Exploring the Illusion of Free Will 1
This is the first of a series of posts where I will be sharing the transcripts of George Ortega’s show which he has so generously made available on his website.
I will share both the link and copy the text as well. This is convenient for those who subscribe to my blog by email. You can read without visiting the site, but I highly encourage you to visit the link and see what else George has on his website.
Episode 1. How I Came to See My Causal Will
Welcome to Exploring the Illusion of Free Will. My name is George. Today we are going to talk about how I came to see my causal will. Growing up, there are things that we want — things that we want to happen, ways we want to be, and things we want to do. There is much we would prefer to be a certain way, but we realize, “Wait a minute. I can’t be the way I want to be. I can’t do all the things I want to do.”
That’s what happened to me growing up. There were many things I wanted to do, ways I wanted to be, and goals I wanted to meet. Yes, some I accomplished, but some I did not. It seemed that regardless of what I did or didn’t do, it became evident that certain goals just were not going to happen. I began to understand that free will is an illusion, and that our lives and human will are causal.
On the next show, I’ll go into this in real time, but for now let’s explore human will from the perspective of my past. Doing this show is not something that I would have planned three or four years ago. Before that, it was completely off the radar. So, what led to my doing it? It was a series of events, a series of situations. I had two friends years ago, Trish and Andy, and we did a cable TV show on spiritual and psychological issues called Conversations in Mind. It was a lot of fun, and, after 30 episodes, I decided to do a TV show on happiness called The Happiness Show. I produced and hosted 140 half-hour episodes over three years, and gained invaluable experience in doing this kind of explanatory show. The key thing here is that the conditions that led up to this show, and everything else I’m doing now, were not really up to me.
In other words, of the two friends with whom I did the first show, one I happened to meet at a nearby singles dance, and the other I happened to meet through other unplanned circumstances. These things that I didn’t have control of shaped my reality, and led to my ultimately doing this show. In part and principle, that’s how I came to understand free will to be an illusion.
Think about human will relative to the people you’re close to, that you love and care about. I came to realize that we all want our relationships and the rest of our lives to go as pleasantly and morally as possible. If we had a free will, our lives would go that way, at least in terms of what we say to each other, and how we feel about each other. If we had a free will, we would be completely good, and, not incidentally, completely happy. I came to realize that I can’t behave the way I would like to with everyone that I would like.
If I truly had a free will, I would be a perfect angel always. I would always know what to say. I would choose to feel only very positive feelings toward everyone and everything. That’s one of the strongest understandings we gain from our personal lives that, no, we don’t have free wills, and that free will is an illusion.
This is really about all of us. I’m describing to you how I came to this causal will understanding, but I want the explanation to relate to all of us because we all experience this reality. We’re born into a world where the causal past is what makes things happen. It’s all about cause and effect. What happens at one moment causes what happens at the next moment, which causes what happens the next moment, and onward causally into the future. If you’ll notice, this causal chain naturally goes back to before we were born.
This causal chain is also what, very ironically and curiously, leads us to believe we have a free will. There are various illusions that nature has us perceive. For example, many years ago we were all quite convinced that the world was flat. It couldn’t be round, or an orb like what we now know it is, because the people on the bottom would fall off! It seemed so very simple. Ultimately we learned that it is gravity that keeps us glued to this Earth, and the idea that our world is an orb made sense.
Mother Nature loves to play tricks on us. Another illusion is that our world is completely motionless. I don’t feel anything moving. Everything seems completely still. But the reality is that we’re hurtling around the Sun at over 600 thousand miles per hour. It goes beyond that because the Sun, the whole solar system, and the whole galaxy, are all traveling through our universe at great speed. The point is that, yes, there are illusions. Mother Nature does love to play tricks on us. Most of us are familiar with the mirage illusion. You’re driving on a straight highway on a hot summer day. You look into the distance, and could swear there’s water there.
For some reason, the causal past — and you could describe the causal past within a religious context as God – has determined that the vast majority of us believe that we are the masters of our fate, and that we can always do whatever we want, and say whatever we want. It’s an irony and paradox that objective causal reality would compel us to see life through this lens of an illusion; to believe we have a free will. This may not make complete sense to you now, but as we go through the shows, you’ll likely come to understand that free will is, in fact, an illusion – that it has to be an illusion.
Now let’s consider all of this within the present. Over the years, not being able to be the kind of person I wanted to be, (I would, of course, see this in others also) and not being able to do what I wanted to do got me to understand that we don’t have a free will. It seems that the causal past, what really controls everything, is now determining that it’s time for not just a few of us who have explored human will in detail and depth to understand this reality. Evidence is mounting that we’re in a period – more like the beginning of an age — where all of humanity is coming to understand that free will is an illusion. This is a very, very powerful understanding, because it changes everything. We’re going to do shows on this, but for now let’s stay on this theme of how I came to understand, and how we can all come to understand, that free will is an illusion.
Consider happiness. We’re hard-wired, biologically, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. That’s who we are; that’s what we do. Other organisms share this with us. And there are other imperatives. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is a hedonic imperative. There’s also a moral imperative. We always do what we consider right at the time. In hindsight, it may not always be right, but we are biologically compelled to do what we think is most right, and makes the most sense; what we think is the greater of two goods, or lesser of two evils.
We’re always trying to do things as well as possible, and to be as good as possible. This is actually related to the hedonic imperative, because when we’re “good,” we create happiness. Think about this. We can’t but seek pleasure and avoid pain. When we’re in a certain circumstance, and we’re given a choice between two options – what to eat?…what movie to see?…what friends to be with? — we’re always going to choose the one that we believe will bring us the greatest pleasure.
But, it’s not just about us; it’s about other people too. So, sometimes we seek the greatest good for the greatest number. We can’t avoid that. We’re programmed to always do what we think is going to bring us happiness.
I’m losing my train of thought. If I had a free will, my presentations would be completely organized, because I could go through them in my mind, and decide what I wanted to say at each moment. The reality is that I can’t, and we can’t. It will take who knows how many shows for you to really appreciate that free will is an illusion, and the nature of the causality that really governs everything. Most likely, you’ll get it.
Let’s now go with a story. Two friends of mine had a falling out. They’re good friends, but they had not talked to each other for months. One of them tells me that the other is acting in a certain way, and doing such and such, and that she can’t take it any more. I ask her, “Why does your friend act like this? What’s causing her to act in ways that you find upsetting?”
We have a back-and-forth dialogue, and I keep asking, “Why?” She might say, “Well, that’s just the way she is.” So I ask her, “Why is she that way?” After our series of questions and answers, my friend ultimately realized that her friend acts as she does because her parents raised her in a certain way, because she was raised in a certain environment, and because she had a certain genetic predisposition. Our personalities are about 50 percent genetic, and if our genes aren’t determining our personality, then it is being determined by our upbringing and environment.
So, it’s easy to see how if our parents raised us a certain way, and we were taught in certain schools, and we met certain people — if certain environmental influences molded who we are – we do not have a free will. Ultimately, my friend came to see that her friend had to be the way she was. She couldn’t help it. It’s all about the causal past.
That’s the reality, and it’s not a pleasant reality for some people, because they conclude, “Aw gee, if we don’t have a free will that means we’re just robots, we’re just puppets, we’re just automatons.” Well, yes, that’s the reality. I’ve understood this for years. You get accustomed to it, and it can actually make our understanding and experience of reality more pleasant and wonderful.
Let’s say you believe in God. I equate God with the universe. If God is everywhere and God is everything, then God is the universe. I ascribe to God more wisdom and understanding than I would to an individual. If you’re not so comfortable with the reality of our wills being causal, that God is the only power on Earth, and that the causal past is determining everything today, perhaps you can appreciate that God would likely be wiser than we are. You may then want to conclude that it’s probably better for all concerned that reality is causal, or God-willed. If our choices were up to us, we’d probably make fewer good choices.
How else did I come to realize and discover that free will is an illusion? One way has been through basic education. I’ve read a lot of psychology, and taken psychology courses, and one thing you learn in psychology is that we all have an unconscious. Freud popularized this fact, and we all understand it now. One important thing we know about the unconscious is that it is always awake. In other words, our consciousness will go to sleep, and we won’t remember much of what happened when we were asleep. But our unconscious, when we’re both asleep and awake, is always working. It’s always active, and influencing our reality.
There has been empirical evidence since the time of the discovery of hypnosis that a person’s unconscious can control, or decide, one’s thoughts even though one thinks one is making the choice. Through experiments with hypnosis, and now also in neuroscience, we’ve discovered that even though we think we’re making choices, it is actually our unconscious that is making those choices.
Your unconscious is your memory store — your store of feelings, of experiences, etc. That’s where everything is stored, and you’re unaware of all that is there because you can’t be aware, at least in real time, of what is unconscious.
This is how it made sense to me. If your unconscious never sleeps, and is a part of every decision you make, then that is a very clear way to understand that free will is an illusion. We can’t control our unconscious. That’s the point. Our unconscious, by definition and experience, is something we’re not conscious of. It’s operating behind the scenes. When we say that we have a free will, basically we’re saying that everything we decide is up to us — that we can consciously decide what to do or not. But if our unconscious takes part in our every decision, and we don’t know what the unconscious is doing, then the best we’re left with is a consciousness-unconscious collaboration on every decision. If that’s the case, and we can’t control our unconscious, you can understand how our unconscious makes free will impossible.
We don’t have a free will. We can’t be as happy as we want to be. We can’t be as good as we want to be. We’ve got this unconscious happening. Five seconds from now, I have no idea what I am going to say.
These thoughts I’m saying right now are just popping into my head. I have a basic understanding of what I want to do, but I purposely didn’t over-prepare this show because I wanted to demonstrate how these thoughts are coming to my mind from who knows where.
Naturally, what I say is a result of my having researched this topic, having thought about it a lot, having talked about it a lot, and having finally come to very clearly and strongly understand that free will is an illusion. All these things are a part of what’s causing me to say what I say, but from a moment-to-moment perspective, these thoughts are just coming to me. Thirty seconds from now, I have no idea what I’ll be saying. Thoughts just come to us, and that is another way of understanding why free will is an illusion.
I want to end with a very positive point. Giving up the illusion of free will doesn’t actually make life worse, or less meaningful. It actually makes it better because when we give up the illusion of free will and other people do wrong, we don’t blame them. We don’t say, “Oh, you’re a bad person. You did wrong. You did wrong.” We understand that they were compelled to do wrong, and we become more understanding, and forgiving, and compassionate toward them.
When we do wrong, we will not blame ourselves because our wills are as causal and compelled as anyone else’s. So, we don’t feel the pain of guilt. When others do something really great, we sometimes feel envious, but we wouldn’t under a causal will perspective because we would know that whatever they did was not up to them; it was completely compelled by factors outside of their control.
I hope you have enjoyed this episode of Exploring the Illusion of Free Will. This is world changing. Once humanity understands that we don’t have a free will, it will be a brand new world. I’m looking forward to it.
Every episode of George’s show is also available on youtube at:
Additionally, I have a playlist specifically of the shows George and I both take part in.