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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A Brief Note From Bryan Magee On Free Will

Free will.  Kinda a big deal in our day and age.  Us Westerners have it ingrained into our very souls.

I want to put this out there just as a supporting piece to something Stephen has written about the absence of self.

He's pointed out that if there's no you, there's also no anyone.  

Now yes, we've known this from day one - in a sense.  It was always one of the obvious consequences of the absence of self, there's no self for anyone, there never was.

But I think that we may have missed the full ramifications of this.  Maybe not - maybe.  

The thing is - if there's no-one, what is there?  Consciousness, thoughts, bodies, brains - no-one owning it.  But also... no-one pulling the strings.  

No-one pulling the strings.

That's the rub.  There is no puppetmaster directing the flow of life, there's just life.  Everywhere.  In everyone. Life flowing - getting blocked of course, tied into knots by the fundamental lie of the human condition - self - but still.

Anyway, I was reminded of something Bryan Magee wrote in The Philosophy Of Schopenhauer.  An insight Schopenhauer had about free will.

I could re-write the example, but that would be to mangle it, so I give you Bryan Magee's own words:

"If I am ordering a meal in a restaurant I may be free to choose whatever I like from among the alternatives on the menu. 

But I am not free to choose what what I like shall be. 

I cannot say to myself: 'Up to this point in my life I have always detested spinach, but just for today I am going
to like it.' 

Nor am I in a position to ask myself: 'Shall I decide that I am in the mood for fish, or shall I decide that I am in the mood for chicken?'

What I am in the mood for, and what I like or detest, are not at my command. It is not they that are matters of choice for me: they are given to me as accomplished facts, and it is on the basis of them that I make my

I can choose whatever it is I wish to choose, but I cannot will what it is that I shall wish to choose. As it has often been put, I can choose what I will but I cannot will what I will."




Because if you look at it like this, it's actually not difficult to notice that free will, as commonly conceived, is - at the very least - a profoundly simplistic way of looking at the situation.

We can be free (of outside pressure) to do what we like or not.... but we cannot choose what we like.

So actually, when you look at it, this is a lot closer to the idea of life flowing, and only getting irritated when it is blocked or confounded in where it already wants to go.

Why does this matter?  Because there is no choice per se.  Not in the sense that all the data goes to a central processor, gets numbercrunched and then a true choice emerges.

Even if there were a CPU in the human brain (and there isn't) what would the numbercrunching be in aid of?  You'd be looking to get the most optimal outcome from a choice you make.  But optimal by what standard?

Magee's point isn't that we ARE free to choose what to do to get the best out of life - but we are NOT free to choose what we think the best of life IS.

This to me seems related.  I think this is interesting - and I think that there may be something in this.  A new way of looking at the world.  Maybe.  Hmm.