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limits of free will - by P.K.Odendaal - July 2013
If you are still unsure whether you have
free will, this is probably not for you, but read on - you just might be surprised. In previous articles I have elaborated
on that and the gist of the argument is as follows:
God cannot make a mistake or error. I make mistakes and errors. I therefore do things for which only I am the author. QED
God created all kinds of creatures, but he created one specific kind of creature with which he could be friends and talk to. To be a friend and have an opinion which we may talk to God about implies that we have independent thoughts, and that we are not robots. The idea of having independent thoughts was framed by Descartes many centuries ago, and is incorporated in his adage: I think, therefore I am.
The problem however lies in the fact that
we do not understand what free will means and how it works. Theoretically free
will can be said to be infinite - there are no bounds to what I can think of or
do. I can influence my destiny. I have free will whether I want it or not,
whether I like it or not and whether I exercise it or not. In the words of Paul
Sartre: We are condemned into free will. We can at any time take any decision
without referring to our previous actions and decisions.
That is mostly true, but it is also a trap
for fools. Our free will has limits. It is just the way we are. We are not
omnipotent. And if we are not omnipotent, then there are things we cannot do,
cannot think of, or cannot influence. That we all know - but what are the
We might start at a very basic level. Let
us say it is my intention, driven on by my free will, to change the trajectory
of the earth around the sun. That I plainly cannot do, unless you believe in
your horoscope. Not that it is impossible, or has never been done, but I need a
lot of help with that one. So, I realise that I am not fully in control or
allowed full control of my destiny and, with that, the destiny of other people.
I am limited, although my own feelings are that these limits are not very small
- we just do not know what our limits are, how to expand that or how to stretch
that envelope. We are said to be able to move mountains - not that I have tried
that either, but the Bible says it is possible.
On a more mundane level and an easier task,
I might want to move my broken-down car to a place that I have chosen,
according to my free will, where it can be fixed. I cannot push my car alone. I
will need help.
And finally - to a very easy example - I
wish to think about my next holiday. That I can do freely.
In between these we have a grey area. Firstly
because we do not know what the limits of our free will or the limits of our
own capacity is. And that is what is known as stretching the envelope. I can do
more things tomorrow, than I did yesterday, for the simple reason that I tried
new things today. But, of course, not too many people try new things today. It
is also said that we limit ourselves by the limits of the things we can
George Bernard Shaw said:
You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.
Now let us call in some help.
I have this car to push to a place where it
may be fixed. I call my neighbour, because he offered his help previously
without thinking of the consequences - a thing you also did - I mean not
thinking of the consequences. He says that he has a much better idea than you
have - thinking of his second cousin who is unemployed and needs some money,
but who has never fixed a car. You cannot refuse this help without dire
consequences - so you accept his proposal and you are back at square one.
Getting this car to move somewhere is somehow not within the ambit of your
abilities at this stage, because your helper has decided otherwise. You have
compromised your free will. And now you are a determinist.
Secondly, I have my child's birthday party on
day X, and I do not want it to rain on day X. I believe God can help me - so I
pray fervently to God to keep away the rain on day X. My neighbour however - no
- not the same one fortunately - has planted a large tract of land with corn to
feed his family. He needs rain urgently, otherwise they will starve. God sides
on the part of the real needy, as He mostly does, and the rain he sends to the
poor man's crop, will also cause rain on day X at my child's birthday. It
cannot therefore stay dry on day X, even with the help of God.
In a more general sense, we are trapped in
a three dimensional realm or domain, with limited abilities even in that realm
Are we going to say, like the determinists,
that free will does not exist; that what will be will be? We will be refuting
the very basis of our own quality of life and hope, and we will then have to
carry that burden stoically.
It turns out then that I only have free
will when I believe in it and when I use it. For other people it does not
exist. Of course, I realise that my free will has limits, and I do not buy any
book - out of free will - which has the name: 'Living a life without limits'.
It is a dead giveaway that that author should not have resorted to writing
books to confuse people, being confused himself.
It is no use sneering at a determinist
because he does not believe in free will. For him it does not exist - I am what
I think - and what I believe in.
I am a proponent of the idea that we live
within our own consciousness, but not that we do not exist, like the Buddhists
would have us believe - much rather like Descartes would have us believe.
As an example, I take the life of an object
living in flatland - where they only have two dimensions. That object can only
move forward and sideways. It can never even think of moving up or down - that
option does not exist in its consciousness. However, we in three dimensional
space, are more advanced and know that there exists a domain somewhere where
objects can live in four dimensions, so our free will might have us aspire to
enter that domain, however difficult that may be. In fact, I would think a
séance is a desire to enter that domain; so is my aspirations to live in the
spirit, but guided by the Holy Spirit. I cannot do it by myself like the people
in séances try to do. I need help big time.
I find that my free will depends on my
natural state as well as my spiritual state. I have serious physical bounds and
not so serious spiritual bounds, and that is the reason we have this new notion
of people who say they are spiritual but not religious - meaning nothing. We
are all spiritual and lower forms of life like birds and trees are not.
Look how man has expanded his physical
state in the past century. Previously he could only go to Paris, but now he can
go to the moon. He has, however, remained stagnant in his spiritual state, and
that is what severely hampered his thoughts on free will.
If I may repeat Shakespeare again (from
Hamlet): 'Nothing in itself is bad, but thinking makes it so'. Thinking and
faith was supposed to elevate us to the sphere of the gods, but unfortunately
we only think about once or twice a year, as I pointed out in my previous
article, and we almost never believe. We have become a race of skeptics.
This article is not complete without the
dialogue between God and a Mortal (an extract) from 'The Mind's I' by Raymond
me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views about your real nature,
why don't you enlighten us? Why don't you guide us the right way?
God:What makes you think I'm not?
mean, why don't you appear to our very senses and simply tell us that we are
you really so naïve as to believe that I am a sort of being which can appear to
your senses. It would be more correct to say that I am your senses.
Mortal;You are my senses?
quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth than the idea that
I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like you, I am a subject,
and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived. You can no more see me
than your own thoughts. You can see an apple, but the event of your seeing an
apple is itself not seeable. And I am far more than the seeing of an apple than
the apple itself.
Mortal:If I can't see you, how do I know you exist?
God:Good question! How in fact do you know
that I exist?
Mortal:Well, I am talking to you, am I not?
do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told a psychiatrist,
"Yesterday I talked to God." What do you think he would say?
might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are atheistic, I guess
most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.
God:And they would be right!
Mortal:What? You mean you don't exist?
have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just because you are
talking to yourself, it follows that I don't exist?
right, I'll grant your point! But what I really want o know is do you exist?
God:What a strange question!
Mortal:Why? Men have been asking if for countless millennia.
know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most
strange question to ask me!
I am the very one whose existence you doubt! ... how can you possibly expect to
obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you
expect the non-existence of the very same being?
Mortal:So you won't tell me whether or not you
am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer I could give you
could possibly satisfy you.
if you can't tell me whether or not you exist, then who possibly can?
is something which no one can tell you. It is something which only you can find
out for yourself.
Mortal:How do I go about finding this out for
also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have to find out for
Mortal:Why did you say your expression was
I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak
of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is
equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings
attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancients (Taoists) were quite
close when they said of me that I do no do things, yet through me all things
get done. I am not the cause of the Cosmic process. I am the Cosmic process