This is the third installment for the “On Freedom” series. I had touched upon themes in the previous two videos related to freedom from debt and digging deeper into being free from illusion and delusion. For the third installment, in order to dig deeper still and to look at freedom itself, defined as the act of being free to choose the best for oneself, will be explored.
There is a competing set of ideas related to the existence of freedom. It is the idea of determinism versus free will. You can find a discussion on the concepts of free will and determinism listed below, as well as references to authors who wrote extensively on the subject used for this report. To establish the argument, determinism will be briefly explained. Determinism is “a doctrine that all events and human actions are determined by causes external to the individual’s will.”
Determinism and free will begin with consciousness, born into a society without the ability to choose their beliefs and attitudes. Consciousness hypothesis assumes that we are thinking and feeling beings. Descartes is largely known for the thought experiment that ended with the conclusion “I think therefore I am,” which serves as the foundation to begin the argument against complete free will. To begin, we are capable of free will and creative thought, as expressed by toddlers in a supportive environment. Over time, our brain begins to establish a set of behaviors, language, and tendency toward expressing their genetic predispositions. Further, our brain is capable of neurogenesis in adulthood, to create new connections as well as new neurons to create the basis for new experiences.
But, despite this ability, we grow to regard programmed reactions as original or free thinking, but the thoughts underlying these reactions are largely sourced from culture and socialization and, in our modern society, by addiction. For the majority of people, free will is suppressed or relinquished for reasons such as fear of death, fear of damnation, avoidance of discomfort, and/or contentment of an unexamined life, allowing for impulsive reactions to manifest and express, and then, afterwards, misinterpreting the impulse as a rational thought, yet heavily filtered by pre-programmed culture and socialization.
Freedom itself is an illusion within broader, more diverse conditions, but, I argue, freedom, or free will, exists within a narrow scope of conditions that exist to influence our experiences and decisions. In the broader scope of conditions, for example, your genetic code and chance (i.e. insemination and mitosis and the multiple causes and effects in that moment) determines if you can bear children or not, despite what you think you want. As part of your genes and chance, you are determined to see, hear, or read well. As we grow up, the community standing of the people who brought us into the world determines whether we can buy a new car in high school or use a bike or bus to get to school. Society determines that we are not free to grab a parked Aston Martin and take it for a ride, or depending on the country of birth, you are not free to rise into the next social strata or, as in the case of North Korea, to leave the country itself. Chance has a lot to do with it as well, especially as chance relates to the place of your birth and your gender and sex. One may argue “you are free to grab another person’s car,” while that is true in action, but not true in consequence.
Try this thought experiment. Sit comfortably in a chair wherever you like. Stare at any point directly in front of you while breathing evenly and rhythmically. Keep your eyes steady on the point of your choice. Now, observe your thoughts as they pass across your mind. Can you anticipate the next thought? Can you stop yourself from thinking? Does your mind naturally go to points on your body, maybe a pain in your neck or the discomfort of your seat? What you are experiencing is the automatic nature of your mind, running like a mustang from your will.
Don’t worry, you are not without recourse. While you are determined by many conditions and events outside your ability to affect the direction of your life, you are living in the United States, where there is less determinism and more possibilities to express free will when you are an adult. An appropriate analogy for this effect is the blinders placed on a work horse. The blinders are made to prevent the horse in seeing behind them or beside them, thereby keeping them from being frightened. As with blinders, the socialization of culture serves as the blinders that keep an individual looking only in a predetermined area in order to keep them from being spooked, being overwhelmed by information, and to increase the chances of success. However, as with a horse’s blinders, free will is limited to the areas seen by the person. The person often has difficulty seeing further than his blinders allow, and hinder the motivation to change the blinders that have been restrictive and limiting. In short, we are determined, as with blinders, to experience free will within a narrow set of rules.
The mental health example for determinism and free will lies with the use of psychotropic medication versus psychotherapy. The outcome research generally supports a two-prong approach for the path to mental wellness involving the employ of both medication and psychotherapy. Psychotropic medication is analogous to determinism in the sense that medication is regarded as positively impacting a neuronal disorder of the brain, which is often thought of as genetically transportable and strongly based in biology. Psychotherapy holds that the individual, through professional guidance and support, can decide to change the consequences of socialization’s impact and associated perceptions with more adaptable thinking. The process, however, is often labor intensive and affects the individual’s relationship with the socializing agents in his life. A clean slate begins, but a frightening state of choosing your path, which is the adventure chosen by the hero of myth. A choice of true freedom – to create yourself as you see your future self.