Having given up a belief in resurrection, physical immortality, eternal soul, or living on through my works, I've settled on another approach for dealing with my eventual demise:
Not being me.
Now, some will say, "That's Buddhism 101." Sort of true. Anatta, not-self, is indeed a core Buddhist concept. But I'm lazy.
Buddhists, including those of the Zen variety, go through a heck of a lot of effort to realize that the entity striving to become enlightened doesn't exist. My feeling is, why not simply begin and end with the nothing-much-of-anything that I am?
Done. Finis. Enlightenment trophy, please.
There's no me who is living, so there's no me who is going to die. Or, to become immortal. So the whole problem of What Happens to Me after Death is irrelevant, since there is no me (or you, of course) before death.
Neuroscience is a great way of overcoming the illusion of me-ness. We humans certainly feel we're in charge of ourselves, which implies there are selves we can be in charge of.
However, neuroscientific evidence strongly points to no "ghost in the machine," as Gilbert Ryle famously put it.
Meaning, each of us is deterministically connected with the world, including other people. This doesn't mean we are machines. Just that we're not free-floating, freely-willing soul "ghosts" separate from the physical body.
In his book Who's in Charge? (subtitle: free will and the science of the brain), neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga asks an excellent question. "What do we want to be free from?"
Again, we feel like we have free will. It seems like I can freely choose what I'm going to write in the next moment. It seems like you can freely choose to continue reading this post, or to head off to another corner of cyberspace.
Questioning the reality of free will is threatening to most people.
Something bothers us about the notion (which almost certainly happens to be reality) that goings-on in the brain are determined by processes outside our conscious control, and that mind/brain are different aspects of the same physical entity, both governed by the laws of nature.
Yet Gazzinaga says, persuasively:
What does it mean to really talk about free will? "Ah, well, we want to be free to make our own decisions." Yes, but what do we want to be free from?
We don't want to be free from our experience of life, we need that for our decisions. We don't want to be free from our temperament because that also guides our decisions. We actually don't want to be free from causation, we use that for predictions.
A receiver trying to catch a football does not want to be free from all the automatic adjustments his body is making to maintain his speed and trajectory as he dodges tackles. We don't want to be free from our successfully evolved decision-making device.
What do we want to be free from?
How about... nothing.
The nothing-separate that is "me" doesn't want to be free of all that I'm connected with. Not that I have a choice in the matter. Life depends on others: energy, food, water, shelter, love, friendships, giving, taking, relating.
Yet mind-body dualists in general, and religious believers specifically, view this world as constraining us, enslaving us, restricting us. This is how the notion of a hideous problem with all existence arises, the subject of a previous post.
Religions want us to believe that something or someone is keeping us from an ideal state of divine freedom. "The Devil made me do it."
Or if not the Devil...
A fall from heaven
Since we're supposedly trapped, we need someone to save us. A...
But then we come back to Gazzinaga's question: What do we want to be free of?
I haven't finished his book, so I can't confidently relate his answer. However, some reviewers have given me a peek into the final chapters, as have clues in what I've read so far.
Gazzinaga doesn't think we're looking upon "free will" in the correct fashion. The way we're looking at this issue is preventing us from understanding what reality really is. It's sort of like understanding that the Earth is round, not flat.
Everyday personal experience isn't going to do us much, if any, good. We can walk to the ends of the Earth. It still will look flat to our eyes. Not long ago, people were afraid they'd fall off the edge of the flat Earth if they went too far.
No amount of introspection (looking within) or extrospection (looking without) will lead to genuine understanding if we're looking in the wrong way with a limited perspective.
The scientific method -- in this case, the methods of neuroscience -- are able to correct individual misunderstandings through careful experiments and explanations. Reading Gazzaniga's book, along with others, I can realize how faulty my feelings about free will are. I can see through the illusions of everyday life, where I believe that a single entity, mysteriously named Me, is controlling what I do with my body/brain.
I seek to be free of... what? For most of my life I never seriously considered that question. I just assumed that something was holding me back from being all that I could be.
With age, and hopefully a bit more wisdom, I've come to understand that the whole notion of a Search for Freedom/Liberation was off the mark. I never was enslaved. Religions want us to believe that we are because they're in the business of selling Get Out of Jail permission slips.
Religions are excellent at marketing. They help create a demand for an illusory product aimed at solving a non-existent problem. Unfettered free will isn't possible, nor is it desirable. Neither is separating mind from body, or soul from materiality.
The key is understanding that the me each of us wants to be free doesn't exist.
This is the illusion that humans daily entertain: we are the masters of our domain, aware of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
In fact, the illusion that we’ve got a unified operation inside our heads, running the show, is so thorough-going that “even the most strident determinists and fatalists at the personal psychological level do not actually believe they are pawns in the brain’s chess game.”
So it’s not that Gazzaniga denies the unseen forces that influence all of our actions and moods and impulses. Instead, he challenges the concept of free will as we know it.
“In traditional philosophy, free will is the belief that human behavior is an expression of personal choice that is not determined by physical forces, fate or God,” he reminds us.
In this view, implicitly, it’s possible to subtract away these external factors—"physical forces, fate and God"—and be left with an essential self, a free-wheeling agent.
But, Gazzaniga argues, neuroscience has dispelled the myth of such a self, of such a “you.” The brain, composed of all kinds of decentralized circuits that work in tandem, has no central command center.
“There is no ghost in the machine, no secret stuff that is YOU.”
“Prior to the startling advances of neuroscience, explanations of mechanisms were unknown. Today they are. Today we know we are evolved entities that work like a Swiss clock.”
It’s no longer useful to ponder the question of free will as such because neuroscience has changed the very meaning of the question. Accordingly, the mind develops ideas and beliefs that then influence the brain, which in turn influences the mind. It’s a constant back and forth. It’s dynamic.
Thanks for this article Brian. I was pondering something similar to this in the morning, and here came this article that helped validate my questions that maybe we're not flawed (as religions would have us believe) but that we are trying to figure things out from a skewed perspective.
Posted by: NC | May 04, 2012 at 12:19 PM
So we just basically have to be who we are (not that we have a real option anyway) and start enjoying our time on earth which happens to be shorter every minute that passes, without looking for gurus, masters, priests, or any other guys with the same exact body functions and needs that us, as U.G. Krishnamurti used to say: the only good guru is the one that frees you from himself.
Posted by: Adrian Mendoza | May 04, 2012 at 09:31 PM
There is no separate self. There is only the ONE. However, as long as we entertain the notion that there IS a separate self,
and that we need to do something to destroy the ego, the illusion remains.
This is the essential trap which all religions and paths create. A real master
is someone who gets you to discover this - not just believe it.
Muslims pray five times a day. They believe this pleases Allah. Sikhs recite five
scriptures - they believe its the duty of a sikh to do this. Radha soamis meditate
on the five holy names for 2.5 hours a day. They believe this will help their soul
get to Sach Khand.
As long as you have a belief - it becomes your reality. Zen says drop all beliefs and the truth will dawn on you. The mind asks HOW. Asking 'how' is the trap. All methods keep the seeker in a state of seeking.
What creates the trap is the whole notion that we are fallen, sinners, imperfect, un-enlightened. And that we need to DO something to fix this. Drop this notion and there is no path because there is no
The destination is the realization that there is no journey or destination and nobody to undertake the journey.
Posted by: OshoRobbins | May 07, 2012 at 01:24 PM
"Having given up a belief in resurrection, physical immortality, eternal soul, or living on through my works, I've settled on another approach for dealing with my eventual demise:
Not being me."
. . .except when having feelings of love reciprocated, especially by loved ones.
Posted by: Janya Barrish | September 30, 2012 at 07:01 PM
What do we want to be free from?
Do you have preferences, Brian?
Preferences as in
I'd really like to experience this
I'd rather not experience that
When you don't get what you want, how do you feel, Brian? Do you have problems with this experience?
Or if you get what you definitely do not want, how do you feel about it? Do you have problems experiencing this?
Do you sometimes struggle with what you experience?
Posted by: StJ | March 05, 2014 at 10:13 AM
StJ, of course I sometimes struggle with what I experience. But I no longer believe that these struggles have anything to do with free will or an "I" that is separate from the physical brain.
Us human animals, like other animals, have preferences. I can see this in our dog every time my wife walks out the door without taking our dog for a ride in the car. A hang-dog look ensues. Literally.
Same happens with me. And with other people. We are conditioned to prefer certain things over others.
I used to worry about this, to struggle with it, a lot more than I do now. With age, and a bit of wisdom, I now understand that I'm just reacting as I've been determined through myriad causes and effects to react.
And my reaction to my reacting... that too is part of the ongoing deterministic dance. This understanding leads to peace of mind (cause and effect works that way). No longer believing that I am free to choose what I do or feel, I can better accept whatever happens to me as being inevitable.
If I have a desire to do or feel something different, that also is inevitable. And so the dance of life continues...
Posted by: Brian Hines | March 05, 2014 at 12:38 PM
What is the official correct definition of Free Will? Shouldn't Free Will be defined differently from Freedom of Choice?
Define Free Will first. Then debate the topic. IMO.....
Posted by: Roger | March 05, 2014 at 04:32 PM
There doesn't seem to be anything like Free Will at this stage of probably all of us.
It's mostly the Wishful Thinking which is also an illusion and drama created by Ego to boost the Ego itself. It's a complex system, very very tough to come out of it.
As when asked by a someone, Master replied:
"Wish is what you want it to happen, destiny is what actually takes place"
We all are so closely bound by our destiny that only those of our wishes gets accomplished which were also our destiny and we feel the "awe" that our wish got completed. Now, to me, this feeling is the biggest "awe" thing that we think it was "My" wish which got completed whereas someone else is laughing out loud on us there in the greater realms.
There can't be Free Will unless and until someone is Free. Freeness comes after one crosses the Brahm. Once we are in Par Brahm, we are Free and so there can be the Free Will.
Free Will is something which accomplishes right on the same time when it becomes our will.
It's an easy testing, I; right at this point want to die.
And here I am writing the next sentence, hence proved, neither I am free, nor I can have any Free Will and so most of us here reading and writing these articles.
It's super heavy not a joke, going to take big time and effort and Love to reach there.
"Mind is the thing you have to Kill, to have the Free Will"
"Only way to kill your Mind, only when you go Blind"
Posted by: One Initiated | March 05, 2014 at 09:04 PM
"It's mostly the Wishful Thinking which is also an illusion and drama created by Ego to boost the Ego itself."
---The "Ego" word is just an expression. There really is no such thing as an Ego to create drama and illusion. IMO.... There such a thing as a brain. A brain can do stuff.
"There can't be Free Will unless and until someone is Free."
---Okay, I am now officially Free. What then is the correct definition of Free Will?
"Mind is the thing you have to Kill, to have the Free Will"
--- The Mind could be thought of as brain activity, so why would I want to kill my brain activity? If I do kill off my brain activity, what then is the correct definition of Free Will?
"Freeness comes after one crosses the Brahm. Once we are in Par Brahm, we are Free and so there can be the Free Will."
---Crossing the Brahm, or being in it is more subjective subjectivity. IMO.......
So, so how does being there help in understanding the correct definition of Free Will?
Free Will probably is just a nice expression, that has numerous definitions. A conversational piece, nothing more....
Posted by: Roger | March 06, 2014 at 01:14 PM
By Mind here I didn't mean to refer Brain by any means, I am talking about Mann (if you can consider that as a separate entity at all), which certainly is not a brain or brain activity. In fact it has nothing much to do with our physical brain.
Physical brain dies with our death, but we surely carry our mann in every forthcoming births.
Ever experienced non-understandable dreams ? ever felt good with a stranger without a reason and later be friends with them ? ... ever felt so so bad with a stranger without a reason ? .... yes Sir, mann and the impressions on mann carries over.
I know that you might and many other people also know it, theoretically or practically or both, but just for the revision, I am repeating it here:
Yes, it is certainly a subject of extreme subjectivity.
It's a very private subject of each and every single person... and yet it's essence is for one objective for all, reaching The One.
Mann, said to exist in three forms, meaning three varying frequencies and so the Body exists in three forms: Physical, Astral and Causal
And so a person needs to go through three deaths. We here can only see one death i.e. Physical death that too we can not observe our own death with our physical eyes.
Inner eye indeed needs to be opened to see the Physical Death, to have the inner eye opened, the only way is by closing the physical eyes, i.e. going blind from the physical plane.
The science objects on all of above and debates on the existence of the soul and the mann. And I think how incomplete that whole science is. What a pity that those scientists and those with such a scientific approach fails to reason a small thing:
There is a very very easy solution to that debate which proves that soul exists, the only thing that one needs to widen up mind and come out of the ghetto we have been living since countless births.
I totally disregard the theory by Stefan Hawkins who co-relates the human with simple a Computer and tells about death as like when a Computer system grows old it stops functioning. So basically it has been used enough to not to be used anymore.
This is interesting way of keeping ourself away from the science of the invisible I would say.
(I do not hold that rude a thought like the following example, but I can not think of any other thing when thinking if one proactively kills anyone. It's disgusting of me giving this example)
Consider a horse and an insect (so incomparable bodies), behead both of them. They both will fall down. We will call them dead.
Now, today we have every tool and technique in medical science to attach their heads back to their bodies with finest of the finishing... still they won't be able to talk/walk again ever. They will still be dead.
Computer ? hard disk crashed, get a new one, install another OS, good to go.
Why do us all beings are called living ?
What exactly is Living ? ... Body is living ? Why did it stop responding then ?
What was the exceptional thing in the living beings which ran out of the body and didn't come back even after fixing the bodies ?
Yes Sir, we are talking about Soul here.
If there is a Soul in the Living Being's body, and if it Leaves the body on death, there must also be a place where it leaves to ?
Yes Sir, we are talking about realms.
"Hai ghat mein, soojhe nahin, laanat aisi Jind"
"Kahe Tulsi is sansaar ko, pada motiya bind"
- Sant. Tulsi Saheb Ji
meaning: It's right their inside in between your eyes, if you can't see that ! I pity on your whole birth. I pity on the world, everyone is ill with what a great Cataract they can not see at all.
Posted by: One Initiated | March 07, 2014 at 12:37 AM
Thanks One Initiated,
Unfortunately, you just talk and talk and never get around to providing your specific definition for what Free Will means.
Focus, Focus.....DON'T WANDER OFF INTO THE NOISE....my friend.....PREPARE A SPECIFIC DEFINITION OF WHAT free will IS!!!!!!
Posted by: Roger | March 07, 2014 at 08:57 AM
We will come up with very good definitions,
if you first give me a definition of "WILL"
Posted by: 777 | March 08, 2014 at 02:39 AM
Found this at dictionary.com
1. the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions: the freedom of the will.
2. power of choosing one's own actions: to have a strong or a weak will.
3. the act or process of using or asserting one's choice; volition: My hands are obedient to my will.
4. wish or desire: to submit against one's will.
5. purpose or determination, often hearty or stubborn determination; willfulness: to have the will to succeed.
----777, now submit your "very good" definitions. Don't forget to throw in your definition of freedom, as used in Free Will.
Posted by: Roger | March 08, 2014 at 10:39 AM
Shortly before his death Ramana Maharshi (a widely respected sage)said:
There is neither creation nor destruction
Neither destiny nor free will
Neither path nor achievement;
This is the final truth.
I thought this was germain to the conversation, but to confirm it would be presumptuous. To understand it could be liberation. However, it would follow that there is neither bondage or liberation.
So, don't worry about it.
Posted by: tucson | March 08, 2014 at 12:11 PM
We want to be free from whatever we imagine is holding us until we realize that freedom is imagination.
Posted by: cc | March 09, 2014 at 09:08 AM
Free Will is an expression.......a nice conversational piece......
That said, it would be interesting to see how such is defined from various persons.
Hopefully, without all the preaching.
Posted by: Roger | March 09, 2014 at 12:06 PM
Free will would imply that the individual can make a choice and perform an action without factors involving environment, circumstance, conditioning, the autonomic nervous system, other individuals' actions and the winds of change. It would seem free will would be impossible. There is only the appearance of free will. Destiny also seems impossible for the same reasons.
However, I once "saw" that everything was happening in a grand universal pattern that had a purpose of moving and evolving, sort of being swept inexorably by a tide toward/into and ultimately consciously merging with something I can only call a mandala of infinite facets of radiant energy as light. Trilions of galaxies are dwarfed by it. Yet, we already are that mandala and at the same time moving toward it. This is the inexplicable, wonderous mystery of life.
If that vision is true, "we" do have a destiny and it is beautiful beyond measure.
Don't worry, be happy. Whatever is bothering you now is small stuff...really small, as big as it may seem at the moment.
As Churchill once said: "If you are going through hell, just keep going through it."
For one day you will realize you are home and it is grand. Peace will envelop you forever in a second.
Posted by: tucson | March 09, 2014 at 11:01 PM
OK , I never preached
I even tell RS interested people to ask for it
only if they can't live without.
Many people like the advaita path of non-duality
I like the duality
I told only my objective experiences in a 1+3=4 way
Show me one comment where I preach
As for FREE WILL
it does not exist at all !
I said some time ago
that any CT-scanner including its operator knows what you will decide 6 seconds before you know yourself !
If you like 'free will' you have first to understand the RS teachings where it is stated
that once you had Free Will
But like any chess player it diminished after the first pass .............. now we are at pass 9999999999999999²²²²²²²²²²²²²²²²²²²²
When a device can see six seconds before you
it's very well possible that developed persons
can see it a year before yourself
Ramana is right for those who join him in being absorbed in the deity brahma
or even with mephisto
The Almighty is far from this kind of collection schemes
S/He wants only the here & there resulting Love
Souls are immortal
These collectors are temporary
It might be a trillion Big Bangs but it's temporary
Posted by: 777 | March 10, 2014 at 05:46 AM
Tucson, beautifully expressed..I can totally relate to it...It rings true for myself as well.Thanks Don Quixote.
Posted by: june schlebusch | March 10, 2014 at 07:42 AM
"Free will would imply that the individual can make a choice and perform an action without factors involving environment, circumstance, conditioning, the autonomic nervous system, other individuals' actions and the winds of change. It would seem free will would be impossible."
---This statement is very good. The possible detachment associated with choices and action performances could be pointing towards a subjective Free Will.
Posted by: Roger | March 10, 2014 at 12:31 PM
Free will is illusory and behavior is deterministic, but we can learn (from consequences and effects) how to modify our behavior so that it's determined more by new information than by old information. This, however, does not apply to people who resist new information that doesn't support their beliefs, i.e., religious people.
Posted by: cc | March 10, 2014 at 01:42 PM
We can modify our behavior through reasoning. Reasoning is so important. Freedom found within reasoning is another fascinating topic. The deeply fanatically religious will have very little.
Posted by: Roger | March 10, 2014 at 07:54 PM
What we want to be free from is complete determination by the forces that undoubtedly influence us, so that we have some elbow room to "make ourselves up".
Posted by: TheAncientGeek | January 01, 2015 at 09:20 AM