Do We Have Free Will?

The illusion of control

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

The cause of our anxiety is just this

“I am a person. I am doing. I am doing something wrong. I am not doing enough. I am being judged. I am judging myself for what I am doing.”

Imagine a character in a virtual reality video game. Everything in the game is pre-existing and happens by itself. But the game is designed to make the character believe that he is real and has the freedom to make choices. He can exercise his free will to make right choices. These choices then can help him to get what he wants. Success, love, recognition, growth.

Now the game begins.

Whenever this character tastes success and appreciation he feels good. When this character is at the receiving end of failure and condemnation he feels bad. Often this character imagines the judgements of others through his own self-judgement.

All this while the game is happening by itself. Events and actions happen as per the design of the game. Only this character who is implanted in this game ‘believes’ he is real, exercising choice, doing actions and reaping consequences.

Most of the mental activity of this character in this game happens because of his belief that he is a separate independent entity in this game. He is the doer of his actions.

By now most of you would know which game I am talking about. And who is this character?

The game is Life. And the character is each of us, who believe we are separate autonomous individuals with free will.

Whenever someone questions the notion of free will, there is tremendous resistance. After all, we have grown up with the belief that we are the masters of our destiny. With hard work we can make something out of our lives. If there was no free will then what would be the motivation for us to get out of bed and even do something?

And what about morality? We can kill, rape and plunder and abdicate responsibility by saying we have no free will.

These are reasonable arguments in favour of free will. Before I argue the case on behalf of Life Is The Doer of all actions. Let me answer these two common questions.

Firstly, it’s not possible to lie in bed all day. Even if we decide today I will do nothing, the video game is designed in such a manner that something is happening all the time. In case someone is undergoing a severe depression and is lying in bed all day, it is not because of free will. It is because he is simply unable to get out of bed and do something. He is unable to exercise free will in spite of his wanting to. And even lying in bed life is happening.

Talking of morality. Even after reading an article that questions the notion of free will, it is unlikely any of us is going to kill, rape or plunder. And the person who is meant to simply does so. He does not reflect on whether he has free will before doing such an action. It does not mean that he may not have to face consequences of his actions in whatever manner he is meant to. The video game decides what happens. And what happens after that happens.

That brings me to the three points in favour of Life As the Doer.

1. Cause And Effect

Right now you are reading this article. Did you choose to read this article? Most would say “Yes, I chose to read it.” What caused you to read it? “I saw it as a link on WhatsApp, I clicked on the link and read it on your Blog. Some may say I saw it on Facebook.” What caused that action to happen? “I am subscribed to your broadcast list or we are friends on Facebook, hence I came across it.” What caused that action to happen? You see where this is going.

The Universe started 13.8 billion years ago. If something is happening at this moment, it is a culmination of 13.8 billion years of existence of the Universe. Every time we say “I did this!”, the Universe must be rolling its eyes and smiling at our audacity to take credit for an event that took it billions of years to create.

2. Interdependence

Only an entity that exists independently can say it has free will. Are we independent? We are dependent on food, water, sunlight, and nature for our existence. For that matter there isn’t a single entity that can say it is independent. Everything is interdependent on each other.

Could we exercise free will if the Sun decided one day to go on a vacation. If the plants went on a strike due to environmental pollution and stopped giving oxygen. Or if the organs of the body decided to shut down.

Our action borne of free will is only possible because Existence supports our existence. In the absence of Existence there is no life, no person and no free will.

3. Unconscious Thinking

The reason we believe we have free will is because we feel we can choose between different thoughts. “I can choose to execute Thought A, Thought B, Thought C…hence I have free will.”

But can we choose not to think? If we really have free will then surely we must be able to exercise it over our thinking. We must be able to choose when to think and when not to think. Or what to think.

The fact is our thinking, which makes us believe we have free will is itself not in our control. It is a software program embedded in the character that is running on its own, out of past memory and reaction to current situations. The character believes that it is running this software program.

Conclusion

This article is likely to push some buttons. Bring up resistance. My intention is not to do that. Neither is my intention to awaken or enlighten. One fine morning lazing in bed this article emerged. In fact I did not even open my laptop to write. Lying in bed I wrote it on my phone. Given its spontaneous nature, one could say Life wrote it.

If I get negative feedback, the notion of ‘me the writer’ will feel uncomfortable reading them. If I get compliments then ‘me the writer’ will feel good reading them. And that is typical of the design of the video game. Life does things and the character takes the blame or credit for it.

Some of you may want to ask “I get what you say. How do I give up the notion of being the doer?”

Everything we do with the intent of achieving something, even giving up the illusion of being a doer, only strengthens the notion of a 'me the doer.'

Having said that one thing I find helpful is practicing Presence. If at all we have free will, then the best use of it is to remember we are Life, not a character living a life.
This remembrance happens when we shift our attention into Awareness. When our mind is Silent, we see clearly that Life Is unfolding on its own.

A point comes when even the practice of Presence drops. For it presupposes a doer, who practices Awareness. At such a time all words dissolve. There is no consciousness, awareness, presence. There is just What Is Happening.

This Happening is the Whole of Existence.

Happening by itself.

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