I finished reading your five-part series on free will yesterday evening, after several sittings over dinner. It was an interesting and informative presentation indeed. The question of free will has occupied my mind for some years now. In fact, one of the things that drew me to Advaita Vedanta was its position on free will — it seems that more than a few of the arguments closely resemble my own.
Reading your case against free will in HOW TO MEET YOURSELF (pages 170-174), I was struck at how similar it was to the one made roughly 80 years ago by the 20th century English scholar Joseph McCabe. I think the passage is worth quoting in full, as you might find it interesting:
“When you say that you are free to choose—say, between the train and the surface car, or between the movies and the theater—you are using rather ambiguous language. All common speech for expressing mental experiences is loose and ambiguous. You have the two alternatives—movies or theater—in your mind. You hover between them. You do not feel any compulsion to choose one or the other. Then you deliberately say to yourself—not realizing that you have thereby proved the spirituality of the soul, which has made apologists perspire for centuries—‘I choose Norma Talmadge.’ Continue reading →
If our valued Readers are interested, I propose to start a New Series of Posts on some of the latest Scientific advances that could be of interest to our Community of Advaita Thinkers and Philosophers. These Posts will be infrequent and in the form of simple “Alerts” on the current research findings. What gets reported by me will obviously be constrained by at least two of my own limitations:
(i) The conscious and or unconscious ‘filtering mechanism’ exercised by my mind in selection of the topics; and
(ii) What research papers happen to come to my notice.
For the present, here is a sample Post to show how I propose to structure this venture taking selections from the works published during the last couple of weeks:
[If Dennis agrees and if there is sufficient interest, we may continue and improve upon this idea. Readers may like to send their views to Dennis (in confidence, if desired).] Continue reading →
Lets look at the play of the universe. Pauli’s exclusion principle, fundamental to quantum mechanics, basically states that two electrons can never occupy the same space at the same time. As all matter in the universe contains electrons, it means that what we call life (including the play of the lifeless) is nothing but an ever-whirling dance: a dance of electrons in which there are no clashes. If you rub your hands together, the heat indicates that electrons have been displaced and thus every electron in the whole universe will need to adjust position to accommodate the displaced electrons. With every displaced electron, other electrons move in to take their places which necessitates yet other electrons move in to fill their deserted positions and in this way every electron in the universe changes position. Infinitely, eternally. Continue reading →
Q: It seems like a contradiction to me to say that we are the observer and not the doer and, at the same time, suggest that we can do something such as paying attention. I encounter this “apparent contradiction” often when I read about Advaita. If there is no doer, why are there suggestions as to how to remove ignorance, for example? Who would remove the ignorance if there is no doer?
- Is it that in the dualistic world it appears as if there is a doer and therefore we act “as if”, even though we might know that there is no doer?
- If we realize that there is no doer but we act “as if”, is it like playing our part in a “game”?
Free Will by Sam Harris, Free Press, 2012, pp: 83, ISBN 978-1-4516-8340-0
I always wondered at the American marketing wizardry of bite-size chocolates and peanut butter cups that lure the consumers. If a book on a highly intriguing, tantalizing and no less controversial a subject like Free Will is presented in bite-size, even a die-hard Advaitin can hardly hold his temptation to take a bite! And I did.
Perhaps one should call it a long essay discussed under eight or so subheadings rather than a book. You hardly open the cover and right away, the text begins with “The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about” — no Intros, no Forewords, no time wasted. And then as suddenly, the author explodes the myth of ‘our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice.’ He writes:
“If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clock-work…… And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high.”
The stakes may be high; but Advaitins will surely cheer the author, Sam Harris, a Ph. D. in Neuroscience on those scientific declarations. Continue reading →
Q. Dennis–I have read your books( and appreciate them) and many books and tapes from many teachers on advaita and “neoadvaita” . There have been glimpses and experiencing here in the last 15 years resulting in much lightness in this life. The real freedom came when it was realized there was no more need to “decide” “who to listen to or follow” and “I” have followed them all. I have one question which seems to separate your views from Parsons yet he, you and the others all state that “the bottom line is “nothing matters” and whether or not an apparent person “gains” self knowledge makes not the slightest difference to reality-oneness. The question is this:
If the truth is ultimately only oneness always present, what difference does it make whether “I” as a separate individual meditates or doesn’t, “prepares myself for awakening or doesn’t etc, etc or does whatever “I” thinks it is doing??. If I rob a store which seems to be out of the nature of this ‘I’, why do you( or the traditional Advaita scriptures) say this is “dangerous” if not prepared??. Whatever apparently happens is going to apparently happen anyway with no “doing” by “me” The freedom here has come from having intuitive trust and let life guide. Continue reading →
Q: I come across a lot about clearing the mind….but if there is no person, no-one that can have a will of his/her own, surely a desire or will to clear the mind is a nonsense? The mind cannot be tamed because there is not a person to whom it belongs, someone with their own free will? Is that at all right? Surely a clear mind would only arise because it is the will of Brahman?
A: It’s only nonsense once you know that you are not a person!
Also, you have to be very clear when you are talking about Brahman. Strictly speaking, the term ‘brahman’ refers to the non-dual reality and, if you are using it in this sense, it is not meaningful to speak of ‘the will of brahman’ – brahman does not have any will; there are no ‘parts’ to brahman and there is nothing other than brahman.
If you are talking about the person (appearance) within the world (appearance), then you have to refer to Ishvara as the ‘creator’ and the dispenser of body-minds in accordance with accumulated karma from past lives.
You have to be clear in your own mind about this distinction because, for example, the Brahma Sutras uses the word ‘brahman’ in both senses and expects you to know which one is being referred to in any given instance!
Other experiments carried out more recently have confirmed that having a relevant thought prior to an action also gives us the feeling that we ‘caused’ the action, even when this is not the case. One experiment involved an arrangement of mirrors whereby the subject sees himself but with another person’s arms in place of his own. Instructions to move the arms in various ways are given and the arms subsequently move accordingly. Although the arms actually belong to an unseen person, the subject nevertheless feels that he has moved them. Continue reading →
“The experience of willing an act arises from interpreting one’s thoughts as the cause of the act.” Daniel Wegner, quoted in the excellent book: Consciousness: an Introduction, Susan Blackmore, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-515343-X. Buy from Amazon US or UK.
The scientific views that are often cited in respect of these discussions stem from experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet in the late 1970’s and by Daniel Wegner in the 1990’s. I described these in my books ‘How to Meet Yourself’ and ‘Back to the Truth’. Since very few people have actually read the former, I will quote at length from that: Continue reading →
The metaphor of the motor boat crossing a fast-flowing river was used by Swami Chinmayananda. The current represents karma or destiny, as dictated by our prArabdha saMskAra; the power of the motor represents our own self-effort or free will. If the current is strong and our will is weak, we will be unable to overcome its force. If we are able to exert powerful self-effort (puruShArtha), we may overcome the force of habit and forge a new path.
Advaita tells us that who-we-really-are does not act in any case. For there to be action, there would have to be (at least) two things. But, empirically, we the witness see the body (which is only matter) performing actions. We identify with this and think that ‘I am acting’. The Bhagavad Gita (III.27) says: “The guNa-s of prakRRiti perform all karma. With the understanding clouded by egotism, man thinks ‘I am the doer’.” Continue reading →