IS FREE WILL FREE?

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Not too surprisingly, there has been much debate over the last hundred years on whether our actions are predetermined or if we actually have free will. Determinism comes in many forms, including physical determinism, logical determinism, theological determinism, etc. Likewise, opponents of determinism often agree that free will is not all that free when it comes to lower orders of consciousness.

We consider the idea of reacting to be more mechanistic that our concept of responding, which seems to imply there's at least a modicum of deliberation involved. 

In Elysium's Passage: Surreal Adventures, there is a scene in a coffee shop where the two positions are intensely debated. Arguing for determinism are certain students from a virtual land called the Flatlands. Arguing for free will is Rhom, a ship captain from another age and galaxy. (No one can say the Elysium's Passage novel series is boring!)

For anyone interested in this topic, I have included an excerpt of the debate below: 

From Chapter 9: Prevailing Winds:

It appeared our virtual storm wasn’t about to let up, so we took refuge downstairs in a dimly lit coffee shop where we found several students sitting around at a table, seemingly engaged in a heated discussion. By the way they stared at us as we entered, I wondered if they were debating something Rhom had said at the forum. We sat at a table, where I ordered a coffee as Rhom pulled out his flask of rum. I’m not sure what the by-laws were there, but considering his tall, daunting presence, no one questioned what he might have in it.

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A few of these students appeared eager to talk to Rhom about the storm he had created at the forum. I was curious how Rhom might reply when one of them asked us where we were from, but before we could respond, a young man stood up and began to lecture us.

‘I heard you at the forum,’ he said to Rhom, loudly. ‘Nothing you said made sense.’

I thought that was a rather belligerent opening statement since Rhom was mainly asking questions, rather than providing answers there. Although, in his own way, I suppose he was doing that too since certain questions can be more revealing then specific answers.

‘For one thing, it’s evident you don’t understand anything about the brain,’ he said. ‘Science proves that consciousness comes from the brain; when there’s no brain, there’s no consciousness… it’s obvious. Just as it’s also obvious that some peoples’ brains have no consciousness, such as those in the Hill Country who, no matter what they say, is anti-science.

‘What the mind thinks is programmed in the cerebellum, and so all we chose has been determined by natural selection… and so there actually is no free will. There’s nothing we can do about this unless we have brain surgery to rewire the circuitry. Though it might seem we act volitionally, our brains cause us to think and respond in the only way possible. That’s why humanity deceives itself when it believes it’s free to think in ways contrary to the brain’s impressions.’

I was surprised by how passionate he argued for a position that, to me, seemed so limiting and dehumanzing. I didn’t say anything though. I had heard several variations of this narrative many times before, including my own after becoming exposed to Skinner’s behaviourism [1] in my early student days.

After rambled on more about what he just said, the young man sat down at last. Perhaps he hoped someone would speak up to applaud his arguments, but apart from receiving a few nods from certain friends around the table, no one had anything to add. Perhaps they were satisfied he had already made a convincing case for hard determinism. Or possibly, Rhom’s overbearing appearance intimidated them… I don’t know which.

All eyes were now on the forum’s infamous agitator. I’m not sure what they were anticipating since Rhom had neither said anything to this point nor given any hint if he intended to reply. In some ways his silence reminded me of Mo during my early days at the summit when he would just sit there, smoking his pipe, while I went on a rant about whatever I disagreed with.  

Then, after a short while, Rhom stood up from his seat, towering before them in stony silence for longer than what might have been comfortable. A few appeared a bit intimidated, as they looked at the floor to avoid eye contact with him. Then, at last, he chortled under his breath as he pulled out his flask of rum from inside his coat pocket. He took a big swig, then glared intently at each of them as he nodded his head with a hint of wry deference, then gave a broad smile.

‘And now my clever friends,’ he said at last, ‘there are a few annotations that must be made in response to our savant’s eloquent oration. I trust he won’t be offended by what I have to say, since I can hardly state contrary to what, purportedly, has already been decreed by these stern gods of determinism. And so, with that being the case, if it is the case, I can hardly be held accountable for what I might say to you… is that not right?’

One of the female students giggled at this, but then looked a bit embarrassed since no one else seemed to recognize the irony of Rhom’s thinly veiled sarcasm.

‘For those of you who were in attendance at the forum this afternoon,’ he said, ‘you might recall how the term free will was contextualized by the interlocutor. Allow me, then, to ask if it is possible to use the word will once the concept of free was been separated from the term free will. What then could it mean? If we don’t know, perhaps it would be best to stop using the word will altogether.

‘However, should we dismiss this, we would also have to dismiss the word free, since it likewise could have no meaning without being conjoined with the word will. For this reason, I assume you are suggesting there is no free will. How could freedom be free, if there is no will by which to express and authenticate itself? How could willingness will if there is no freedom by which to express and authenticate itself?

‘Would it not then be necessary to say I must do this, rather than I will do this, since what else could that mean? Would it not be logically impossible to say you were forced to act against your will since that would imply you had the freedom to act in according to what you willed. There are just a few epistemic questions you’re free to consider, should you so will.’

This time I heard a few more snickers at Rhom’s clever choice of words.
‘So, I ask you, my friends, Rhom continued, is it even coherent to suggest we have made a decision when the very word decision implies there was a choice? If our decisions are predetermined, how could any decision be a decision? To say it was determined to make that choice; is that not a contradiction in terms? Is it possible for you to assign meaning to words such as will, deciding and choice when we already know the fix is in?’

By this time, a few more students trundled downstairs to escape the storm. As soon as they saw Rhom, they pulled their chairs up to where we were sitting to hear what he had to say. Likely some of them had also seen him at the forum or at least heard of his antics there.

Someone, sitting next to the orator, as Rhom called him, spoke up and said, ‘You are forgetting sir; choices are but illusory predilections predetermined by several unconscious factors. We may never be aware of all the determinants, but they include genetics, socialization and physical environment, along with several other factors too numerous to identify. Combined, they encode and programme who we are and what we will become. And so, we never really choose, it only seems the way.’ 

Evidently, this was another bright and clever young man. I was anxious to hear what Rhom may have to say to this since I too struggled with these questions.

‘None of these factors, my good man, that you have so cogently articulated is to be discounted,’ Rhom said. ‘Indeed, they are influencers, and yet influences are not determinants, only apparently so in lower orders of consciousness. If free will is merely an illusion, why do we choose to live so differently, even among those in the same culture, schools, tribes and families?

Ask yourself why such disparate choices are made among these born into the identical circumstance, seemingly for no reason? What evidence could there be for determinism when one decides to change their beliefs, even after being indoctrinated? Does that mean some minds are programmed to be deprogrammed before being reprogrammed to what was originally programmed by nature? But does that not seem a silly idea?’ 

He paused for a few moments to let the questions sink in. Then he went on say, ‘What has made this confusing to the logical determinists, is a result of not acknowledging the affective, emotional centre of our being. We often refer to this as the soul or the heart of beingness.

‘You know, it’s very difficult for the determinist to speak of the heart or its affections as anything other than the neural responses of the programmed mind. Most likely, they would insist these reactions are nothing more than what we’ve been conditioned to respond to through an aggregation of outward experiences.  

And yet, my young scholars, that is a belief, not a truth. There is so much more to you than you realize, or can realize. You are more than a machine that reacts to programmed information, although, I must concede, many of your human species often behave as being little more than just that.’

I noticed that when Rhom said, your human species, a few looked at each other quizzically as if he was suggesting he wasn’t part of our species.

‘I presume some of you are involved in the sciences, he said, ‘but now many of you are aware of Pascal.’

‘Wasn’t he the Frenchman who invented kilopascals for standard atmospheric air pressure?’ someone replied.

‘Indeed, he was,’ Rhom said, ‘along with many other important discoveries he made over four hundred years ago. And yet, believe it or not, he was arguably an even greater philosopher than scientist. Interestingly, he took the opposite position of hard determinists with his quote: "the heart has its reasons, which reason knows not." Have any of you heard this before?’

Some of the students looked at each other inquiringly, but no one seemed to be aware of this quote.

‘No? Well, I suppose that’s not surprising, considering this is the Flatlands… perhaps too vertical a notion for the Flatlands to consider?

‘If Pascal was here, he might ask you to examine what you feel. Are they of the mind or the heart? He may then say if you’re not happy with what you’re feeling right now, why not use your consciousness to choose a thought from the heart’s effective centre that might make you feel better. And why wouldn’t you if the ensuing feelings feel more pleasant than what you were experiencing before? For example, why not think of a loving thought rather than a hateful thought? Is it because you think you must react rather than respond? But examine yourself, does response not imply choice, whereas reaction implies lack of choice? Which is more empowering?

‘Would you say to Pascal that your thoughts are already predetermined in your mind. But what if it was not your mind, but your heart that chose a course a thought completely different than what your ego-mind was thinking. This is what it means to be aware or to be present. In other words, chose again, particularly when you know you can. You always have the freedom to be free. You have the free will to choose… when you are aware… when you are awake… when you are present.

No one said anything until Rhom’s earlier antagonist spoke up once more.

‘With all due respect, sir, you don’t seem to realize that the heart is just a pump, and so it would be more appropriate if you limit your discussion to what is scientific. Understand that most of us here are studying the sciences, so we don’t need you to insult our minds with your feel-good heart tripe.’

‘Then my sympathy lies with you,’ Rhom replied. ‘If you only know how to react to the dictates of your mind, then I must say, it must be rather wretched to remain in such an automated state of existence. If you choose to believe this, you will never be able to respond to the heights, depths and breadth of your soul by discovering who really you are. Rather, you will remain just as flat and narrow as everyone else here in your flat, linear culture.’

Some students appeared troubled by this, taking it to be an insult. Before anyone could object, Rhom continued, ‘it’s my opinion that the very notion of denying the inherent freedom of one’s consciousness is to misunderstand the nature of one’s being. This confusion almost invariably occurs when the false presuppositions of reductionism and its materialist corollary, become the basis for understanding consciousness.

‘In fact, it’s no coincidence that many of your prominent scientists enthusiastically espouse physical and logical determinism since the very notion of freedom is antithetical to their mechanistic prejudices. This misguided thinking has frequently brought disastrous social, political, psychological and cultural consequences to your world. Since it has no basis in truth, it inevitably leads to horrendous distortions whereby life is no longer understood or respected.

‘Determinism, if it is honest, must admit that humanity is not responsible for its actions, since it has no choice but to do what it does, be it good or evil. Whatever expression determinism takes, it leads to subordination, victimhood, ineptitude and fatalism, allowing the powerful to perpetrate servitude among the disenfranchised.

But then, I suppose that’s just fine with you, especially when it is believed it couldn’t have been otherwise. If all has been predetermined, any discussion of morality, right and wrong, is hardly worth discussing.

‘Of course, I’m very aware determinists would have several counter arguments for what I’ve said. I suppose that would be their choice… provided they had a choice. So, I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself who is right. But isn’t it good to know there’s no need or responsibility for you to decide anything since all has already been decided without you having to go to the trouble to decide? Unless, of course, you do have a choice, but were taught to believe you didn’t.

It appeared that Rhom’s adversary was really getting upset with this line of reasoning. I heart him mumbled a few obscenities under his breath, but it seemed he wasn’t sure how to respond, so instead, he just glowered at Rhom.

Undoubtedly, Rhom’s disarming intellect and craggy pirate persona must have provided a formidable impression that said he wasn’t about to be bested. In any case, I thought we should be going about then so they might have an opportunity to reflect on what was said. And so, after bidding our adieus, we walked up the stairs and onto the street again.

‘That certainly was as a rather interesting confab,’ I said, ‘not so much by what they said as what they didn’t say in response to your argumenta. It was as if none of this had ever occurred to them before. If no one else, I think you might have won over that lassie who giggled at your wit.

‘And why do you think that?’

‘Body language,’ I said, ‘I can just tell. I’m good at noticing women’s body’s talk.

‘Are you now?’

‘Of course, but not nearly as good as you… that’s already two in a row for you. Believe me, she thought you were funny and if a woman thinks you’re funny, they can’t help but like you. That’s why I once considering becoming a comedian, except some women didn’t get my humour… probably had something else on their minds.’

‘Other men, perhaps? Rhom said, chuckling.’

I laughed. ‘But in any case .......



[1] B.F Skinner, influential Behavioral Psychologist (1904-1990), author of Beyond Freedom and Dignity. One of the implications of Skinner’s Physical Determinism is that a convict has no choice but commit crimes, and therefore isn’t accountable for his criminal acts. 

 

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SUMMARY OF ELYSIUM'S PASSAGE: THE SUMMIT

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The Summit is the first in a series of five Elysium narrations regarding a young British philosopher named James Phillips who finds himself living in an altered state of reality while still remaining on earth.  

After experiencing a near-fatal fall while climbing to the summit of a remote mountain in the Andes, James awakens in a new dimension. He soon encounters two mysterious beings who provide him with a very different perspective on the nature of his existence. Over the next year, before his body recovers from the coma, he is challenged to re-examine his understanding about life’s meaning and purpose far beyond anything he previously believed or could believe.

An engaging and sometime surreal adventure with intimations of impending romance, the narrative explores the most important questions about life, death, reality and our ultimate destiny. 

The Plains of Elysium (Champs-Élysées) was described by Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and many other poets as the paradisiac afterlife realm reserved for heroes. As the title suggests, this is about a journey through a passage that leads towards Elysium’s exciting realm of existence.

To read a sample press review at: https://www.prweb.com/releases/2018/05/prweb15515775.htm    

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ELYSIUM'S PASSAGE: READER REVIEWS


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The following comments are excerpts from among the first readers including a number of Amazon five star reviews. To read the full reviews, go to READER REVIEWS on www.elysiumspassage.com or directly at https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/reader-reviews  

"A delightful mix of fantasy, reality, conjecture and humour; Mr. Meyers draws the reader into the story with a gentle narrative that captures the imagination, leaving one anxious to get to the next page drawing you into his exceptional world.”

"Quietly, gently, and without imposition, the Author unfolds the pages, creating an intricate, interlocking bridge spanning the chasm between mind and heart. Renewing, refreshing, restoring. In my bereavement, it was vigil and light…"

“Excellently written with an exceedingly deep understanding of this world and the next. The characters are very well written and engaging. I can't wait to complete this book!"

“Takes the reader on both a philosophical and spiritual journey, a journey that at times is both disquieting and tranquil. James, a British Philosopher can be irreverent and caustic, traits that should have left me cringing, but instead made me laugh out loud. Elysium’s Passage is a fun, enlightening and remarkable book.”

“This is a masterful fantasy, becoming a real possibility, as the reader is drawn into the story. The Summit leaves you anxious for the next book in the series, yet also leaves you totally satisfied with the world you have just visited. Genius! An exciting, yet calming, experience that is not to be missed."

"There was hardly a page on which I did not find at least one sentence worthy of hi-lighting for future reference. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed the main character, James, whose personality and passionate verbal exchanges with the other characters, kept me coming back for more. I am reading the book for a second time while I wait for the next one in this series to be made available."

 “N.G. Meyers has clearly put a great deal of research and thought into what the afterlife may look like and I like his perspective. It’s an altogether welcoming and exciting vision. The book gives one a great deal to think about and a reassuring confidence that the end of our lives is truly the beginning of life in the next. I highly recommend it."

"I am really enjoying your book, it’s fantastic! It is so incredible and diversified that I can’t really explain to other people, so what I say is just read this book. Thank you so much for the blessings that you’ve given the world!"

“The humour interjected into a serious discussion makes me laugh out loud. Totally unexpected....l may be in the presence of at least a master, if not a genius. A fair ride into reality... seeking that which is unseen, yet absolutely real.”

“An engaging story of adventure embracing man's deepest desire to search for meaning and purpose, N.G. Meyers takes the reader on an adventurous thought-provoking journey. This book has substance. It is a perfect blend of adventure and fantasy combined with spiritual philosophy. It ignited my imagination. The author magically weaves a good story laced with wit and humour together with deep philosophical wisdom. This book has it all!”

“An evolution in thought is triggered by many fresh philosophical themes which could inspire readers to re-think their reality and former ideologies that have dictated their lives… the author fires readers’ imaginations to view what could be possible when spirit vacates the body.”

“This is the book spiritual seekers have been waiting for. For me, it granted a great read as well as increased inspiration to live every day with a heightened sense of purpose. I highly recommend it.

“The Summit is capable of hooking readers and luring them to search for Book 2 to discover more about Dr. Philip’s surreal trek into the mysterious unknown universe. This thick book is well worth the read and to share…”

“Mind-blowing statements and speculation (‘…everyone is a non-physical thought form conceived in the Mind of God, preserved for all eternity because God’s thoughts never die…’). Many will find Meyers’ journey up the Mountain intriguing—and possibly even life-changing.” (BLUEINK REVIEW)

“In its effort to grapple with fundamental questions about the meaning of life, it raises questions that have echoed throughout the ages, including about where we come from, where we are going, who we are.”  (CLARION REVIEW)

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AUTHOR'S  (ATTEMPTED) INTRODUCTION TO SERIES 
 

                       

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PENDING PUBLICATIONS IN THE SERIES
 

 
The Summit is now available for purchase. With the exception of the last novel, the other three have been written but still require more editing before publication.

The following titles in the Elysium's Passage series are projected to be released as follows: 

THE SUMMIT available

SURREAL ADVENTURES spring 2020 

MYSTICAL ROMANCE spring 2021

HE ELIXIR fall 2021

THE RETURN sometime in 2022

 

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CONTACT INFORMATION & SOCIAL MEDIA SITES


 
 
Email: nmeyers@shaw.ca   

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AMAZON: Find Elysium's Passage: The Summit on Amazon: Go to www.elysiumspassage.com