Free Will

July 26, 2008

I stumbled upon a blog entry at Reality Sandwich from Charles Eisenstein which I really like. In the comments from two posts back Dan touched on the issue of whether we really have true free will and here,  coming at it from a slightly different angle is what Charles Eisenstein has to say:

…do you ever have the feeling at such times that you didn’t choose the compulsive habitual behavior at all? You just found yourself doing it, you didn’t choose it. In a valiant attempt to take responsibility, you might say, “Why did I choose to do that?” yet your felt experience was not one of choice, but of helpless automaticity. There is a good reason for this. The reason you feel like you did not make a choice is that, in fact, you did not actually make a choice. You did not choose to start shouting, to have a cigarette, to eat the whole bag of chips, to browse some porn sites, to flip on the television. Your feeling of helpless automaticity is accurate.

It is not that we humans are automatons, bereft of choice or free will. It is that we make the real choice long, long before we appear to. We choose indirectly, through who we create ourselves as. We create ourselves as someone who will, or will not, start yelling in a given situation. We create ourselves as someone who will, or will not, smoke cigarettes. We create ourselves as someone who will or will not respond to a given situation in a given way. Therefore, if you want to change the way you think, speak, and act, you can only do so by recreating your self. You cannot enforce behavioral changes through will, nor through the program of threat and incentive that we mistake for will.

Charles Eisenstein was surprised to find scientific backing for his idea:

In a study published this year in Nature Neuroscience, European researchers found that the outcomes of simple decisions can be detected in the brain up to ten seconds before the subject is aware of them. They conclude that we make choices ten seconds before we think we do, but perhaps these last ten seconds are only the final stage of an invisible, cumulative process of years. As the research does confirm the automaticity of our actions, the researchers could not help but say that their experiment seems to prove that free will is an illusion.

Eisenstein responds with:

Actually, they are looking for free will in the wrong place. Free will only operates in our self-creation, and it is from this that we make predetermined “choices” that are really just manifestations and symptoms of our self-creation.

So, how do we create ourselves? We create ourselves through the one and only choice we actually do have at any given moment. It is our only power as human beings; it is the entirety of our free will. Our only choice, our only power, our only means of self-creation and world-creation, is our power of attention. In other words, at any given moment the only thing we are actually choosing is where to place our attention. Everything else is automatic.

I think the reason this particularly hit home to me is that I’m working with someone at the moment who is totally into the negative explanation for everything. People are rude, they’re stupid, they’re taking the piss, in fact “the whole town is f—-d”. He can always tell you a person’s shortcomings and although he’s generally right he’s also totally wrong because there is always more to a person than their shortcomings.

Anyway, aside from the general dragginess of being around this I realised the other day that it was starting to infect my personal viewpoint and I was beginning to approach a few people in the shop with suspicion in the back of my mind – and occasionally letting this attitude out too. What the guy I’m working with does when he’s in that situation is to temporarily repress his feelings while the person is in the shop which only serves to feed back into his feelings of resentment of the world – although it’s important to note that the temporary repression doesn’t always work either.  I couldn’t have found a better example of what the article talks about.

At least I have a clearcut example of what happens when a person focuses entirely on the negative story but I think I will have to make some kind of stand against it because my subconscious doesn’t apply any judgement when it hears the negative viewpoint, it just soaks it all up.



  1. you may be interested to look at my most recent post as it also has to do with how humans can become automatons. i don’t know, maybe you are already familiar with co-counseling and the theory behind it. but i was partially thinking about you when I wrote it (not as an example of an automaton but of someone who might be able to put this theory into practice :-P)

    anyway, here’s the link: http://tomcampbell77.blogspot.com/2008/07/humans-innately-possess-vast-powers-of.html

  2. No I hadn’t heard of it. But you’re right, the premise as written in your first paragraph is exactly where I’m coming from.

    I’ve had a look at the co-counselling site too and something that really stands out for me is that the techniques they encourage are actually behaviour patterns that all healthy people should display. Which is to say, they listen very well, they talk about genuinely important topics and they don’t suppress their problems.

    Hopefully that doesn’t sounds like I’m downplaying their ideas – in fact I should think that practising co-counselling would probably encourage all of us to adopt more healthy behaviour.

    I also liked how they talked about discharging emotions – how crying, trembling, raging and even laughing are a form of discharge that should be encouraged. I especially noted laughing because we tend to think that it is something frivilous and irrelevant.

    Formalised co-counselling sessions sound great but I can also see how this sort of process could be integrated into our normal behaviour so that we are, for instance, always available to listen.

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