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Take a second right now to do a simple experiment: Raise your hand and then lower it back down. The question is a very simple one. Were you free to choose your response to that request? Or was it predetermined? The answer is not so simple.
Some advocates of the predetermination viewpoint compare life and existence to a pool table. Every ball is moving with a particular velocity and spin. The elasticity of the cushions and friction of the felt can be calculated. With a properly programmed computer, you can determine exactly where every ball on the table will come to rest. It’s all predetermined. Predeterminists say the entire universe is like one, huge pool table. Given a large enough computer, one could calculate and predetermine the future sequence of any and every event. Even your thoughts and emotions are events predetermined by the same classical laws of physics. In the simple experiment above, whether or not you lifted your hand was also predetermined.
In Eastern philosophy, the predetermined nature of life is sometimes referred to as the law of karma. Whatever happens is considered to be predetermined. There is no freedom. According to the predeterminists, the fact that you may feel free is irrelevant. How you feel has nothing to do with what actually is. Your feelings, like anything else in nature, are predetermined.
From the classical perspective of physics, predetermination seems to be a certainty. But modern physics introduces a degree of uncertainty with respect to the sequence of events. The universe is built up of subatomic particles. The study of their behavior is called quantum mechanics. All of existence is nothing more than a summation of the behavior of subatomic particles. The question of predetermination versus free will then boils down to the study of the random behavior of subatomic particles. As Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle explains, there’s a certain randomness or undetermined behavior to the subatomic particles. Einstein felt that the behavior of subatomic particles was, in fact, not random as expressed by his famous, “God didn’t play dice with the universe.”
If the apparent randomness of the Uncertainty Principle is in actuality negotiable, that is to say if we have some influence or control over it, we could have free will. Many scientists today theorize the mind is in essence a quantum mechanical machine. If the mind can affect the apparent random nature of subatomic particles, then there is such a thing as free will. However, even in such a case, it would be more accurate to say that we are free only to the degree to which we function from that quantum mechanical level of our mind. If left to function on more superficial levels, the brain and psyche still succumb to predetermination through the same classical laws of physics that govern the movement of the balls on a pool table as discussed above. The degree to which a particular individual is truly free is in direct proportion to the degree to which they are functioning from the quantum mechanical level of their mind. Ascertaining how free you actually are is not an easy thing to do. You cannot just choose to be free. Freedom is a state of physiology. It’s not an attitude or belief system that you can simply decide to adopt.
There is an additional consideration that sheds even greater light on the topic. The subject of time. From a quantum mechanical perspective, time itself is, relatively speaking, superficial. Modern physics tell us that on the deepest levels of existence, time does, in fact, not exist. There is no sequence of events. There is only simultaneity of all that is. Simultaneity is like a deck of cards spread out over the face of the illusion of time. Time is an expression of that which lies beyond the grasp of time. It is essential to understand that from this deepest perspective, the question of free will versus predetermination ceases to exist. They become one and the same thing. In other words, if ultimately there is no time, then there is no sequentiality. There is, then, no difference between free will and predetermination. The reason we have found the question of free will versus predetermination unfathomable is simply because we have attempted to fathom a quantum mechanical question from a non-quantum mechanical perspective.
Practically speaking, what does all of this mean? How does it affect our every day life and the “real” world in which we live? Most of what happens is, in fact, predetermined. In other words, most of our thoughts, feelings, and reactions are conditioned, or in other words, programmed. However, it’s reasonable to believe that every individual has at least some degree of free will. In other words, to some degree their consciousness functions from the quantum mechanical level of their mind. It is interesting to note that many modern physicists believe that the underlying basis of all existence is, in fact, consciousness itself. It is the level where the non-predetermined mechanic of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is lively. The degree to which you are able to function from that level is the degree to which you are truly free. And that is not an attitude or philosophy, but is a physiological state that can potentially be cultivated.
Some philosophers and theologians refer to this as a state of oneness with God. They argue that at this level, your individual will and God’s will become one. You become infinitely free. More often than not, spiritual emotionalism, semantics, and connotations confuse the issue, subjecting one to the prevalence of dogma-even more conditioned programming. Rationality then becomes subjugated to dogmatic convictions. At that point, any discussion of the subject ceases to be based in clear thinking. However, if we can integrate the emotional aspects of ourselves with the rational, we can take great steps forward in our understanding of life.
© Michael Mamas, 12/04