Monday, February 17, 2014

Believing in Free Will

Ever since I read this article last September, I have been wanting to quickly post my thoughts - mostly as a record and reminder for myself in the future.

Like every other person, I used to obsess over whether or not we humans really have free will or if we are living in a delusional deterministic Universe. The curious thing about Science is that it both pokes fun at and hints at the Universe being causal and deterministic, for the most part. So, realizing that the mysteries of the Universe can't just be neatly unraveled in my lifetime, I have been resorting to the idea that one has to just follow the beliefs that practically work for us. If the beliefs make us better human-beings and help us (and others around us) grow, that's all the reason to embrace them, even if they don't have solid rational proof of any kind.

The article above was a sign, and a measure of proof for the rational-minded, that believing in free will is much more healthier for us than believing in a fatalistic, deterministic world where one feels rudderless and without control. A strong belief that we have the freedom to make our own choices makes us more ethical and responsible towards our actions, and most importantly, makes us more content from within. And according to me, the right balance of spirituality and a belief in free will is the key to finding peace and happiness from within. For those that believe religion and spirituality are the same, I will just clarify by stating that I (merely, ignorant me) define spirituality as the philosophy underlying religious tenets. The reason I bring spirituality here is because of two lines of thought:
  1. Most religions espouse the notion of a preordained destiny, that is to say, a deterministic Universe. So, why bother about our actions when everything is written out for us? While the dogma surrounding karma, after-life and fear of punishment makes people of faith act moral, that kind of morality does not involve everyday simple actions and thoughts. People of faith can still fester inside with negativity while outwardly doing the prescribed rituals of "right". Interestingly enough, many people use religious faith as one way to take control of their lives, because they believe there is no other way to change their destiny. They pray 20 times a day, perform 10 different rituals a day, hoping to change a host of things in their lives, while becoming increasingly deluded and miserable. However, the spirituality (or philosophy) behind many religious scriptures  implies that although the Universe follows the law of causality, every individual has a role to play. They are in charge of their actions and are not mere puppets in a deterministic stage show. I won't quote texts, because it is sure to invite tangential arguments. But, this gives back the belief of control to us, and teaches us how to use it properly. Unfortunately, this aspect is buried underneath all the ritualistic, superfluous dogma.
  2. When choices weigh on you negatively and bring out guilt and sorrow, spirituality has antidotes in the form of practical/theological justifications for why you should let go of guilt and the past, and look at the bigger picture of how causally connected the Universe is. It helps immensely to find peace within oneself and in making peace with others around us.
Belief in free will is practically sensible. But it comes with baggage, because too many choices are not always helpful, and burdening ourselves with too much responsibility can be overwhelming, especially when the choices are hard and the decisions are not easy. The slippery and comforting nature in which spirituality defines causality, free will and determinism, offers us solace to move on. It's not about whether the texts are right or wrong, logical or illogical, true or false. They are like pain-medications to help you recuperate and forget. They are coping mechanisms to help you realize that you are insignificant in this grand scheme of things while simultaneously making you believe that your actions are still meaningful and powerful to your destiny and to that of the Universe. Win-Win.

The Universe acts in accordance with the law of causality. Some aspects of our life and Universe are undoubtedly deterministic. But free will can still exist.


Anonymous said...

As much as you did not want to quote a text, this is what comes to mind - " Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or our rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion; that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes." - Khalil Gibran, The Prophet!

Neeraja said...

Thank you :). That's one of my favorite quotes from a beloved book.

Meens said...


.... this smile is for the post as well as the beautiful quote in the comment here :)

hope you're doing well !

Neeraja said...

Thanks Meens... really missed you! Will email soon.

Meens said...

I'm truly sorry about my lack of bandwidth ... its actually a phase change in life.

I miss you, too. But whatever depth of thoughts we shared stays fresh in my mind ... Good feelings stay forever.