Exploring the Illusion of Free Will 2
This is the second 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 2. Proving Causal Will in Real Time
Today I’m going to show how our wills are causal, and not free, by looking at the matter in real time. We’re going to look at what’s happening right now, and what happened preceding the show. We’ll start with the idea that I’m sitting here alone doing the show, when the plan was to do this with a co-host.
We’re going to prove and demonstrate in real time that I, and by extension, you, don’t have a free will. In the last episode, I went through the idea that thoughts just come into our minds. Before I say something, I have absolutely no idea what it is that I’m going to say. Think about that. Throughout our days, we’re thinking all of the time, and these thoughts and things we say are just coming into our head.
Let’s focus on our real-time analysis. I want to make it as easy as possible for you to appreciate the significance of this topic – this question of whether human beings have a free will or not — and I want you to understand very clearly why we don’t have a free will. I want you to understand this, based on the science and a real-time analysis of what is going on. If I had a free will, I would be choosing words that would probably explain this far better. I have relatively good communications and explanatory skills. But in my estimation, they are not nearly as good as they would be if I had a free will — if I could will myself to think and say whatever I wanted.
You might say to yourself “Well, you could, if you wanted to, improve your presentation skills so you would be much better.” Yeah, granted. But, either because I think that my presentation skills are good enough, or because there is something else preventing me from improving these skills, this hasn’t happened. I’ve done television for about four years, so this isn’t something that is new to me. I understand my strengths and limitations in this.
Earlier, I instructed the director to have more camera changes. I thought it would be a good thing for this show, and maybe it will be. But I noticed also that when the camera changes and I’m in mid-thought, this might have a tendency to distract me. That’s in fact what happened. I lost my train of thought when the camera changed. If I had a free will, I would not have chosen to lose my train of thought. The director’s act — someone else’s action — resulted in the thoughts, or lack of them, that I was having.
Let’s explore some benefits of understanding that our wills are causal rather than free. If I believed in a free will, I might be tempted to be angry with the director for having made the camera change when he did. But, understanding that he has, and that I have, and that we all have, a causal will makes it easy to not blame or hold the other person, or myself, responsible. This is a godsend, and a wonderful perspective from which to view reality.
Let’s look for more ways to demonstrate in real-time why we don’t have a free will. I’m not exactly sure what I want to talk about next. This thought just came to me that I could talk about not knowing what to say next, and use that as an example of why we don’t have a free will. While I was thinking about what I was going to say, this thought just came to me from who knows where.
You could say that it came from my mind, or from “me.” But, think about it — why couldn’t I think of something to say? Because I don’t have a free will. Having a free will means being able to think and say and do whatever you want, within certain logical and scientific parameters. The notion of free will does not, of course, mean that we can fly without an airplane because of other reasons like physical laws, gravity being one. But, in terms of our decisions – what we say, what we think, what we feel – the reality is that those things are simply not up to us.
We’ve been thinking about thoughts. Let’s think about feelings. How am I feeling? I’m a little cold. I feel cold, and the coldness makes me a little nervous. That is going to effect my presentation. Here’s another example. Today is overcast. It drizzled a little this morning, and is threatening to rain. That affects our mood. That affects how we feel. That’s going to affect this show. If I’m not in control of either how high or low a person sets a thermostat in a video recording studio or the weather, then I’m not in control of things that are impacting what I say, and how I say them. That’s a good way of understanding why what we do and think and feel is really not up to us. It’s, most generally, really up to everything, because everything is inexorably connected.
In Buddhism, there is the idea that there is no real individual self. The individual self is an illusion. When you think about it, it’s true because we have physical bodies, and they are influenced by temperature, light, the atmosphere, other people, and many other factors outside of us. The more accurate reality is that we are everything. We are completely connected to everything else. In other words, there is no separation between me and this chair, and this set, and the people in the director’s booth, and people outside of the studio. We are all completely connected to everything else, and that’s the way the universe is. It’s all one.
Let’s explore sleep. Last night I slept well. I knew I was going to tape four shows on my own, and I knew it was going to be tough. I knew that I wanted to be as lucid and sharp as possible, and I knew that would happen best if I had proper sleep. I made sure I got to sleep early last night. When I got a late night call, I got off quickly so I wouldn’t stress myself. The amount of sleep I got last night is effecting my presentation today. I’m much more energetic than I would have been if I got hardly any sleep. What’s happening today is directly related, and influenced, by that factor.
I chose, for better or worse, to not eat breakfast this morning. My stomach is a little tight, and I didn’t think food would benefit my presentation. I could have been wrong; I don’t know. But, clearly, anyone who has breakfast every day, or who has breakfast some days and not others, will tell you that whether you have food or not in your stomach will make a difference in what you think, feel, say, and do.
The point that I’m making is that whether or not we eat food, and what kind of food we eat, makes a difference. As does how much sleep we get, and how we’re dressed. If I was dressed in a tie and jacket, and my main audience wasn’t going to be college students, I probably would have gotten a haircut, and be talking differently. This would be a different presentation. It’s the fact that I have college students in mind as the main audience that causes me to dress in a certain way, and have a certain haircut, and that then causes me to act in a certain way.
You might think that my wanting college students as my primary audience was a freely willed decision. But was it? The reason I decided on college students as the primary audience is that 1) I’m aware that many colleges and universities have their own cable TV station on campus, that they use to present shows to the students, and sometimes the local off-campus community and, 2) I know that sometimes they are looking for shows. Sometimes they don’t have enough programming to fill all of their time-slots. I know these two things. I also know that college students are curious about this matter of human will, and about free will being an illusion. They take philosophy courses, and their minds are open to new ideas.
So, my knowing something about college TV stations and college students made it make sense to me that college students should be the primary audience. Is that a free will decision? No, because we’re governed by a reason imperative, and we’re compelled by nature to do what we think is going to make the most sense. If I think college students are going to be the best audience for disseminating this information, am I going to tailor this show to ten-year-olds or eighty-year-olds? No. We are compelled by nature to always decide what makes the most sense to us. Sometimes we’ll look back in hindsight, and say to ourselves “Well, it seemed like the best option at the time,” but knowing later what we didn’t apparently know then, we realize that maybe it wasn’t.
Our reality is very much like a movie. What I’m doing right now is completely compelled. None of it is up to me. I’m like an actor whose every word has been scripted, every gesture has been scripted, and every feeling has been scripted. My whole presentation has been scripted by the causal past.
How are we to understand all of this? One way is that, if you’re religious, chances are you believe God is all-powerful, and that what S/He says goes. In other words, if God very genuinely wants you to do something, you’re absolutely going to do it. S/He’s got the power. Do you think you can actually do something that God wants to prevent you from doing? No.
There’s an objection some people might have about this. If God is all-powerful, then certainly S/He can give you a free will. But, that statement is internally inconsistent, and here’s why. Can God create a boulder so large that even S/He can’t lift it? When you think about that question, then you understand that this whole idea of an all-powerful God doesn’t truly stand up to reason. What you end up concluding, which is a complete mind-blower in another sense, is that perhaps God’s actions are completely compelled, and that S/He doesn’t have a free will either. Think also about this following question. Can God, if S/He so chose, cease existing, along with the rest of the universe that S/He created? I don’t know, but the idea is that if God is all-powerful, then there is absolutely no way that we have any power at all. If S/He’s granting us a free will, then God cannot be all-powerful. If we’re doing things that S/He would rather that we didn’t do, and S/He is powerless to prevent us, that is not all-powerful. That is not omnipotent.
Let’s think of another real-time explanation of why free will is an illusion, and why our will is causal. Right now, I’m trying to think of another way to explain it, but either my mind is tired, or for some other reason, it’s not coming to me. I’m saying to myself “Hey, it would be nice if I could explain this in a different way,” but it is simply not coming to me. If I had a free will, I would know exactly what to say. I know this subject cold, but my mind tends to function better when I’m interacting with another person.
We don’t have a free will, but what we can take home that is really fortunate is that we’re hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Everybody is. Because of that, as each day, and month, and year, and generation, and era goes by, we’re presumably getting better as individuals and as a species at moving toward pleasure, and away from pain. Because of this, it’s really not terrible at all that we don’t have a free will. In fact, it’s better that we don’t, because if we were not guided by this hedonic imperative to always seek pleasure and avoid pain, and by an accompanying moral imperative to always try to do good, our decisions would simply be haphazard. It’s great to know that the universe has compelled us to have those basic motivations.
That’s a good place to end. This series is going to be revolutionary. We’re going to change the world. There are times for ideas, and the time for humanity to overcome, and benefit greatly from overcoming, the illusion of free will, is here. It’s going to be exciting and fun.
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.