I have seen articles about a neurobiologist (Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University) who spent decades arriving at the conclusion that we have no free will.
With these types of things, the process of exploration is often more interesting and rewarding than what we arrive at.
And yet, to arrive at that conclusion doesn’t need to take decades.
Everything that happens has infinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more, going back to the apparent beginning of time and stretching out to the widest extent of existence.
So where is there room for free will?
OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF
Also, the experience of free will only seem to happen when there is identification with and as the mental representations of an I, doer, free will, and so on. When this identification is softened or released, and our nature recognizes itself more clearly, our human self happens within the content of experience as anything else. Our human self lives its own life. It’s happening on its own. There is no experience of free will. Similarly to above, there is no room for free will. The idea of free will or not seems irrelevant.
THE EXPERIENCE OF FREE WILL
We may have the experience of free will. Our mind uses mental representations to create a sense of I and free will and a me that operates according to that free will. That requires a lot of mental gymnastics, but it can appear convincing. This human self does something, and there is a thought saying: “I did that”. There is the experience of free will, but that doesn’t mean there is free will.
The experience of free will can only seem valid to the extent there is identification with these mental representations. It happens as long as our nature doesn’t recognize itself very clearly and doesn’t recognize the nature of thoughts. And it’s reinforced by a worldview telling us we are separate from the larger whole.
ASSUMING WE HAVE FREE WILL
On the other hand, it seems good for us to think and experience that we have free will. I imagine that helps many of us to be slightly better stewards of our lives.
And, of course, whether we experience that we have free will or not is not really up to us. It happens or it doesn’t. Each one has innumerable causes.
IN MY CASE
I don’t want to leave this too abstract so I’ll include a few words about my own experience.
When I was fifteen, it was as if the world became very distant. This human self, thoughts, emotions, sensations, and the wider world all became infinitely distant. It seemed to happen far away. This human self obviously got scared by this and went to a number of doctors and specialists who couldn’t find anything.
In hindsight, I realized what happened. There was a release of identification with the content of experience. There was no “I” within (most of) the field of experience. The only sense of “I” that was left was as an observer. There was a simple observer-observed duality.
Of course, at the time, there was no conscious reflection of it like that. It just seemed like something had gone very wrong.
Just about a year later, there was another shift, equally sudden as the first one. From one moment to the next, there was a shift into oneness. There was no “I” anymore, only (what this mental field interpreted as) God. This was simultaneously immensely familiar and obvious, and also a great shock to this human self who was a die-hard atheist at the time with absolutely no interest in spirituality. Any idea of I, me, observer, observed, and anything else was recognized as created by the mental field and not inherent in reality.
Although this mind didn’t recognize it at the time, the first shift showed me that this human self happens on its own. He lives his own life. And the second shift showed that while putting it in a larger context. All is God (Spirit, the divine, Brahman). The question of free will was revealed as the creation of the mental field, just like the experience of free will is.
Note: We can also take a more limited psychological approach to arriving at the conclusion that we have little or no free will. Our perceptions, thoughts, emotions, choices, and behavior are influenced by a huge amount of things outside of our conscious awareness. We are not aware of how our brain takes sensory stimuli and creates an experience. Many are not so aware of how the different sense fields combine to create an experience. Many are not very aware of how our biology, evolution, culture, and personal experiences color our perception and behavior. And so on. Most of what influences us happens outside of our conscious awareness, so how can there be much free will?
Image created by me and midjourney.Read More