Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Free Is Your Will?

For as long as I can remember I’ve thought about predestination. It was a part of the doctrine of my birth religion that I rejected. In fact I remember long discussions with countless Sunday school teachers as we students plotted to foil God’s plan for us and were always told, “He knows what you will ultimately choose.”

I found myself thinking about it again today as I wrote the following comment on someone’s Blog:

I love the idea of a path already set out for us. But then I run into the concept of predestination and I have big problems with it. As much as I would like to be relieved of the necessity of making at least some choices, I want to exercise my free will. We're never content, are we?

That first sentence made me realize that there are a few things in my life that I consider meant to be. These would include:

– Converting to Judaism, a religion that made infinitely more sense than my Protestant birth religion and didn’t require me to believe much of anything other than the fact that there is a God (and even that is debated by some Jews).
– My love of music, including both listening to and playing music.
– My problematic skin. Recurring skin cancer has caused me to live for the moment, not knowing what tomorrow will bring and to trust my doctors to help me identify problems.
– My life partner, with whom I have shared 31 years of marriage as of today and who is like another half of myself.

When I accept that there was some sort of “master plan” that was responsible for these four things that provide a framework for much of my life, I realize that I have now bought into a form of predestination. But the good news for me is the fact that while these things provide the “shell,” there are so many choices accompanying them.

So free will is still very much a part of my life. I get to choose how I practice Judaism, what music I play and with whom, which doctors to see, and how to spend time with my life partner. This turns out to be an infinite number of choices that are all mine to make.

Ironically I am much more content with this hybrid mix of predestination and free will than I had thought. I rather like the idea of being handed a rough framework on which to hang my life. I like the idea of making choices that personify it.

9 Comments:

Blogger Kristin said...

I've got my own hybrid. I figure the mistakes are mine. The wonder belongs to something other than myself and everything else falls somewhere in the middle.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Ulysses said...

I think you can have whatever type of free will you choose to have...

6:55 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

Sometimes I almost envy people with strong religious beliefs but then I remember how free I feel when I don't subscribe to any of them and I lose the envy in the appreciation.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I don't believe your will is free.
We make choices based on our understanding, our feelings, our likes and dislikes. In other words, our will is not free from ourselves. Where did those things (our understanding, our feelings, oour likes & dislikes) come from?

If fresh meat and a tossed salad were placed before a hungry lion, he would certainly choose the meat. You may say the lion has the 'free will' to choose between the two, but really, his nature dictates the selection, as does ours, I believe.

And though you have the power to make decisions (based on your nature), you don't have the power to carry out your purposes. How many of your decisions are miserably thwarted? You may choose to be a millionaire, but that doesn't mean it will happen. You may decide to be a scholar, but something like bad health or lack of finances may frustrate your will. You choose to go on a vacation, but an automobile accident may send you to the hospital instead.

Do we really have free will?

Just some things to think about.

Enjoy your blog!

9:20 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- That's noble to claim the mistakes!

Ulysses -- You mean even the choice of free will is yours for the choosing?!

Pauline -- We are all just trying to explain our existence. Sometimes it is daunting to imagine that it is all of our own making.

Carol -- I've read this over a couple of times and I think you are saying pretty much what I was trying to say.

I love the analogy of a hungry lion. Your point is that human nature dictates a number of the choices we think we are making of our own free will.

There is a lot of meat (and salad) in your comment. I need to give it some more thought.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Ulysses said...

Of course out free will is not free from our self -- the concept of will requires a self to exercise it. I can exercise my will on my self and develop and explore my understanding, feelings, preferences, and situation. Sometimes what seems like a lack of freedom or an inability to realize your goals truly comes from a failure to discover your self.
A free will that acts contrary to the self would be the same as having no free will.

6:19 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Ulysses -- I love this idea of yours: Sometimes what seems like a lack of freedom or an inability to realize your goals truly comes from a failure to discover your self. Unfortunately knowing onesself can take a life-time.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I know Richard has written a lot on this. I think it's a combo of The Creator/God presenting us with situations in which we must choose. he may know all and actually know what we will choose and what we should have chosen if we chose unwisely and made ourselves unhappy as in poor choices of mates that end in divorce. Then, maybe that was even planned in order for us to learn lessons we need. Maybe..not sure I buy into any one way of thinking totally so I have to combine the two. I have a hard time with black and white and either/or! You chose wisely in your mate and it certainly wasn't against your will. If thigs had ended updiffeently, do peoplefeel they were forced into so ething pre-ordained? I don't think they should.

(Heck, sometimes I think you can rationalise any way of looking at this! And many other things too! Just call me, "Mrs. Wishy-washy Grey"!)

4:12 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- You raise an interesting point here: Maybe it would be ego-enhancing to claim the good decisions as exercising our free will and the bad ones as "He made me do it!" That would absolve all guilt...

4:47 PM  

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