How hard is it to discuss free will?

I have loads of notes waiting to be turned into blogposts on the topic of free will, which is why I decided to write a series of posts about the topic. But first I want to note an observation about the comments to my first post in the series last week.

First off: neither the Dutch, nor the English post in the series got as many responses as I’m used to. Second: none of those responses really discussed my own first take on the topic. This is not a complaint, just an observation. Next: I find it very hard to respond TO these comments. Now why is that? Why is it hard to discuss free will?

I think it has something to do with the fact that the main issue here is: how conscious are we? One commenter rightly noted the Gurdjieff (and Freud I may add) did not think we were free beings. It was Gurdjieff’s main goal to help us BECOME free. Apparently he did think that was possible, but only to those who had faced their own lack of free will first. But isn’t that a paradox?

So: how conscious are we? And what is consciousness?

Consciousness is another very sticky subject. Defining consciousness is hard. Sticking to any one definition is even harder. But for the purpose of this discussion the main issue seems to be: are our conscious selves (as opposed to our unconscious drives, conditionings etc) in control of our lives? The answer to that one has been clear in psychology for a century and the answer is NO.

BUT, and this is more recent psychological research, perhaps we CAN influence our own unconscious. That is: by integrating our conscious and unconscious, perhaps we can get more control of our lives.

Which brings me back to why it is so hard to discuss free will: perhaps because this question touches on one area in our lives it is hardest to have full self-knowledge about.

Had you all noticed how hard this issue is to talk about?

7 thoughts on “How hard is it to discuss free will?”

  1. A reader wrote:

    This was my defining argument that led me away from Christianity. Literally, the Bible supports predestination. (Of course there are many different interpretations of the Bible, but I was raised on a literalist interpretation).
    I find it hard to talk about free will now that I’m not a Christian, though, because the terms have become substantially more vague. Who, or what, is the determining force behind predestination, if it exists? How can we prove that there is free will without knowing every detailed factor in each choice? How do we even define a choice? Some people do not see alternatives even though they are there. (For example, they think that leaving a relationship is their only solution to a specific problem.) In their own mind, they do not have a choice, even though externally they do. So not only do we have internal and external choices, but we have a million different “causes” for our actions. Society, genetics, God, karma, destiny, etc.
    I do believe in free will, but obviously there are a lot of factors to be taken into account. Sometimes they come into conflict. Like, society says I need to be a stick-thin girl, but my genetics gave me big bones and a healthy appetite. Which is more important? We base our decisions on what is important to us, which may or may not be determined at least in part by external factors. The fact remains that there is always a choice- the question is, how do human beings make choices? Some reason out the pros and cons, some go by impulse, some follow the advice and influence of others, some follow their own whims. Why do humans make choices in such different ways? What makes humans fundamentally different (or similar) to each other? What creates a person?
    The question of free will is extremely hard to answer because anytime you try to delve into deep discussion about it, you end up stumped by impossible-to-answer questions like the previously mentioned ones.


    (published with permission)

  2. Consciousness is not a form or a thought form; it’s space, transparent, unseem, it’s there.

    There is free will and there is also the influences.
    They are intergrated and unseparate. The World/The reality is an unified whole.

  3. The introductory part of the Secret Doctrine uses ‘spirit,’ ‘intelligence, ‘ consciousness’ synonymously. One could say various things about it and it seems best to not have only one definition of any, also because psychological schools have their own definitions of consciousness. Remember their other ideas about it such as ‘pre-conscious.’ I think even Maslow, a mainstream psychologist, finally talked about transcending self, but I do not know if he gave a consciousness term for it. The hard thing may not necessarily be will or some aspect of self, but their inherent object-subject relationships and whether it is possible/best to be objective or subjective (or both.)

  4. I think it is hard to discuss because it brings up so many unknowns. Additionally, separating the conscious and unconscious is almost impossible. Looking at the possibilities: freewill, predetermination, or a mixture, leads you to ponder what each would mean. If we do have freewill well then are events, etc. just happening without a deeper cause? If things are completely predetermined making life decisions seems a little bit pointless. It’s huge territory to cover. Glad your starting!

  5. It is hard to discuss free will because there is no definition for it. Best argument always wins and then everybody loses. Perhaps the question of free will should be talked about in terms of sacrifice.
    The idea of free will is subject to personel terms as is the idea of sacrifice. The difference though is that people know what is a sacrifice to them. “We sacrifice the whole truth of any given experience for the value to which we are constrained.” Given this we can only experience behaviours, not knowing fully what to expect or what is required from us. Consequencely we are require to make a sacrifice to get what we need. That sacrifice is determinate by the individual. Intuitively, most people know what the right thing to do is.

  6. Yes, of course we have free will. How else could we get ourselves in such a mess. And yes, our level of consciousness limits the choices that we are able to make and the quality of the choices we make. Most importantly, any choices made should be in the spirit of unconditional love and compassion.

  7. to see one as “I,” has lost one’s choice to be free. Seeing
    this from no-thing without any conclusion, IS.

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