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Free Will: Yea or Nay?

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    Many of the threads on this forum deal with the deep mysteries of existence. However, seems most comments (my own included) appear to accept free will as a given – which changes the nature of what’s under discussion (for example, what does virtue look like if we don’t have free will?).

    The jury remains out on this – so I am curious:

    1) What is your understanding (or definition) of free will?
    2) What are your thoughts/opinions/evidence for or against free will?
    3) What does Joseph Campbell say on the subject? (I believe there may be room for nuance there.)

    To start, here is one definition of free will: “the ability to act or to make choices independently of the environment or of the universe.”



      Free will for me is our inalienable right to freedom of conscious choice.
      I believe wholeheartedly in free will. We have the ability to choose freely for better or worse our decisions in life. We have the freedom to make mistakes change our minds , live and learn.
      Our free will gives us the ability to answer or not the call to the hero’s Journey and choose where to enter the woods where no one else has traveled. The choice to seek to be a self actualized actuated individuated individual. To seek life liberty freedom the pursuit of happiness. To boldly go where no one has gone before.


      The Bible says “choose you this day whom you will serve”.


      I say yea to free will . “Simply let your yea be yea and your nay be nay” is an axiom of Western Civilization . Yea and nay , yes and no , are the binaries of logic. Yes said Mary at the Annunciation ! Yes said Molly Bloom !! Yes said JC to the call at Gethsemane , at Woodstock !!! Where shall you enter the garden, enter the woods , enter the Orchard ?


      Free will is what makes humanity so mythically majestic to gods and man !

      Free will is The choice of the underdog to persevere prevail fight for what is right and true.


      I think information and knowledge of our environment and the universe intimately affect and are part of our free will choices. For me informed choices are part of free will and not independent. How many have ignored denied the Call , replaced it with  security prestige position power ?


      I think the decision to be an individual of mythic proportion an avatar an innovator such as Moses Krishna Arjuna Buddha  Jesus   Martin Luther  MLKjr  Gandhi  is a conscious choice. Of course it is well known that many archetypical mythical attributes are added to the biography of individuals as time moves on and narratives grow. Free will allows us to choose to rise out of and from the joyful suffering of the world we experience, live in , and attempt to make it a better place.

      Through the eight fold path ?

      Through the eye of a needle ?

      Through the answer of the Call ?



      Happy Day, Robert,

      You write

      Free will for me is our inalienable right to freedom of conscious choice.
      I believe wholeheartedly in free will. We have the ability to choose freely for better or worse our decisions in life. We have the freedom to make mistakes change our minds , live and learn.

      I concur with the idea of acting “as if” we have free will, but do we really? There is a case to be made that free will, in terms of conscious intention, is an illusion.

      Experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet (research scientist in the physiologist department at UC Berkeley) and a team of consciousness researchers in 1983 (replicated by neurophysiologists I Keller and H. Heckhausen in Munich  in 1990) suggest that we form a consciousness intention roughly half a second after brain activity stimulating muscle movement begins, but then project that “conscious” intention back in time so that, from our perspective, it’s our conscious thought that initiates the action.

      In other words (this is a simplistic example on my part, but conveys the idea), I am thirsty and decide to drink some water. I experience that as a conscious intention – but the brain activity that stimulates my  muscles to reach for the glass of water actually begins half a second before “I” make the decision to reach for that glass! The source of the action is then unconscious, rather than a conscious choice (though I experience it as such), with consciousness catching up to reality after the fact – no more a product of conscious intention than the bodily processes of digesting food or converting oxygen into hemoglobin.

      That is quite different than the common conception of free will.

      In subsequent experiments Libet and his team accrued evidence that, though the initiation of the action is unconscious, one can consciously interrupt the process (I am thirsty, my brain initiates activity to quench that thirst, but my conscious will intervenes and decides not to reach for the water); this led Libet and his colleagues to conclude that free will exists in the power of the veto: we can’t consciously decide to take an action (even though that’s the story we tell ourselves), but we can consciously decide not to perform an action: e.g. at the level of brain activity I am preparing to reach for the water, but then the conscious me is able to derail that process.

      Libet’s results were widely accepted at the time – so no surprise this roiled the debate over determinism vs. free will. I am definitely intrigued (especially with the idea that free will has its source in the “no”), but in recent years this has generated more controversy as some scientists are now raising questions and suggesting alternate interpretations of Libet’s results. The jury remains out as more experiments are being designed to test the hypothesis. I look forward to following the debate.

      Setting all that aside, I am curious how you handle the question of fate – is there such a thing from your perspective?

      Personally, I don’t believe it’s an either/or, clear-cut case of black-and-white so much as”both-and”: life is a spectrum, a blend of volition and determinism. Some things we assume to be a conscious choice might not be that at all. At the same time, I am a devoted aficionado of Campbell’s concept of “as if”; acting as if I had free will works for me.

      Personally, I like how Jawaharlal Nehru (first prime minister of India and father of Indira Gandhi), expressed it:

      Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism; the way you play it is free will.”


      Hello all,

      Interesting stuff Stephen. I have to admit I never thought of free will in this way. That it can be as mechanistic as breathing or digesting and that “free” comes from the denial of those actions like you said in your “grabbing water” example. It actually reinforces my opinion on free will.

      I always wondered how people with heavy addiction problems were able to get clean. For me that was evidence on the existence of free will. If the mind can control the addiction of a body conditioned in such heavy drugs then the only logical reason is that we indeed have free will. And then there are other examples of people who go against the biological imperative of survival and sacrifice themselves to save another. Campbell talked quite a bit about that I think.

      We also need to take under consideration how much our conscious mind affects the unconscious. Jung said.

      “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

      And then there is something else which might be a bit off topic, maybe relevant so just gonna say it.

      You start your post by saying.

      I concur with the idea of acting “as if” we have free will, but do we really? There is a case to be made that free will, in terms of conscious intention, is an illusion.

      Maybe the illusion is the divisions we create. Maybe the illusion is our approach to time. My hypothesis is that we chose, despite how we divide it as a conscious/unconscious or as past/present antithesis. We chose to drink the water or not drink it and what does it matter if it happens in real time or 5 miliseconds later.

      What matters is that we chose to perform or not perform that action. That is Proof. 🙂

      Anyways.. I am not a scientist and not scientifically oriented so my answers tend to revolve on the philosophical and mythological realms.




      Every year in remembrance of our deceased parents,we perform a ritual ceremony in my hometown.
      It is officiated by a priest who, by tradition, is ordained to officiate the local Hindu cremation rites and worship of ancestors.
      Since we follow the lunar calendar the date varies and the anniversary of my Mothers passing , fell on the March 28 , this year.
      As Covid would have it, we were unable to travel to our hometown, let alone hold the ceremony – as was the case the previous year.
      So I performed the ritual early morning as the best as memory would serve me.
      In the briefest sense it entailed summoning moms soul from the world of ancestors.

      A lamp is lit with 2 wicks aligned north and south.

      And facing South I invoked the soul, inviting her to inhabit the representation of her earthly self, fashioned out of rice. I proceeded to worship her with water,flowers, tulsi leaves, sesame seeds,oil and yoghurt – to symbolize the vital aspects of her being, that still lives on in her children.

      After this ceremony, the soul is released from this makeshift earthly domain and guided back to the ancestral world ,assisted by my prayers.
      It definitely does not bode well for anyone should the soul tarry on the way or remain in any other realm but that of ancestors.
      The rice moulds are then carefully collected in leaves and fed to the crows and the fishes. Thus celebrating the eternal Truth -that of Eternal Life.
      I live in the Middle East ,about 4000km from my home country and there are no crows in this part of the world.
      Crows represent the ancestors collective in my culture, but suffice to say that the sparrows, bulbuls and the doves,took up this foreign task with great gusto.
      As I emptied the remnants of the offerings into the Arabian gulf waters,
      I watched the grains sink down and fan out as the currents swept them away.
      It also brought the fishes to the surface and I watched them chase after the rice grains – with a certain degree of relief and wonderment.
      In Death indeed is one’s Supreme Giving.
      As I headed towards my work place, I was also distractedly toying with this thought of a fish not choosing to chase after rice.
      A Prodigal Piscis! – for choosing not to heed the call of a billion odd year old ancestral wisdom.
      Would ShHe have a growing tribe of wide eyed emaciated followers? Though one could hardly be enthusiastic about any of the afore mentioned being robust enough to spawn a generation of the emancipated.
      It was a slow day at work, so I whiled some time jawing with a colleague .
      After exhausting most topics, he somehow manoeuvered our ambit of conversation to religion.
      His first premise was that Science keeps changing its Truth – where as in Religion the Truth never changes.
      I replied that it is a great advantage indeed of Faith over Science – that one could afford great faith in ones beliefs, whereas such is not the case in science.
      Perhaps my attempt at understated skepticism was lost on him.
      Apparently emboldened by my feeble offering, he drew himself up and let go-
      There is only One who can do anything he chooses , in any corner of this universe.
      He is the creator – he created everything out of his will and he can undo his creation at the drop of the celestial Hat! (not in as many words) . He can bring death to the living, as well as life to the dead!
      His Divine Writ rules the Universe’
      I thought of the Prodigal Piscis – the one who refused to go with the flow ( sorry for the pun)
      I thanked my colleague profusely and walked away.
      What a soul shattering revelation !
      Free Will is only as real as the Creator.
      Unfortunately there is nothing to be overjoyed about it.
      If one has to inflict death and instil life at Will it cannot be the work of a Creator.
      It shows the frenzy of a mind trying frantically to control reality – or come to terms with it…. . By Creating a Story!
      A mind out of sync with the Flow – a Creator who doesnt recognize his own holy handiwork
      I trust…… I dont have to spell out, who is/are the Creator/s




        Stephen ,

        Great points and question.

        Much of the conscious unconscious decision process being debated is very important. Especially now with social media and it’s understanding of neurochemical stimulation addiction and its affect on the decision making process. I think what is important to put a metric on is , impulse stimulation and control. With the advent of neuroscientific  data some of the Freudian and Jungian language is becoming archaic and poetic. I think follow the data is a good adage .


        As for Fate and the Fates they serve a multitude of mythopoetic functions. The Fates the Graces the Muses and Grace all convey profound meaning to me and much of western civilization. Life is richer because of the contemplation that have been bestowed on them.


        “Groups of three female figures are quite common in Western art, but they can represent very different ideas. In fact, the two most common groups, which are the Fates and the Three Graces, are both associated with life, but the Fates represent destiny and death, while the Graces represent life at its fullest.”


        All are great mythic rabbit holes to explore. They enrich our lives.


        Fate freewill and chance shall always be debated and explored. There are many mythic traditions that point to them. The soldiers tossing the dice at the foot of Cross. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  The toss of the iching etc etc.


        Amor fati – Nietzsche’s love of fate naturally leads him to confront the reality of suffering in a radical way.


        For me I like Doris Day’s song Que Sera, Sera and

        Garth Brooks song The Dance …

        there is also the song Freewill by Rush a personal favorite from my youth !!


        Follow the science through the Grace of your heart !!!

        I felt this film and book touched on the themes at play here. I do enjoy




        My hubby:. “Will you clean my toilet?”

        Me:. “No.”. I don’t move.

        My hubby: “Will you drink this wine I don’t want?”

        Me: “Yes!” I move!



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