Monday Musings 278 - Free Will - is it that free?
A conversation with close friends have strange ways of opening up unknown nuances of a hackaneyed topic. The conversation lingers on even after it has ended - like the 'Zayka' of the 'paan' lingers on even after it is gone. Recently i had one such on the subject of 'choice' - whether We have the freedom of choice, which soon let to the question of if true free choice even exists. The notion of free will exists and its that notion is quite sexy, to borrow a rather inappropriate phrase - i am sure you get the drift.
The concept of free will has haunted thinkers for long - the notion that we are the architects of our lives and can determine the course of it, if not in a limited sense then certainly in a the larger sense. The Other end of the spectrum is Determinism which claims "that all behavior is caused by preceding factors and is thus predictable" Contrast this with Free will, which is the idea that we are able to have some choice in how we act and assumes that we are free to choose our behavior, in other words we are self determined.
What is the nature of the world - Deterministic or Self Deterministic is frankly a philosophical debate that still is unresolved. The debate in the Indian subcontinent might be even more complicated because of general tendency to be fatalistic, particularly governed by the 'karmic' notion of things. Let me illustrate it - Just imagine fretting over the current agony of our lives (whatever that is) and wanting to improve it (in whichever way it is possible); On hand believing that if appropriate actions are taken then all problems can be solved - and yet on the other hand listening to the karmic theory that the current problems are/may be result of some old bad karma, in this life or last. If the problem doesn't kill the person, i am sure the dilemma would!!
I think the notion of free will is very liberating - so whether it is true or not is frankly not the issue. We would like to believe that it is true. The idea that we indeed are the architects of our lives is quite empowering. It makes the pain of the present a little more tolerable. If somehow we come to know that we are not in control of what will happen to our lives, the enormity of the helplessness can be very depressing, if not more. Think about this situation to understand the point. If our current problem is because of a choice which we think we did not really make (say it was dumped on us by well meaning parents or a partner) then we inadvertantly become proponents of free choice; what if we were equally unhappy with the same choice even if we had made it ourselves. Would we be still pro choice with as much vigor? Another way to say this is as follows- is our opinion based on our personal experience or on a certain principle which we hold dear?
So where are we on this? What do we really believe in? Not the opinions over drinks and coffee table but in the starkness of our own private thoughts - what do we tell ourselves when we are the nadir of our emotional fragility? What is the self talk when it seems that the dark clouds wont ever go, and there is no conceivable way our of the abyss that we are in, when we recognise that the life that we thought we shall have is in no way possible; when the definitions of happiness have to be rebooted, redrafted and we are afraid that if we indeed have to reboot our notion of happiness that we have held dear for so long, we will not be the same person ever again and if that is even worth it? In those moments what is the premise that we base our next moment on - Deterministic or Free Will?