Free will again (Humans)

by dhw, Friday, March 02, 2012, 13:27 (2782 days ago) @ xeno6696

MATT: We don't need to know about consciousness in the abstract to be able to answer the question about free will.

MATT: ...it is so difficult to obtain exclusive control of your thoughts [...] If we're only capable of controlling our minds for narrow gaps... then this necessarily means that most of the time, we're NOT in active control. Not in the way we think we are. It means our subconscious likely has much more to say about how we act than we think we do. Free will is really a "gate." And really... all this gate does (for most people, most of the time) is say "no" to certain kinds of actions. Otherwise, you just keep right on doing whatever filters into your mind. [I've juggled the quotes.]

I'd also include the times your talking gate says "yes", but free will in my view has nothing whatsoever to do with controlling your thoughts, unless you want to do that as part of your Buddhist exercises. As I define it ("an entity's conscious ability to control its decision-making process within given constraints") free will only comes into play when decisions are to be made. If there is no conflict (I feel like going for a walk, so I do), the decision itself is conscious, even if influenced by subconscious forces, but we may not be conscious that we are exercising free will. The extra layer of awareness will probably only come into play if there are problems affecting our choice. I feel like going for a walk, but my wife wants me to mow the lawn. Then I consciously weigh the pleasure of a leisurely stroll against the pleasure of pleasing my wife (or the displeasure of displeasing my wife) and I take my decision: I mow the lawn! Similarly, we do not control our desires, we only control whether we give in to our desires. I consciously decide to eat my piece of chocolate ... free will in operation, but no problem, so no conscious effort to overcome the desire. My weight shoots up, and so I consciously decide not to eat any chocolate till my weight comes down again. (I actually do this. Honest!) That is where the will comes into conscious play. I agree with you that it is like a muscle, and theoretically I could even will myself out of the desire to eat chocolate ... though not today of course! In other words, there are different levels at which free will operates, but it always involves conscious decisions. The question remains as to how far those decisions themselves are influenced by factors outside our control (the interaction between our genes, our upbringing, our state of health etc.), and that is why I don't know how free our will really is.

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I drafted this before reading BBella's extremely revealing thoughts on meditation. She has hit the nail bang on the head: "...thought can't be controlled. Only what you choose to focus on can be controlled."


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