to move forward, you gotta do things. We do have an incredible amount of possibilities in this world we found ourselves in. That’s awesome and also the very fact there’s the motivation and incentives, but sometimes makes us feel anxious, because you are not doing everything. Well, you can’t and that’s okay. It’s just important to do something and be okay with it if that’s where you want to be.
Why did I write this last paragraph? It’s something I’ve been struggling with. I do go to school (sometimes), learn for finals and shit, but I can do so much more. I have so many opportunities and I as I said, I want to be somewhere else and I love the process, sometimes it’s just really hard and this whole free will thing helps me and makes me more responsible for myself.
Hopefully this article stimulated your brain a little bit and helped at least one of you. That would be a success! Let me know what you think about it. Have a great day and life!
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