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Freedom, Determinism, & Destiny

Isis as Agathe Tyche and Osiris as Agathos Daimon in serpent form

Isis as Agathe Tyche and Osiris as Agathos Daimon in serpent form

1,319 words

Translations: GreekSpanish

Having free will means having real options to choose from. No matter what option one may choose, one could have chosen otherwise. Determinism means that we do not have real options. When one chooses, one could not have chosen otherwise.

Even if one has free will, not every choice is free. If we choose merely on the basis of feeling and impulse, is that really freedom, if such motives are largely determined by social factors? When we determine our actions by reason, are we self-determining, i.e., free beings? Of course, if our heads are full of nonsense, choosing based on our biological instincts might be better aligned with reality. Is our reason or our genome what is most of all “our own”?

The debate between freedom and determinism is not merely academic. It is a debate about our nature, about our self-image. And our self-image has profound effects on our emotions, our actions, our entire lives. From a pragmatic point of view, believing in free will is, on the whole, profoundly healthy and life-affirming; while believing in determinism is, on the whole, deeply debilitating.

People who believe in free will believe they have real options. This leads them to be alert to the options around them. Because they believe that they can actually choose, they are active and careful in considering their options and so tend to make wise choices. Because they believe that their actions make a difference in the world, they are active and efficacious. Because they are active and efficacious, they tend to realize themselves and their plans and to have high levels of self-confidence and self-esteem.

There is one “downside” to believing in free will. Free will means moral responsibility. When one acts rightly, moral responsibility entitles one to pride. But when one acts wrongly, moral responsibility condemns one to shame and guilt. But as painful as these feelings can be, would anyone be willing to give up his capacity to feel pride in order to lose his capacity to feel guilt?

The negative aspects of determinism are predictable. Determinists believe they have no real options, so they don’t look out for them. They do not believe that their thoughts make a difference, so they think less actively and carefully. They do not believe that their choices and actions make a difference, so they tend to be passive. They feel that the realization of themselves and their goals is not up to them, so they seldom do either.

Determinists generally do have a sense of moral responsibility. Determinists feel pride when they do the right thing. I have never met a determinist who disowns his positive achievements and attributes them to outside factors. The obvious reason is that pride is a form of pleasure.

Generally determinists disown only their bad acts. They feel shame and guilt when they choose wrongly. But they progressively dull these feelings by making excuses for themselves. Once their moral sensibilities have been sufficiently dulled, they tend to choose badly more often, particularly if their bad choices are rewarded by physical pleasure.

Nathaniel Branden has argued that self-esteem has two roots: a sense of efficacy and a sense of moral worth. Believing in free will cultivates both roots; believing in determinism attacks them.

Believing in some forms of determinism, however, can be profoundly life-affirming. I am thinking, specifically, of the idea of destiny. If you believe that you are destined to suffer defeat, then your first setback tends to be your last. You simply lie down and let the cosmos run over you.

If, however, you believe that you are destined to achieve greatness, then every setback is viewed as merely temporary; you never encounter an obstacle that looks insurmountable; you throw yourself into every venture, thinking that the whole weight on the universe is thrown in on your side.

Naturally, such people tend to be immensely alert to opportunities and active and self-confident in pursuing them, and such qualities tend to produce success. Some of history’s greatest heroes and villains believed that they were destined to achieve greatness: Alexander, Caesar, Washington, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, de Gaulle.

A sense of destiny is, of course, essentially a narcissistic or superstitious delusion of grandeur. It is neither based upon nor correctable by reality. But the fact that it is a delusion does not detract from, but actually enhances, its practical effect.

Another life-affirming sense of destiny is the notion that the length of one’s life is determined before one’s birth, and that there is nothing one can do shorten or extend it. Such a belief encourages noble behavior amidst the difficulties of life, particularly in battle. If one’s life cannot be prolonged by cowardice and petty calculations, then one might as well choose to be brave and magnanimous. If one’s time is up, one will at least die with dignity.

This concept of destiny is not, however, a pure form of determinism, for it presupposes that courage and cowardice, nobility and baseness are real options. One’s life span is not, of course, fated—but those who believe it is and choose bravery are more likely to lead longer and happier lives than those who choose cowardice.

Although the particular span of our lives is not predetermined, we are destined to age and to die. Our only choice in the matter is to do so with dignity or to be dragged kicking and screaming. The wise man embraces destiny and rides in her chariot. The foolish man has to be dragged behind in chains.

Another sense of destiny that is profoundly life-affirming is Heracleitus’s equating of character (ethos) with destiny (one’s daimon). The Greek word “daimon” refers to a quasi-divine being, such as an angel. Every human being has a daimon assigned to him at birth. This is our tutelary deity, our guardian angel. To say that our daimon is our character does not mean that it is our present character. Instead, it is our ideal character: the self as it might and ought to be.

To say that our daimon is our destiny means that life is and ought to be a process of self-actualization, of discovering and living in harmony with our true natures. To identify the daimon with destiny is not a complete denial of freedom of choice. Instead, it presents us with a fundamental choice. We can embrace our destiny, discover and cultivate our character, become what we are. Or we can deny, ignore, and repress our daimon. We have the choice to be true and loyal to ourselvesor to be false and disloyal to ourselves. The opposite of self-actualization is self-betrayal.

If each of us follows his or her daimon, if each embraces and cultivates his or her character, the result is what the Greeks called “eudaimoniahappiness or well-being. If we betray ourselves, however, our guardian angel becomes an avenging fury, pursuing us in our dreams and through feelings of alienation, anxiety, and meaninglessness.

The primary source of self-betrayal is the acceptance of false self-interpretations, usually foisted upon us by parents and significant others.

Another source of self-betrayal is the Nietzschean idea of “self-creation,” a doctrine deceptively similar to self-actualization. Self-actualization presupposes that there is a determinate potential to be actualized. Self-creation presupposes that there is no determinate potential to be actualized. Thus we are radically free to become whoever we choose to be. Self-creation usually boils down to a narcissistic exercise in projecting an image to others, which means conforming to external expectations, either by pleasing or frustrating them. This is a harmless folly if one lucks out and chooses in accordance with one’s nature. More often than not, however, it is a source of radical self-betrayal, for it teaches that there really is no self to betray. Unlimited freedom thus turns out to be as debilitating as unlimited determinism.


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  1. Verlis
    Posted July 14, 2015 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Richard Spencer blocked me for even asking about it.

    Spencer banned you for your obstinate refusal to answer the objections to the defeatist, anti-white conclusions – this fellow selected “EmbraceDefeat” as his moniker – you draw from your theory of determinism. Johnson is usually much quicker to ban yammering trolls with nothing better to do than waste (better) people’s time than Spencer so I’m surprised you’ve even lasted this long.

  2. Hard Determinist
    Posted July 13, 2015 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Julian, reread what I wrote, because there’s not one thing I wrote, that implies the use of free will…

    • Julian
      Posted July 13, 2015 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      Look more closely. I’m analyzing your argumentation, not your opinions or emotions.

  3. Hard Determinist
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    The idea that we’re just robots, scares a lot of people. I think people would feel deeply violated, if they accepted determinism, which is obviously true. Since our universe has past altering states – no matter how: complex, unpredictable, seemingly random, etc. – we surely can’t have any sense of free will (being able to do other than what you did, in any moment). There isn’t even one theoretical, conceptual framework that allows for free will, because every system that has past altering states, by their very nature, have to be causal. So due to this, all sentient beings merely witness the actions determined by their brains (which they can’t control). There is no real moral responsibility for ones actions, but obviously understanding that free will is an illusion, doesn’t break you free from it. So I felt like Greg didn’t really address determinism that well. If you don’t like my explanation, Sam Harris has a book on it, which is good. Many in the alt right seem scared of the free will question. Richard Spencer blocked me for even asking about it. Again though, we have no free will, abd that’s just reality.

    • Julian
      Posted July 12, 2015 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      What one must really wonder about your explanation is why you even offer it at all, if all is determined. I suppose that it was determined that you would do so? Moreover, why the apology, since you ought not have any moral responsibility for proclaiming something which you apparently have no say in? And what do you expect to impress upon others? Are you the missing link which can tip the scales which has no possibility whatsoever of deciding to change it’s own perspective? Are you the Will of Hard Determinism?

      Causality must answer to the mystery of quantum mechanics. The trouble here is it’s disobedience towards Time and Space. Schrodinger is just as sorry as you are about quantum mechanics as you are about determinism. We all need to study this strange phenomena and the uncertainty principles which it implies.

      Further, we also ought to look at Godel’s ‘Incompleteness Theorem’, and Leibniz’s ‘Monadology’.

      For pathos doesn’t prove a thing. I would also add that Greg provided a fine exploration to the subject as relates to his own personal take and one which provokes public discourse.

      • Hard Determinist
        Posted July 13, 2015 at 1:27 am | Permalink

        Your remarks are invalid. Actually, quantum mechanics, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, etc., don’t save free will, in the slightest. Quantum mechanics implies that our universe may be probabilistic in nature, but that in no way allows us to have free will (the ability to do other than what we will do, in any moment). No matter how our brain collapses onto a decision, that decision merely and subjectively (which is highly debatable among determinists) comes out of nowhere, from our conscious perspective. We merely witness what our biological system determines for us; our biological system is determined… If that doesn’t convince you, just off the bat, you can eliminate so much freedom based on things you didn’t choose from birth. Such as: race, location, time, type of parents, socioeconomic background, and on and on… Neuroscience will soon even prove (falsifiable) our own determinism, which in many ways it already has with fMRI, EEG and other types of complex, high level brain imaging technology. The science is settled, we are merely biological computer systems. Hawking, Einstein, Crick, Susskind, and many other great scientists also accept the notion of determinism, in the context of our will, not necessarily in the context of the fundamental nature of the universe (which is irrelevant to free will). In terms of the Incompleteness Theorem, that just says that any mathematical, epistemological framework needs at least one axiom. Many people often conflate this with meaning that nothing is truly objective, which even if that were the case, it wouldn’t save free will. Not one theoretical, conceptual framework has ever reconciled free will with causality. Every universe with altering states, is by their nature, causal. Do to this, on a fundamental level: yes, we have no responsibility for our actions. However, that doesn’t mean much, because we aren’t purely rational creatures. If anyone can reconcile free will with causality, please tell me how it’s possible, otherwise, the logic and science points to a determined will.

        • Greg Johnson
          Posted July 13, 2015 at 1:57 am | Permalink

          My outlook on this problem is quite simple: a theory of nature that cannot explain my experience of agency is false.

          • Hard Determinist
            Posted July 13, 2015 at 2:18 am | Permalink

            Well, I would say brain imaging technologies are just at the cusp of explaining your sense of agency. However, a sense of agency doesn’t make you have any “actual” agency. Also, this (not having free will) doesn’t make people equal. I mean, people/groups will still behave based on their predetermined biological system. I’m just saying everybody has the same fundamental amount of will (in the conventional sense): 0. Also, while determinism is true, determinists often debate whether or not a society should base their legal system/institutions off the actual reality. There are conflicting studies on the psychologocial effects of holding/adopting determinism, but I’d say most determinists would argue that our legal systems/institutions should reflect reality, and that maybe in the past that would be problematic, but now we are morally, scientifically, technologically advanced to insert the reality of determinism into civilization. But… who knows what will happen…

          • Greg Johnson
            Posted July 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            To say that people have no actual agency based on your theory of hard determinism is assuming the truth of your theory. And yet a theory should not be accepted as true if it conflicts with experience. And I experience myself as an agent making choices. So, again, I conclude that your theory is empirically false.

          • Hard Determinist
            Posted July 13, 2015 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

            Okay, let’s think about choice logically, Greg. (I’ll use one of Harris’s thought experiments). Think of a city, any city. You can decide on one and then decide to change it, but just choose one. Okay, firstly, let’s eliminate all the cities you haven’t even heard of, ones that couldn’t even be a choice, say: Bamako, Luanda, Ouagadougou (just obscure examples most people probably have never heard of). Next, let’s eliminate all the cities you have heard of, but for some reason didn’t arise into your consciousness, maybe they were: Zurich, Dubai, Honolulu (cities you’ve probably heard of, but maybe your brain has less connections with, or just wasn’t triggered to deliberate on, for unknown reasons, from your view). Okay, then I’ll ask you, what cities did you deliberate on? You may say, for example: Seattle, London, Berlin, and Portland. Then I’ll ask: what city did you choose? And you say (example): Seattle. Then, I’ll ask what made you choose Seattle over the other choices. Maybe you’ll say (example to show common reasoning): well, I was in Seattle last, so I chose Seattle, and I like Seattle. Then I’ll say: what made you think of the other choices? And you might come up with a few reasons why you think those choices arised into consciousness, but you can’t definitively say why, because they just appeared as an option you cycled through. But maybe, some of the reasons you give, why you think those choices arised into consciousness, sound very similar to the reason why you chose Seattle as your city. Say, you thought of Portland because you went from Portland to Seattle. Or you thought of Berlin because a book you’re reading takes place there. Or you thought of London because you did an article on an event that happened there. Of course, these are just examples to what you could potentially say, but they display a common line of reasoning on why you might think you thought of what you thought. The truth: you objectively and subjectively don’t definitively know why those were the options that arised into consciousness. You also don’t definitively know why the reasons you gave arised into consciousness, and why a different reason, maybe a more “understandable” reason, didn’t. So what I’m trying to get at, is, that all your choices merely and subjectively arise into consciousness, and that Moscow (a city you know, for example) as an option was an impossibility, because it just happened to not arise into consciousness. Logically, what determined your experience, was the total configuration (whether material, purely informational, or whatever its fundamental nature) of the universe, in the moments of this thought experminet. You could’ve not done (thought) other than what you did, because the prior configurations, that led up to what you thought, determine, 100%, what you’ll think, do, experience. While our sense of freedom may feel very subjectively real, we know that it’s not the case, that we have no freedom/true agency. We are merely puppets to the prior configurations of the universe. I mean, how could we not be? It may sound scary, but that’s reality. And the vast majority of modern great thinkers, scientists agree with determinism. There’s a lot of better, clearer explanations on why we have no free will out there, but you have to be interested in looking, which is determined…

        • Julian
          Posted July 13, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Probability is not the same thing as absolute determinism, so that should be a give away.

          In terms of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, I have extracted the following a paper titled “Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, free will and mathematical thought”:

          “The second argument [in reference to logic, determinism, and freewill] coming from logic is much more modern and sophisticated; it appeals to Gödel’s incompleteness theorems (Gödel 1931) to make the case against determinism and in favor of free will, insofar as that applies to the mathematical potentialities of human beings. The claim more precisely is that as a consequence of the incompleteness theorems, those potentialities cannot be exactly circumscribed by the
          output of any computing machine even allowing unlimited time and space for its work.
          Here there are several notable proponents, including Gödel himself (with caveats),J. R.
          Lucas and Roger Penrose. All of these arguments have been subject to considerable
          critical analysis…”

          In terms of your other arguments, I have addressed them elsewhere on this thread. It is my view that the logic behind Hard Determinism amounts to an absurdity if there is even the smallest possibility of Free Will. If Free Will does exist, then it exist, then Hard Determinism is a bad choice, and indeed, faulty logic. The principle of sufficient reason allows no room for a purely deterministic worldview. For some things to be largely determined makes perfect sense as it would provide stability, and coherency as foundation for Free Will.

        • Julian
          Posted July 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          Also, in reference to your comment about Hard Determinists debating what is the best course of action to be taken in is saying that Determinists are sitting around trying to make the best choice, as if they had any say on the matter. The very fact that they would even take part in such an activity is in itself the exercising of Free Will. Further, how a Determinist could say ” But… who knows what will happen…” also indicates uncertainty, which is the exact opposite of what a Determinist should be asserting. It should be completely knowable what will happen, and I’m sure you believe that in time somebody will provide this computational method. In the meantime, why not just consult a psychic?

          • Greg Johnson
            Posted July 13, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            Uncertainty does not necessarily mean objective indeterminacy.

          • Julian
            Posted July 13, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps uncertainty means that subjective determination, ie Free Will is necessary in the presence of uncertainty, and such conditions would seem to indicate that Free Will is not only a possibility, but is itself ‘determined’, or certain to exist. In other words, we have no choice, but to have Free Will.

          • Julian
            Posted July 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            And paradoxically, in terms of Godel’s theories and calculations, we can be certain about uncertainty.

  4. Posted July 8, 2015 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Frithjof Schuon’s view on this topic makes the most sense to me, as it conforms to all things manifested.

    Man, as a thing manifested, must conform to the laws of Freedom and Necessity simultaneously. As much as a we see that it is necessary that a dog must act like a dog, but has different potentialities to express its “dogness,” or a thought must act like a thought but has various potentialities to express its “thoughtness” so a person necessarily conforms to his “personness” and then his “type” or “caste”, but what we feel as “freedom” lies in the particular of how this type or caste is expressed.

    Great analogy; Freedom is the liquid that necessarily fills the cup and Necessity is the cup that pours the liquid.

    The modern obsession with freedom and determinism could be due to the mixing of the castes, in that we feel we have innumerable potentialities because our inner makeup does not conform to one type.

  5. Theodore
    Posted July 8, 2015 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting essay, and another indication that all the original intellectual thinking is happening on the Right these days, as the Left is only good for “point and sputter” outrage.

    However, some points in the last paragraph are confusing, for example the assertion that:
    “Self-creation usually boils down to a narcissistic exercise in projecting an image to others, which means conforming to external expectations, either by pleasing or frustrating them. ”

    Does that really follow? Is that what Nietzsche was aiming at? One could view “self-creation” as a more extreme and ambitious “overcoming” than self-actualization – which still retains the concept that a person is being authentic to self.

    While I hate to indulge in the “movement” sweaty obsession over Saint Adolf, I think this example is appropriate. Hitler’s rise from a homeless failed artist to Fuhrer of the Third Reich and a world-historical figure: was that merely self-actualization? Or, in the moment he started to speak at that German Workers Party meeting in 1919, wasn’t it the beginning of a radical self-creation?

    I guess the difference is one of semantics. I would think however that Nietzsche had more in mind a Adolf Hitler than a Bruce Jenner (I’m not implying that Nietzsche was a proto-Nazi or even would have approved of Hitler, merely that a philosopher who admired Napoleon would be more likely to view “self-creation” in “rightist” terms).

    • Julian
      Posted July 8, 2015 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      “Does that really follow? Is that what Nietzsche was aiming at? One could view “self-creation” as a more extreme and ambitious “overcoming” than self-actualization – which still retains the concept that a person is being authentic to self.”

      I thought something similar to you here. I don’t really think that Nietzsche would endorse self-creation as creating something from nothing, or creation as an other-directed narcissism with or without a reactionary bent. His so-called nihilism or deconstructionism is most likely the effort to discover the true self amidst all of this. To continually destroy until nothing is left but the true self. Christianity was God externalized. The mob is also the self externalized. His philosophy of the Overman is a sort of diametrical propulsion where the further one goes down, the further one ascends. This is really nothing other than solar deity descending in winter before ascending into rebirth. It’s much like Odin discovering wisdom by his own efforts once stripped of all the normal conditions of life. It’s a sacrament of the conditioned self in order to see the true self.

      Overall, I think that any historical figure with a Will has clarity in perception. Clarity in perception leads to the necessity to act, otherwise one is overwhelmed with the sense of hypocrisy and deferral of destiny. It appears that clarity of perception is always seen as being ‘good’, but ultimately it is ‘beyond good and evil’, in the sense that necessity is beyond good and evil.

      Nietzsche declared Plato a bore, and perhaps this was due to the hyper-rationalism he contained. Plato sees Reason guiding the chariot of spirit and desire. I think that part of Nietzsche’s goal was to spur on Spirit and Desire, hence his lack of stark logic in favour of impassioned, and an abstract poetic style which forces one to think. He’s anything but boring and the so-called orb that he wished to create around the Earth has certainly stirred the dialectic up for all manner of conflict.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted July 8, 2015 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      You can’t do things that you do not have the potential to do, and potential is always finite, which means that there are limits to the will. Great men achieve great things because they already have the potential. People who claim that you can become or do anything given sufficient willpower are really wrong. People who claim that our only limits are self-imposed ones are wrong. There is a kind of pop nominalism/subjectivism that is associated, wrongly or rightly, with Nietzsche. And if one is not actually engaged in self-actualization, if one’s ambitions are not grounded in objective reality, then one is just faking it to an audience. “Fake it till you make it” is perfectly sensible if you are actualizing real potentials, but just faking it if you are not.

      • Jaego
        Posted July 9, 2015 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        You posit the person as a closed system. Consider the other side, that of Grace: Aurobindo on becoming the Superman, If Earth calls and Heaven answers, the Hour could be now. Or St Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

        The personality is small, the hand we have drawn. The Soul, much bigger – the entire pack. But the Spirit is far more than even this. Of course a person has to reach a certain height before he can truly feel infinite desire and beseech Spirit.

      • Verlis
        Posted July 9, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Greg, what you say in this comment is true, but you could stand to word it a little more compassionately. The reason is people too often interpret statements like yours to mean, “If true, then, for me, this is as good as it gets; if I could have done better, by now I surely would have.” That view is not implied but your statement, but that is the meaning that humans, frail creatures that we are, are liable to infer from it. Such beliefs are as debilitating as the belief in hard deteriminism.

        With respect to self-actualization/self-creation, how would you determine (heh) which of the two any particular individual is engaged in? Surely it’s not given to any of us to know what any man’s “determinate potential” actually is. What’s to stop me describing actions and life courses I approve of as self-actualization and to scorn as self-creation ones that I do not?

        • Greg Johnson
          Posted July 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          The best way to learn your limits is to try to go beyond them. When you find that certain things do not suit you, but persist in them anyway, by dint of will power and at the expense of self-torture, that is where you have to conclude that self-creation has taken the place of self-actualization. The real self, of course, continues to exist, and instead of being the guiding spirit of self-actualization becomes the avenging angel of self-betrayal.

      • Julian
        Posted July 10, 2015 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        I just want to voice my absolute agreement with this comment. I think that you have a gift at articulating profound points.

  6. Joseph Bishop
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Surely ‘destiny’, as a concept implies a higher force or power determining one’s life or at least the most important events within it. Usually this is predicated in cosmic terms, e.g. that we are all part of a grans scheme of ‘truth’ or ‘upward striving’ in concert with others but with only a limited knowledge of the scheme itself. Often this is itself dovetailing into a religious or spiritual dimension in which God determines each individual’s task and responsibilities and what his ‘destiny’ portends, i.e. if his ‘task’ is performed successfully then he has fulfilled his ‘destiny’ and contributed to the fulfillment of the grand plan or scheme or whatever it is.

    What I don’t understand is why we aren’t just told at the very start, and clearly, what our ‘task’ is so we can then just get on with it. I mean if determinism is the primary factor then surely this would make far more sense than wasting an entire lifetime not figuring out what we are supposed to be doing. Alternatively, if self-will is the major mover, then given the low and ever-increasingly lower quality of human beings, surely all our strivings are sheer chaos, random, and pointless.

    The idea that emotions and impulses leading to self-will decisions being in themselves merely products of our external environment, I don’t quite understand. The human brain functions on the basis of chemical reactions – creating impulses – which in turn come together as emotions or thoughts and ultimately into decisions – self-will – and actions. None of these things are ever completely ‘free’. Just eating food or breathing air can profoundly impact self-will or ‘free will’ so, if anything, the concept itself is vastly overrated.

    I personally lean towards the view that life – I think this comes from Shakespeare – that life itself is merely a grand stage in which we play our parts. This greatly puts forward the ‘determinist’ view. Of course in our arrogance we think we are making our own choices but in reality they are already made for us far earlier and long before birth itself. There are some elements of reincarnation here but that would be a digression. As for the stage show itself, surely it has to be a gigantic farce, since so little in this life makes sense.

    Now the really interesting thing is, if choices are made before birth, and by our spirits, the free will IS still a major factor. Or perhaps a panel ‘on the other side’ helps us examine our completed life before conclusions are drawn and it is decided – by us – what needs to be experienced and thus learned in the next life. So there we have ‘free will’ turned into ‘determinism’!

  7. Julian
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    This is a subject which since my early teens, I have been obsessing over. Originally, my thoughts indicated that once all variables were accounted for(regardless of how many), the only possible outcome, was the one which occurred. This process would continue without a possibility of pause or separation. The crux was that there is no way to know for certain that this is the actual way in which existence operates. So, I rather reluctantly decided that free will is the better option, seemingly in a manner similar to Pascal’s wager. If there is isn’t any free will, what do I have to lose by ‘choosing’ free will? I wouldn’t really be choosing anyway, would I?

    Currently, my view tends to orbit on probability with marginal possibility. In other words, it is impossible to completely discount the accumulation of variables and the bias and pressure they create when leading to further actions. Our ability to ‘stop time’ and reflect, and reason, is our ability to make a choice. For many people (perhaps most) life is vastly deterministic. For some, we might be very limited in our choices, but still capable of making them by measure of degrees. I think that the degree of consciousness a person has is directly linked to their ability to choose, and consciousness is directly linked to ability to reason. Further, a perfect Republic is absolutely required to find one’s true Self and to accept full responsibility. The perfect State provides a tabula rasa consciousness producing platform where there are no excuses. All efforts are centered on the discovery and enabling of the true Self. Plato’s Republic seems to relinquish blame for deviation when an entire society has been wrongly formed, with say, an oligarchy(like today) active in the formation of the overarching structure, due to the natural tendency to be an acceptable citizen which means acting in accordance with other citizens regardless of the qualitative elements of their behavior(in theory). This suggests that it is ‘natural’ for an otherwise outstanding citizen to be led astray as well, as is the conclusion of Socrates and Glaucon in the relevant passage.

    In terms of Nietzsche, the concept of the ‘Will To Power’ is essential in our effort to maximize the probability of one’s choices. Will, is essentially the ‘force’ present in an object. This force can easily be something psychological, rather than merely physical.

    Free Will vs Determinism, makes me wonder about the role genetics plays in all of this. From my limited understanding, epigenetics seems to suggest that genes can be simply turned on or off in a binary fashion. Supposing this is true, one must ask, what if the genes necessary for a certain desired outcome aren’t even present for any manipulation? Or, what if all of the important ones are? Some manipulation could be done rather easily, but others could take millennia. Indeed, nurture provides the very basis for nature. The question is how responsive can nature be made to nurture, on what timeline, and in what instances(nurture/environment)? I think that cultural marxists take things to far too great of an extreme in believing that all nature can be altered at the drop of a hat to whatever desired ends. At best, they do not take all variables(or the important ones) into account, and perhaps make definitive conclusions off things the do not yet know with any certainty.

    Lastly, the most important question(in my mind) is – “how does one determine the Self”? Is it that perhaps there is an essential impetus which gains consciousness, is moderately determined, yet possesses many possible outcomes which all retain the essential, or true Self? Is the end many in possibility, or is just the path that takes us there which does? A process of becoming to being. Becoming is the free will part, and Being is when all has been determined. Determination is guaranteed, yet it’s the outcome and all the steps in between which concern us.

    • Verlis
      Posted July 9, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      seemingly in a manner similar to Pascal’s wager. If there is isn’t any free will, what do I have to lose by ‘choosing’ free will?

      Oh for sure. If Pascal’s Wager is an reasonable bet, this would be Pascal’s Sure Thing. The trick is to just seize on any piece of evidence that seems to establish indeterminism operating in the universe. You don’t even need the words ‘free will.’ As long as some events are undetermined, there’s your opening; you seize that and cling to it for dear life.

      Or if doubts get the better of you there’s Plan B. First some quick background details. I’m convinced the main reason that people hate determinism is that it implies suffering is and always was unavoidable – either your own suffering (what most people care about) or other people’s (which more sensitive souls also despair over). People project experiences of suffering into the future and feel a sense of dread that they may be fated to suffer – they’re going to suffer and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.

      Plan B is to recall that there is pleasure as well as pain in this world. If you’re worried sick that you may be fated to experience pain you can remedy it by conceding the possibility that you may be fated for pleasure. Having established that foothold, you then progressively let the realizations wash over you. Eg “Hey, who knows what awesome things may happen to me yet? I don’t even have to do “will” myself to do anything because “I’m” not actually in charge – even if it feels that I am – so I can just sit back and enjoy the show.”

      You don’t even have to worry about losing motivation, or worry that if you do feel motivated you’re “doing it wrong” – that you’re somehow trying to “cheat fate.” The feeling of motivation is a mental state and mental states are just brain chemistry; its just that certain mental states are necessary precursor to certain sorts of actions, and actions that result in what humans call “success” require certain sorts of mental states, but these are determined by the laws of the universe and no human actually exercise any agency over the mental states he experiences. [I don’t actually believe this, but this is what determinism implies.]

      Lastly, if you take an interest in this stuff, I highly recommend Peter van Inwagen’s paper “How To Think About The Problem Of Free Will.” Don’t expect any ground-breaking arguments to be presented; just read it for the good old-fashioned conceptual clarity it brings to the whole debate. Then, as you go along in life, if you favor one view of free will over another, you’ll better understand what it is you’re claiming to believe. Time is precious, so it may help if I mention that Inwagen’s debated free will for over thirty years and gone at it with some big guns in 20th century philosophy like Daniel Dennett and David Lewis; you certainly won’t be wasting valuable time reading the scattered thoughts of some bumptious college upstart who fancies that he’s worked it all out.

      • Julian
        Posted July 9, 2015 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your thoughts. I have brought the paper up that you suggested to be soon read.

        “As long as some events are undetermined, there’s your opening; you seize that and cling to it for dear life.” This is an excellent generalized point. As I’ve alluded in this thread, unconscious activity, neutrality, or passivity is synonymous with determinism. Consciousness, Will and effort allow us to only possibility of changing the course of things. In takes efforts because of all the accumulated weight, or inertia in the activity of life. It may not be to difficult to see that you may currently be fated for pleasure or pain. What matters is far ahead you can see and what you are capable of doing about it.

        I think that perhaps there is a fate, or Damion but it’s not fated that we get it right this time around. It still takes the effort and the insight. “Doing it wrong” should be any person’s main concern. I think that our Will, Reason, and Desire can influence our brain chemistry through actions that we take. The ultimate task is understanding the ‘first principle’. I think it ought to be difficult to move forward with conviction until you have this.

        You don’t even have to worry about losing motivation, or worry that if you do feel motivated you’re “doing it wrong” – that you’re somehow trying to “cheat fate.” The feeling of motivation is a mental state and mental states are just brain chemistry; its just that certain mental states are necessary precursor to certain sorts of actions, and actions that result in what humans call “success” require certain sorts of mental states, but these are determined by the laws of the universe and no human actually exercise any agency over the mental states he experiences. [I don’t actually believe this, but this is what determinism implies.]

        Lastly, if you take an interest in this stuff, I highly recommend Peter van Inwagen’s paper “How To Think About The Problem Of Free Will.” Don’t expect any ground-breaking arguments to be presented; just read it for the good old-fashioned conceptual clarity it brings to the whole debate. Then, as you go along in life, if you favor one view of free will over another, you’ll better understand what it is you’re claiming to believe. Time is precious, so it may help if I mention that Inwagen’s debated free will for over thirty years and gone at it with some big guns in 20th century philosophy like Daniel Dennett and David Lewis; you certainly won’t be wasting valuable time reading the scattered thoughts of some bumptious college upstart who fancies that he’s worked it all out.

        • Verlis
          Posted July 10, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          From my limited understanding, epigenetics seems to suggest that genes can be simply turned on or off in a binary fashion. Supposing this is true, one must ask, what if the genes necessary for a certain desired outcome aren’t even present for any manipulation?

          This was another part of your post I wanted to respond to, but forgot.

          For me this brings up a vision of some sci-fi cartoon “computer panel,” with lights/buttons flashing on and off in various ways. If the configuration of those panels is “right” then certain possibilities are opened up; if not, then those possibilities are closed off.

          All this depends, however, on whether genetic events fall under the class of events that are undetermined. From my extremely limited understanding (and damn it, I’ve tried) of quantum mechanics, it seems safe to assume that certain events at the quantum level are undetermined. That’s all very well, but the question is whether such quantum events can, in this case, influence genetic events. At best we could say the jury is out, but I have a feeling the hard sciences would deliver an adamant “hell no!”

          The main hope for quantum phenonema influencing human events seems to reside in their possibility of influencing mental events. Despite the best efforts of scientist types to produce hard and fast answers, our understanding of mental events – the “mind” – remains tentative at best. The possibilities here seem endless, and letting your mind range unfettered as it ponders them can be very exciting. Who knows? At the end of all our wondering a dependable conceptualisation may emerge.

          • Julian
            Posted July 10, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

            It seems to me that sci-fi comics and cartoons make a sort of farcical presentation of serious subjects at times. I think that this is most probably innocent as they naturally look towards science for new ideas. I personally don’t read comics or watch cartoons, but it incredible to me the number of times when I try to have a serious science related conversation which brings up a sci-fi comic and generally degrades the tone, although I am not suggesting that you are doing that here as you seem to be extrapolating something worthwhile from them, which seems rare.

            My understanding is that physics relates to that which is physical(matter) only. Therefore, the Mind is virtually undetectable because it is in fact not physical. The Mind most assuredly is in the quantum domain of things whereas Matter is in the relative domain of things. Now, how do the two relate? Matter is simply extended Mind. Matter always has Mind in it despite the level at which it occurs. Unconscious Mind in the form of rocks and plants still has some sort of Will. The plants still rise towards the light.

            Now let’s take a look at light. Photons(light) are massless objects, yet they are entirely observable(as redundant as that sounds) and interact with the physical domain. Light indicates that massless entities can interact the physical properties. So, yes, Mind can influence genetics, as far as I understand. Still, to be able to prove this is massive hurdle as we must then use materialistic language, ie science.

            So, if mind is massless, why wouldn’t it be more similar to quantum behavior? Intuition seems to indicate that there are leaps of insight bypassing strict logical causality.

            To make a generalization, the synapse that occurs with our own brains is no isolated event. Dialectical elements must possess some syncretic basis for interaction.

      • Julian
        Posted July 11, 2015 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        After reading “How to Think about the Problem of Free Will”, I have a few thoughts to contribute. I agree that Inwagen offers great clarity in setting out his ‘glossary of terms’. It’s very useful to have a common language with clear definitions, otherwise to think about, or to be debating the subject be very ineffectual. I would say that the terms “Hard and Soft Determinism” are useful for the reason that they highlight the ‘degrees’ possible in determinism. The term “Compatibilism” is what I would usually refer to as the synaptic or syncretic elements. I agree with his insistence that Free Will must be described as being ‘able’ to choose, and not just that one ‘could’ choose. The way I see it, ‘could’ is the possibility of ‘enabling’ Free Will. This leads me to what is lacking in his glossary.

        Indeterminism needs to be clearly defined. He defines it only in this sense:

        “Determinism is the thesis that the past and the laws of nature together determine,
        at every moment, a unique future (The denial of determinism is indeterminism). ”

        I would say that it is necessary to clarify that Indeterminism is not Chance, Chaos, or Luck – it IS ‘possibility’, or his ‘could’. Chance and Luck in particular, would be best described as impossible. Whether one accepts Free Will or Determinism these terms simply indicate ‘unintended’ unknown, or unforeseeable results. What’s useful in this outline of this conception is that Free Will and Determinism are no longer truly opposed to each other; only Indeterminism and Determinism are, and Free Will is only possible in the presence of Indeterminism. It also indicates that Free Will can tip the scales in favour of Indeterminism, and that something may only be temporarily determined only under current circumstances.

        Thanks again for the suggestion. It was definitely worth the time.

        • Julian
          Posted July 11, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          * Not only can Free Will tip the scales in the favor Indeterminism, but it can also tip the scales in the favour of Determinism, ie a checkmate in chess…It’s determined that the player must make a move with the pieces on the board. What he does with them are his choice inasmuch as he understands the game the opponent. When the game has ended, the possibilities have been reduced to a singularity, and all is determined. A new game must begin for possibilities to exist.

    • Julian
      Posted July 10, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      I made two errors at least in this comment:

      1) It was Adeimantus that Socrates was conversing with(perhaps irrelevant).

      2) The current political system is more akin to a syncretical Oligarchical-Democracy. Money can certainly gain you(and is very essential to) power and respect; and yet there is an unavoidable “freedumb”, and ‘fairness’ which has all the markings of a “Dumbocracy”. It seems to me that elements if Tyranny are present as well.

  8. rhondda
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    You know I agree with most of what you say. It is the psychological label of narcissistic and delusion of grandeur that bother me. Psychoanalysis is totally a Jewish invention. It is not the Greek ‘Know thyself’. That is about always doubting one’s self and conforming to norms whereas all classical philosophy is about knowing yourself. What you can do, what you cannot do. Your position in life and what that entails. Psychoanalytical labels inhibit. Just like Christianity, they say you are a sinner and bad and need a priest or an analyst. Whereas classical philosophy asks you questions and you are required to learn who you are by mistakes and correction. It is a totally different mind set.

    • Jaego
      Posted July 9, 2015 at 5:24 am | Permalink

      There’s nothing wrong with Freud’s, Where it is, there I shall be. Every system involves negation, the chipping away of the not self or lower self to uncover the eidelon waiting to be uncovered. Healthy doubt is a part of that.

      One accepts conditions in order to be at one’s best. The test tube must be pure, the lens clear. Thus the Pythagoreans demanded vegetarianism and silence for five years – among other things. The idea that Christianity invented priests, sacraments (the Mysteries, both Elysian and Orphic, hello?) confession, or moral prerequisites is absurd – the usual, irrational and irascible Liberal hatred of its competition.

      Your idea that Evil is just ignorance is more respectable – what the Ancient Greeks seemed to believe. In my experience, people can know the Truth and still reject it, thus showing the reality of Evil. Of course one could say they didn’t really (italics) know. In which case one would have to define really. In terms of our struggle, many people know about Black IQ and dysfunction, but they prefer not to know, so they “don’t” – no matter how draconian the cost to our Civilization and even to themselves sometimes. More commonly, their “knowing” makes them into first class sneaks and hypocrites, perfectly willing to throw other Whites under the bus for their own perceived moral perfection. So if their refusal to Know is not Evil per se, it certainly leads to it in short order. For this reason, I hold more to the Christian view of evil.

      • rhondda
        Posted July 9, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        What I reject about Freud is the common interpretation of the Oedipus complex that a boy wishes to sleep with his mother and girls with their father. This is what the general public think he said. There are many who believe it, when it is more about looking to the opposite sex for confirmation. This is also what the sexualization of children is about too as if little girls understand what acting sexy means or their stupid mothers. It is as bad as a university girl inviting a boy to her room and then wonders if she was raped. No one is talking about non-verbal consent. The codes have been all screwed up. Do we need new ones, or should we go back to the old ones?

        • Jaego
          Posted July 10, 2015 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          Well some mystics have agreed with Freud, but only on his own level – which they see as little more than dirt. And of course they disagree with his attempt to drag down everything to the level of sex. With that caveat in mind, I’d say he had many insights about the lower levels. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says the Bardo Being with be attracted to mating couples, being drawn to the opposite sex than that it will become and hating the same sex parent. Little boys often want their fathers to go away so they can have mommy for themselves. And of course, all young men know of the hatred of older men for them (Chronos Complex) that is so common.

          His most controversial position was about female sexuality. At first he believed that young women were being routinely abused in Vienna, but his critics say that he bowed to social pressure and made it into rape fantasies. I don’t know enough about the Vienna of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It could well be that both are true since masochistic fantasy is very common in women in any case. White Nationalists point out that he had alien values to begin with – like trying to convince a servant girl to give it up to one of his friends. Probably a good point to remember about him.

          I’d be inclined to go for a return to Tradition, at least in part. I remember reading about the Atheist Conference where a young man was talking to a young woman in an elevator and then invited her to continue the conversation is his room. She declined and then went back to her room and begin “blogging” about the outrageous abuse she had just endured – naming the poor fellow. The keynote, either Hitchens or Dawkins (can’t remember) commented the next evening, saying that it was complete nonsense and she was as wrong as wrong could be – scandalizing the female contingent and some of the male.

          • rhondda
            Posted July 10, 2015 at 11:00 am | Permalink

            There is an interesting book called The Assault on Truth Freud’s suppression of the seduction theory by Jeffrey Maissaieff Masson. He was given access to notes of Freud’s and was in the inner circle. The book is about what he found there. He was kicked out for making it public.
            It caused a big stir because it was used to validate repressed traumatic incest memories. The thing is with children their minds do not know how to filter and they pick up suggestions very easily. That is one reason why they need protection from certain images and ideas .
            I think the girl in the elevator overreacted . She could have asked him,’ Does that mean you want sex?'(the image, room, man and woman) instead of making it a big issue. Or even ‘ let’s have breakfast together in the morning and continue this conversation.’ It could very well be he wasn’t even thinking of sex. Perhaps she was caught in the ‘sexual thought’ and felt shame and projected it on him. Who knows. Shame and guilt are often projected onto others, displaced so to speak. Her social skills are wanting.
            I can’t stand Dawkins. He disbelieves in God, but then starts talking about extraterrestrials. Well what are those but God images? I think Jung would have a blast with him.

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