“Men do not rule circumstances”: The limits of free will

The previous video in this conversation:

Got a comment from Rasa on the topic of free will, pointing out that this concept of free will can be misused, misapplied, to suggest that basically everything in our lives is our choice.
We choose to be who we are.
And so whatever situation we’re in, anybody looking at that can just look back and say oh, here you must have had these certain good or bad choices to get you to the place where you are now.
And in some cases, it can even be taken to the extreme of even beyond this lifetime, in some previous lifetime, you made choices that led to the situation that you were born in.
But clearly, the idea that we choose everything in our lives is taking this much too far.
Free will, the ability to make free choices: I believe that every conscious being has the ability to make choices.
But that doesn’t mean that we can choose everything about our situation.
Far from it.
Because in our actions, we are severely constrained by everything else that’s going on.
We live within a certain situation.
We’re born into a certain situation, at a certain time and place.
We have experiences that form us in our early years, before we have the ability to make conscious choices.
And then even at the adult stage, we are still already living in the mould and the manner that we have been trained in and trained ourselves in, and we are affected by all the things going on around us.
So the idea of assigning everything to individual choices is certainly a mistake, and it’s especially bad when it’s applied to other people.
To look at somebody in a certain situation and just sort of reverse-engineer that, you know, work back and say oh, they must have made this and this a choice.
It seems to be when it comes to people that are highly successful that we can say oh, they must have made good choices.
But then if we look at people that are very unsuccessful, we also can apply this idea of they made bad choices.
And in both those cases, it’s missing out on all the other factors and situations that can affect the situation that somebody’s in.
So the idea of if you see a homeless alcoholic, and you can say to this person, “It’s OK, I have the solution.
It’s very simple.
You have been choosing to be a homeless alcoholic.
So the solution is: use your free will to decide not to drink.
And then use your free will to set wholesome goals for yourself and work earnestly every day towards achieving them, and you will be in a happier situation.” Of course, it would be quite foolish to say that to somebody, because it’s not simply a matter of deciding to change your situation out of nowhere.
Not only are we constrained by the circumstances outside us that we’re in, but even more basically, our own ability to use our free will is constrained.
We don’t have a total ability to simply decide whatever we want and do it.
We have varying degrees of control over our own will and over ourselves.
Anybody who has an addiction can understand that.
And even somebody with no significant addiction still has a limited willpower.
We cannot simply make ourselves do anything.
There is always a limit.
And for some of us, the limit is a very restrictive limit, in that we cannot- either you could say we don’t know how, we don’t have the training, the practice, the discipline, the habit, to be able to apply our will in an organized way.
It seems like the automatic state and the default state is to have a disorganized will, to not have a clearly organized decision making and enacting ability.
We kind of go from situation to situation, make a lot of unconscious choices, make a lot of unconscious actions, automatic behaviour, and we don’t just have this sort of like strategic master control view that oh, I can pick this about my life, I can pick this about my life.
We can never get that perfectly, and it seems like the default state is to be nowhere near that.
We’re just sort of in this chaotic mix of events and just making a lot of little decisions here and there.
So the commenter, Rasa, uses the example of a bug climbing up a tree.
This is a giant tree with millions of branches and billions of leaves.
So the bug can, at each juncture as it’s climbing up the tree, can choose which branch to climb onto.
So you could say that the bug has complete free will.
And yet, the bug is at the mercy of the tree and the wind and whatever other factors are going on.
So that’s a good picture of how free will really is limited, in the sense that we don’t even know what we’re doing.
So, you know, we can make a free choice, but then we don’t really know what the effects of that choice are going to be.
So we cannot freely design the end state of our lives, and say, well, here, I want to be this happy, healthy, successful person, so […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *